The Burdock Plant Arctium lappa

photograph by Dal

The burdock plant Arctium lappa belongs to the large flowering family  Asteraceae {the daisy family}, formerly known as Compositae. It is the only British member of the genus Arctium.

Within the Asteraceae  family the burdock is closely allied to the thistle group of plants. The genus name Arctium derives from the Greek Arktos meaning a bear and alludes to the rough texture of its foliage and the fruits {burs} known to country children as " sticky bobs". The species name lappa that derives from a Latin name indicating to sieze, again alluding to the fruits.

The name burdock derives from bur { in this instance it is thought to be a corruption of the French word bourre from the Latin burra } indicating a lock of wool, alluding to the fact that wool and fur get caught in the spiny seed heads. Dock refers to its large foliage which are somewhat similar in shape to those of many dock species.

The Burdock is a common plant which may be encountered along waysides, field margins, woodland rides and hedgerows. They thrive particularly well in situations that are damp by nature. 

Burdock foliage and new flower buds.

photograph by Dal

The large foliage of the burdock plant are a salient ID feature.

photograph by Dal

Description of the Burdock plant.

Burdock can be very variable in size and appearance. Some of this variety is due to growing conditions and habitat. However, in general they are stout plants of a dull pale green colour, often attaining the height of between 3-5 feet. the stems which arise from a biennial root system are furrowed and branched. The leaves of the species are a salient feature being large, stalked and broadly oval in outline, pointed at the tip. They may be up to 50cm long, green above with felty hairs on the underside.

The upper leaves are much smaller and more egg-shaped. These upper leaves have less down on the under surface.

The flower heads which appear on elongated flower stalks are composed of tubular florets, the stamens being of a purplish colour , the styles are whitish. The calyx is spiky, the spines being hooked.

The flowers are succeeded by the fruits. The seeds are formed in the calyx which dries into a sticky bur that clings to the fur of animals and the clothes we ware. Dog owners should be ware of these burs which may come into contact with the dog's skin causing great irritation and the skin may well become infected as the animal scratches itself in an attempt to rid itself of these spines.  

Burdock have thistle like flowers

photographs by Dal

Seed heads of the burdock.

photograph by Dal

Medicinal and Culinary uses of the Burdock.

In archaic times the dried roots from the first years growth formed the official drug. However, the foliage was also used. it was regarded as one of the finest blood purifiers. The active ingredients include essential oil,fatty oil, tannins, mucilage and inulin.

Country folk used to make an infusion that was drunk daily as an efficient blood purifier.  The dosage was 2 teaspoons of the dried herb in 250 mls of water and left to soak for up to 5 hours. It was then boiled for a minute or so. three cups were taken daily. The same liquid was also utilised as a lotion which was applied as a skin tonic. 

Modern day herbalists use the root  {first years growth}. It would be prudent to mention at this point that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 {as amended} makes it illegal to dig up or uproot any wild plant without the express permission of the land owner.

The root is employed as a fresh root tincture in minute doses at first being increased gradually.The root is employed for various medicinal complaints which include as a body system cleanser which helps to eliminate toxins from the body. it soothes the digestive tract, it is thought to be insulin resistant in cases of high blood sugar levels. 

The roots of the burdock along with foliage of the stinging nettle and dandelion were key ingredients used to make dandelion and Burdock beer.

Any one thinking of using herbal medicine and especially wild herb preparations is advised to click on WILD HERB ADVISE on the right hand side of this page. 


" This {the root} is the part used in medicine and is of very great virtues; it is boiled or infused in water, the virtue is diuretic and is very powerfully so. It has cured dropsy alone. The seeds have the same virtues but in a less degree. The root is said to be sudorific and good in fevers; but in virtue in operating by urine is its great value" 

old names

Burdock was once called herrif, aireve, or airup. they all derive from the Anglo Saxon words, haeg-hedge and reafe a robber, and the Anglo Saxon verb reafen meaning to sieze.

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