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Herb profile: Burdock root

Burdock
(Arctium lappa)

Although you may not notice it, burdock is actually a common “weed” that grows ALL over (including here in Boulder, CO). Yes, it’s true: when you drink your daily cup of Rasa you are actually drinking weeds! Ok, I know that does not sound very glamorous, but many medicinal herbs are also technically considered weeds. And when formulated just right, can be quite delicious. In this burdock herb profile, I share some of the powerful properties we use burdock for in Rasa Koffee and hope to demystify some common misconceptions around what “weeds” are good for.

Gif of Burdock Flower


Don’t Box Me In

If burdock root were to speak out to an herbalist or tea enthusiast it might say these words: “don’t box me in!” In modern Western herbalism, pigeonholing herbs has become quite the norm. Many people are looking for one blanket purpose or use for an herb and then only associate the herb with that single property. Although that purpose may be one of it’s most noteworthy, it’s never the only one!

Burdock root is one such herb whose healing potential should not be reduced to a single purpose. When we look at how burdock actually works in the body, it works on a wide variety of different bodily systems: the Gastrointestinal tract or “gut”, gallbladder, liver, skin, kidneys, endocrine or “hormonal system” and lymphatic systems just to name a few (McDonald, n.d.). In this burdock herb profile, I highlight the lymphatic system since burdock’s stimulating effects on the lymph are often the core which promotes a cascade of other effects to follow throughout the body. 

Burdock root

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), on an energetic level burdock root can raise our “central Qi” or core vital energy channel. For reference, what’s called “sinking Qi” is connected with organ prolapse and a sort of “dragging feeling” in the lower belly (Holmes, 1989). As you might imagine, our central Qi channel is pretty darn important for the rest of our bodily functions to happen.

In this case, central stand for the “core” of the body—the energy derived from the stomach and spleen. As we will talk about later on, this kind of this core energy plays a big part when it comes to our overall health. Another reason why simply boxing burdock in with a digestive focus is more complicated than it seems…

Herbalist Matthew Wood captures the complex, balancing, and beautiful nature of burdock root best: “On a psychological level, burdock helps us deal with our worries about the unknown...which lurk in the dark woods beyond our control. It seizes upon deep complex issues, penetrates to the core and brings up old memories and new answers. It gives us faith to move ahead on our path, despite the unknown problems that might snare us on our way. It helps the person who is afraid to become more hardy, while it brings the hardy wanderer back to his original path. It restores vigor and momentum.” (McDonald, n.d.).

Burdock beauty

Root-Based Purification

Burdock root and lymphatic system purification go hand-in-hand. Why exactly? Well, one of the unique ways this weed works in the body is through promoting our lymphatic system to “dump out” congested toxins from areas where they became stuck in the body (Holmes, 1989).

In this sense, burdock root is a true mover and shaker. Just when unwanted free radicals (atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging), viruses, and bacteria are starting to nest in and get comfortable in their new home—your body!—burdock root comes in and shakes them awake, then pushes them on their way. In TCM, this action is connected with “blood detoxification” (Chan, 2011).

What happens to these toxins once they are booted from their nests? They are driven right into the bloodstream in an attempt to be cleared from the body altogether. This is where burdock sometimes needs a little help. If our circulatory system is not functioning properly, if we live a sedentary lifestyle, or if we lack proper daily hydration and fiber intake (think regular bathroom visits here!), all of the toxins that are released into the bloodstream can be reabsorbed by the body. This can cause certain symptoms to flare up and could even make us feel sicker… Tricky tricky little weed you are burdock root!

Not to worry: we carefully considered all of these details when formulating with burdock in Rasa! Stay tuned for our upcoming herb profiles featuring the herbs we use to help ensure whatever toxins burdock lets loose are released from the body for good. Don’t you just love herbal teamwork? We sure do!

Burdock Heals Skin

Skin Nourishing Plant Magic

Now you may be wondering, what does all this “lymphatic system purification” even do for the body? A significant change many people observe over time is a change in their skin. Through purifying the lymph of all sorts of congested toxins, our skin naturally becomes smoother, less irritated, and less reactive (Chan et al, 2011). Since our skin is a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies, when things are balanced within, our skin will reflect that as well. We like to call this process skin-nourishing plant magic.

The keyword for this process to have these effects is over time. The skin-nourishing results are not dramatic and overnight like “miracle creams” might promise you. Burdock root is in a class of herbs that work very effectively for a variety of disharmonies if used consistently over time (Holmes, 1989). Just like with our friend ashwagandha: slow and steady wins the race.

With any herb, there is always a little caveat to keep in mind...Even if you take burdock root every day for months, you may not see any visible skin results. This does not mean that you are toxic beyond measure and must cleanse for the rest of your life! But it could mean that there is something else at the root of your health imbalances that need to be addressed first in order to start seeing changes. Stay curious and be observant. Herbs can be excellent tools to identify what’s really going on in our quest for health.

Dried Burdock Root

What You Need To Go Pro

Burdock root is starchy, nutrient-rich, and a great source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber which is an important food for our probiotics (Saad et al., 2013).

In order for the probiotics in our gut to flourish (both those you pop in a capsule and those which are already living in your body), they need prebiotics like inulin. This prebiotic can help repair digestive health, reduce inflammation in the body, and boost your overall immune system (Holmes, 1989). The core of our immune system literally lies in our “core,” where our central Qi channel also originates from. Our “core energy” is essentially our inherent vital energy that keeps the body energized and functioning on its own (instead of being propped up on caffeine). When this energy is raised with herbs like burdock, our life-protecting immune system becomes bolstered up too. Super important stuff if you want to have a vital, thriving body!

In an ideal world, all of our bodies should have “gone pro.” I don’t mean this in the sense that we all become professional athletes, but instead that more probiotic bacteria are thriving in our bodies than other non-beneficial strains. So in a nutshell, burdock root is one of those herbal allies that can help your gut get and stay healthy and strong.

In order to “go pro” with burdock root, you either need to cook (or pickle) and eat the root itself or steep it for a while and drink as a tea (like in your daily cup of Rasa!). Although burdock root is a staple part of Japanese cuisine, it is still quite estranged on the Western dinner table. Little do they know it’s what they really need to boost their digestive health.


When Burdock Root Is a No Go

Burdock root is generally considered safe for consumption and is widely used for a variety of health benefits. The only reason to stay away from Burdock root is for people with a known allergy of inulin, as 50% of burdock is comprised of this prebiotic.

Burdock Flower Weed


Pure From The Inside Out

Now that you know a bit more about one of our favorite skin-nourishing and lymphatic system purifying herbs...have I changed your mind about weeds at all? They really aren’t ALL invasive pests on your front lawn! Our belly’s new bestie—burdock root—is definitely one of the exceptions.

Plus, the health benefits don’t end with what we talked about here. Burdock root is also used to help improve endocrine function (also known as hormonal balance), as a premier alterative (an herb which alters our metabolism processes for the better), as support for different states of cancer, to help clear certain skin diseases and conditions, and even for uterus prolapse (McDonald, n.d.). Stay tuned for future articles as we dive deeper into the benefits of other herbs and root-based purification.

Heather Saba

About the Author

Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)


References

Chan, Y.S. et al. (2011). A review of the pharmacological effects of Arctium lappa (burdock). Inflammopharmacology, 19(5), 245-54. doi: 10.1007/s10787-010-0062-4.

Holmes, P. (1989). The energetics of western herbs. Boulder, CO: Snow Lotus Press.

McDonald, J. (n.d.). Burdock. Retrieved from: http://www.herbcraft.org/burdock.html.

Saad, N., Delattre, C., Urdaci, M., Schmitter, J.M., & Bressollier, P. (2013). An overview of the last advances in probiotic and prebiotic field. Food Science and Technology, 50(1), 1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.lwt.2012.05.014.

Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

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