What Is Burdock Root?
Burdock (Arctium lappa) is a plant native to Asia and Europe that has been cultivated as a vegetable for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine uses most of the plant, such as its seeds, long carrot-like roots, and heart-shaped leaves [1, 2, 3].
Most notably, its health benefits have been recorded in The Compendium of Materia Medica from the Ming Dynasty. In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s referred to as ‘Niubang.” It is also known as gobō, happy major, beggar’s buttons, thorny burr, and lappa .
While some Chinese herbs can be expensive to obtain, burdock is easily cultivated and can usually be found at reasonable prices .
Burdock has many potential health benefits that stem from its anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, and microbe-fighting properties .
Snapshot of Burdock
- Rich in polyphenols and antioxidants
- Has potential as a cancer-fighting remedy
- Chock-full of vitamins and minerals
- Can fight microbes and destroy their biofilms
- Can be eaten as a vegetable
- May reduce the appearance of wrinkles
- May potentially protect the liver
- Not many human studies are available
Its most important compounds are polyphenols, powerful antioxidants, including :
- Caffeic acid (also found in coffee)
- Chlorogenic acid (also found in coffee)
- Tannins (also found in red wine)
Specifically, lignans (such as arctigenin and arctiin), are responsible for many of the amazing benefits of burdock. In particular, arctigenin has anticancer, antiviral, and liver-protective properties .
The method of preparing extracts can change the final concentration of polyphenols. Burdock leaf alcohol extracts that were freeze-dried had the highest percentage of these compounds (followed by oven-drying, drying in the shade, and drying in the sun) .
For burdock root tea, roasting increases the concentration of antioxidants .
- Other plant antioxidants (caffeoylquinic acid derivatives)
- Dietary fiber, known as fructans, such as inulin
- Minerals, such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc
- Vitamins, including provitamin A, B1, B2, and C
- Sugars, such as fructooligosaccharides
What Does Burdock Root Do?
The flavonoids and lignans in burdock root are responsible for many of the plant’s beneficial effects .
Burdock could also be beneficial in diabetes. It might stimulate insulin production and lower leptin. You may have heard of leptin as the hormone that causes weight loss. Not so fast! Leptin is actually high in people with chronic diseases and obesity, who often become leptin resistant. In such cases, lowering leptin is good [16, 17, 18].
Burdock root can also be used in cosmetics. It can block the enzyme that breaks down elastin, the protein that gives skin its elasticity. In turn, creams with burdock root might reduce wrinkles and give skin a more youthful appearance .
Health Benefits of Burdock
1) Reduces Inflammation
Similarly, arctiin, a burdock polyphenol, decreased levels of inflammatory substances (TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-6) in mice. Arctigenin, the other major polyphenol, reduced inflammation from LPS, a bacterial toxin that can sneak into the blood in people with leaky gut [22, 23].
In summary, burdock extract is a good natural anti-inflammatory. Its ability to lower inflammation underlies many of the other health benefits listed below.
2) May Improve Cholesterol and Clogged Arteries
Burdock root is thought to lower cholesterol levels. However, in a trial of 40 women, burdock extract only decreased triglycerides, total and LDL cholesterol when combined with exercise. And unfortunately, it also lowered levels of the “good” cholesterol, HDL .
In a study on quail with clogged arteries, burdock root extracts lowered lipids and protected arteries as well as simvastatin (Zocor), a cholesterol-lowering medication .
In conclusion, burdock’s effect on cholesterol is not clear. The data from animal studies are more encouraging than the findings from human studies.
3) Youthful Skin
A topical cream with 1.2% burdock fruit applied twice a day reduced the appearance of wrinkles after 4 weeks in a trial of 75 people .
All in all, burdock may help reduce wrinkles by stimulating collagen production and reducing inflammation.
4) May Improve Acne
Burdock has traditionally been used to fight acne. In one study with 34 people, a homeopathic burdock remedy improved acne, especially inflammatory-type ones. However, this study was not controlled and more data are needed. Plus, homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and may not contain any active compounds .
Despite this, burdock herbal preparations do have proven anti-inflammatory properties. Face creams or oil with burdock root might help people deal with acne issues. However, high-quality studies are needed to confirm this benefit.
5) May Heal Ulcers
How does burdock root work to protect the stomach?
One cell-based study hints at its mechanism. In this study, an herbal supplement containing burdock prevented H. pylori bacteria from attaching to stomach cells. This might help the body remove the ulcer-causing bacteria easier and prevent re-infection .
In summary, burdock has the potential to fight H. pylori infections and boost recovery.
In a study of 510 women with breast cancer, low doses (13 – 74 mL/day) of Essiac, an herbal supplement containing burdock, did not improve mood states. It even negatively affected the patients’ physical well-being and patient-doctor relationship .
Essiac is a multi-herbal preparation, and it’s hard to pinpoint which herbs triggered the detrimental effect.
On the other hand, burdock root alone might have beneficial effects on mood. In one study, its active compound arctigenin reduced depressive and anxious behavior in mice under constant mild stress .
Until more studies are out, the data on this plant’s effect on depression remains mixed.
Benefits with Limited Evidence
The following studies were performed on animals or in cells only.
In diabetic mice, burdock root extract reduced blood sugar and markers of liver damage (alkaline phosphatase). Intriguingly, at high doses, it also increased insulin levels. And at even higher doses, it increased leptin levels, which were low in mice with diabetes .
Why is leptin so important?
Leptin is the appetite and fat storage hormone. In people with type 1 diabetes (or advanced type 2 diabetes) and impaired insulin production, leptin levels are typically low. Insulin therapy in these patients can increase leptin .
Conversely, leptin levels are usually high in people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance; in this case, the body can become unresponsive to leptin despite the high levels, which leads to leptin resistance .
Having this in mind, it makes sense that burdock fruit extract also decreased high leptin levels in diabetic mice in another study. Its effect was comparable to that of metformin (Glucophage), a diabetes medication .
All in all, the data from animal studies suggest that burdock root may be a potent anti-diabetes remedy and this effect should be studied in humans.
8) Liver Protection
Similarly, arctigenin, a compound found in burdock, protected against liver damage from hepatitis .
In summary, burdock root may protect against liver damage by reducing inflammation and boosting antioxidants. However, clinical trials are needed to see if this benefit translates to humans.
9) Antioxidant Activity
A sugar molecule found in burdock (ALP1), enhanced antioxidant defense in mice and decreased levels of malondialdehyde – a marker of oxidative cell damage – in the blood and liver .
To get to the bottom of its antioxidant potential, we’ll zoom into its action in cells.
In one cell study, burdock root extracts protected brain cells from oxidative damage; they prevented reactive oxygen species from forming and increased levels of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase–crucial free-radical-scavenging enzymes .
Burdock extract is a potent antioxidant, with stronger antioxidant activity than vitamin C. Unfortunately, this effect has not yet been tested in people .
In a mouse study, a burdock compound (called L-asparagine) stopped cancer cells from spreading and enhanced the activity of a chemotherapy medication (cyclophosphane) .
Another burdock compound, arctigenin, stopped tumor growth by up to 70% in mice. This effect was even stronger if arctigenin was given earlier. Arctigenin also suppressed genes that cancer cells normally activate .
Many cell-based studies point to its cancer-fighting potential.
In one, arctigenin enhanced the susceptibility of cancer cells to cisplatin, a chemotherapy medication .
In others, burdock root extracts and active compounds (arctigenin and arctiin) selectively killed cancer cells while sparing healthy cells. The extracts were comparable to doxorubicin, a chemotherapy medication, at killing cancer cells and preventing rapid growth [50, 51, 52, 48, 53, 54].
Without a doubt, burdock root can suppress tumor growth in animals. But that doesn’t mean it can help people with cancer. Clinical trials are required to determine its effects.
11) May Improve Infertility and Impotence
Diabetes and other chronic diseases can cause erectile dysfunction or infertility. Since proper sugar breakdown is required for sperm production, diabetes can decrease sperm count and quality [55, 56, 57].
Extremely high doses (600 and 1,200 mg/kg) of burdock root improved impotence and increased testosterone levels in male rats. Such megadoses have never been tested in humans .
So although burdock root improves infertility and impotence in animals, human trials are needed.
12) Weight Loss
Enzymes that control the production of fat molecules (fatty acid synthase and acetyl-coenzyme A carboxylase) are important players in obesity and weight management. Burdock root extract blocks these enzymes, meaning it can potentially be used as a weight-loss herb .
Though more studies are needed, burdock root certainly has weight loss potential.
In an animal study, burdock suppressed an extreme allergic response called anaphylaxis .
It is too early to say if burdock root can help alleviate allergies.
14) Heart Health
High blood pressure and heart disease can cause abnormal enlargement of the heart, which can lead to heart failure if left unaddressed. Arctiin, one of the main active components of burdock, might be heart-healthy compound. In mice, it improved heart function and prevented heart enlargement [63, 64].
15) Bone Loss
Overactivity of osteoclasts, cells that break down bones, can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. In a study with mice, arctigenin from burdock root reduced the number of osteoclasts and prevented their activity. In turn, it might support bone health [65, 66].
Burdock roots might lower beta-amyloid, a protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In mice, arctigenin from the root can stop the production of beta-amyloid, prevent memory loss, and reduce the formation of harmful plaques .
17) Fights Infections
Burdock root extracts were effective against numerous bacteria and fungi. For example, they killed bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities .
Its extracts can also disrupt microbial biofilms – sticky layers of bacteria that are very difficult to eliminate, especially in hospitals. It destroyed the biofilms of hospital-acquired superbugs (such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Proteus mirabilis) and of E. coli, a common cause of UTIs and food poisoning [69, 70].
Does Burdock Root Have Hair Benefits?
Studies mention burdock root as an ingredient in natural cosmetics, shampoos and hair care products. It is commonly used to prevent baldness and improve hair quality and growth. But despite the wide-spread claims, there are little to no data to support this benefit .
Only one cell-based study hints at this possibility.
One theory poses that hair loss may, in part, be caused by reactive oxygen species, which attack and kill hair cells. In a test tube, arctiin protected hair cells against the effects of reactive oxygen species. Burdock root also contains anti-inflammatory substances, vitamins, and minerals, which may contribute to hair health .
How to Use Burdock Root
Burdock supplements come in a variety of forms. The commercially available preparations are all made with the plant’s roots:
Burdock is consumed as a vegetable in many countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. In Korea, it is sauteed lightly with carrots in a soy sauce glaze. In Japan, burdock pickles are very popular. It can also be brewed into a tea.
It has a crunchy texture and a mildly sweet flavor, similar to lotus root. Not to mention that burdock root is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and soluble, prebiotic fiber such as inulin.
Easy and Delicious Sauteed Burdock Root
- About 4 burdock roots
- 1 teaspoon of vinegar (to prevent discoloration)
- Cooking oil of your preference, such as olive oil or ghee
- Salt and pepper to taste
After washing and peeling the burdock roots, soak them in cold water with a teaspoon of vinegar to prevent discoloration.
Cut them up into matchsticks.
Drain and dry burdock as much as possible.
Stir fry in oil at medium-high heat for approximately 9-11 minutes, until the roots are browned lightly.
Season burdock roots to taste with salt, pepper, and preferred herbs/spices.
How to Make Burdock Root Tea
- 1 small firm fresh burdock root, cleaned thoroughly or 2 tablespoons dried burdock root
- Boiling water
If using fresh burdock, cut into small slivers.
Add the fresh or dry burdock to 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, lower temperature and simmer for 30 minutes.
Take off the heat and steep the tea for an additional 20 minutes.
Add honey or sweetener, if desired.
Burdock Root Dosage
Because clinical studies are lacking, the dosage information is limited.
Tea was made with 2 g of burdock root/cup and consumed 3x/day .
For liquid burdock root extract, a dose of 100 mL/day was used .
For GBS‐01, a burdock fruit extract, high doses of up to 12 g/day are safe, with minimal side effects .
A topical cream with 1.2% burdock was used 2x/day to improve the appearance of wrinkles .
Burdock Root Side Effects & Safety
Although burdock is generally safe, some people can develop an allergic reaction to it, especially when applied to the skin. Do a skin patch test first and wait for at least 24 hours before applying it to your skin or hair in larger amounts [77, 1].
Burdock roots are very similar in appearance to the roots of poisonous plants in the genus Datura. Many plants in the Datura genus contain atropine and scopolamine (toxic substances), which can be fatal if consumed [79, 80, 81].
Although there are some case reports of commercial burdock root tea poisoning, burdock does not contain the poisonous atropine-like alkaloid compounds. Thus, the tea may have been contaminated during the production process. Make sure to buy burdock root from a reputable source [82, 83, 84].
Limitations and Caveats
Many of the studies were conducted only in animals. More human trials are needed to confirm the findings.
Reviews & User Experiences
A large number of users who took burdock for their liver health were very satisfied with the supplement.
Many users were pleased with their improved skin appearance.
A few users were happy with the effect on their digestion.
However, one user said the capsules made him feel odd and slightly inebriated and another user said they experienced diarrhea.
Buy Burdock Root Supplements
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Burdock root is a commonly used medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine, while it is also consumed as a vegetable in China, Korea, and Japan.
Burdock’s powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals might protect the liver from damage and improve cholesterol levels. Even more impressively, this herb can fight fungi and bacteria and destroy biofilms, strong networks of microbes that are extremely hard to kill.
Although clinical trials are lacking, promising animal and cell studies reveal that it may fight cancer, help manage diabetes, and improve fertility and impotence.
Burdock root extracts are found in many forms. Fresh roots are easy to spot at Asian markets, while extracts and face creams are also available.