Monday, October 19, 2009

Burdock - Free Health for All!

(Arctium lappa)

If there was ever a nice, local herb to get to know better, it’s Burdock. She has a wide range of medicinal uses and is also a tasty wild food that grows just about everywhere. Every part of the plant is used medicinally and the long taproot is also a delicious vegetable known in Japan as Gobo. However, it is mostly known for its sticky burrs that attach to clothing earning it the moniker “Beggar’s Buttons.” To children of all ages, this provides hours of endless amusement having “burr bomb” fights or spelling out their initials on woolen sweaters in the fall.

Arctium lappa is a biennial plant that produces thistle-like flowers followed by the famous burrs in its second year. The taproot is harvested in the autumn of its first year, or very early the following spring just after the ground thaws. It was once colloquially known as Lappa, but the name Arctium comes from the Greek word “Arktos,” meaning bear, a reference to its bristly fruit; lappa is from the Latin “lappare” which means “to seize” because it clings to everything that contacts it. In fact, the tiny hooked spikes on the burdock fruit was the inspiration for Velcro. This is a very clever method of seed dispersal, and is the reason this wonderful “weed” is so plentiful.

Burdock is found in waste ground where its sturdy taproot reaches deep into spent soil and pulls up nutrients buried deep within the earth in order to support its large lush leaves and produce prolific fruit. This is not just a metaphor for its effect on the human body, burdock has a solid reputation for stimulating worn out metabolism, rallying the immune system and repairing damaged tissues. As a spring tonic, few herbs compare to her “get-up-and-go;” as a winter vegetable, she assists the liver with digesting fats and the rich, heavy foods of the season.

The root is extremely nutritive due to its high oil content; it is the oil that stimulates the liver to produce more bile, which in turn increases absorption of fats in the small intestine and improves gall bladder function. Its stimulation of the liver and gall bladder makes Burdock quite an asset for the detoxification of excess wastes and even heavy metals in the body. For such purposes, it is often combined with Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) and the leaf and root of Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale). This combination is also used very effectively for acne, gout and purulent outbreaks.

Burdock is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. It has an impressive array of minerals including calcium, iron, sodium, iodine, magnesium, silicon, zinc and selenium. A German study in 1967 and a Japanese study in ’86 demonstrated that the polyacetylenes available, especially in the fresh root, are strongly antibiotic and antifungal. The root also contains protein, lignans, bitter glycosides and the flavonoids arctiin and arctigenin- the latter having profound anti-tumor properties. Arctium lappa contains up to 5% of the polysaccharide inulin, a blood sugar stabilizer, making it an ideal choice for diabetics. Consuming it regularly can help control sugar cravings, and combined with its detoxifying ability it can be a great help in treating alcohol addiction.

As an ingredient in herbal formulas, Burdock will help to harmonize the prescription by addressing the lymphatic aspect of an illness. Lymph congestion can contribute to a host of imbalances including candidiasis, chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and rheumatism, or even skin ailments. Lappa is restoring and nutritive as well as being regulating and detoxifying. Its anti-inflammatory action eases muscle aches, joint pain and stiffness, fevers, headaches and can even calm allergy symptoms.

Burdock is famous for being a superior remedy for many types of inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. Taking the root medicinally over the long term can help all types of dermatitis, particularly if it is dry, scaly and irritated. Not only does the herb help clear the symptoms, but it also cleanses and nourishes the blood, encouraging healing and the regeneration of new tissue. Large “elephant ear” leaves that boast an enormous surface area remind us of Burdock’s affinity for the skin.

The leaf itself is used in herbal medicine, primarily as a topical remedy for skin irritations such as rashes, burns, boils, or hives. If you have the misfortune of being stung while enjoying your nature walk, look for Burdock’s distinct rhubarb-like leaves, crush them until juicy (or even chew it) to form a quick back-country poultice. The relief to your bite or sting will be immediate.

No discussion of Burdock would be complete without mentioning the seeds, a time-honored treatment for kidney stones. Here, the resemblance of the seeds to actual urinary or gall-stones is another reminder of the gifts of healing that Burdock offers. The regular medicinal use of Burdock seeds can help to treat frequent urinary tract infections, ovarian cysts and urinary or kidney stones. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seeds are used to “relieve the surface,” meaning it will treat rashes and itchiness as well as stopping the onset of pathogens.

The young stalks when scraped and cooked as well as the young tender leaves are often recommended as survival food, but some people have adverse reactions to those parts. Sometimes eating the root raw can cause gastric upset in sensitive individuals, so when incorporating a new food into your diet, it is wise to introduce it slowly and give your body a chance to acclimate. Cooked Burdock root has a pleasant flavor that is very satisfying and consuming it regularly can help ease the symptoms associated with food allergies.

Burdock can be taken as a capsule or a tincture and is mild and safe for long term use. The root can be purchased in the produce section of most health or gourmet food stores, particularly when it’s out of season. Although the wild variety will retain more medicinal value than the tamed selections, the taste may be slightly bitter. Soaking the peeled, sliced root in cool water will leach out its bitterness; it can then be added to stir-frys, soups or cooked as desired. Do yourself a favor and learn to identify Arctium Lappa; gathering the root from the wild is a great way to build a personal relationship with this amazing plant friend that’s provided by Mother Earth…free of charge.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level III Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for sharing again this post lisl. i had forgotten that you had suggested the leaves as a poultice! i am going to print this out this time:) big hugs much love and many thanks for sharing your wisdom