Burdock is also known by the names Bardane, Clotburr, Beggars Buttons, Gypsy Rhubarb, Gobo, and Burr. In traditional herbal texts, Burdock Root is described as a "blood purifier" or "alterative," and was believed to clear the bloodstream of toxins. The genus name "Arctium" is from the Greek, arktos, meaning "bear"' in reference to the shaggy burrs. "Beurre" is French for "butter" as French women would wrap their cakes of butter in leaves of Burdock to transport it to the marketplace. During the Industrial Revolution, Burdock was used as a medicine to help people cope with the increasing environmental pollution. The Swiss inventor, George de Mestral, who invented Velcro, was inspired by the Burdock burrs that covered his dog; when he observed the burrs under a magnifying glass, he saw the tiny curved hooks. And in Hawaii, the roots of this herb are sometimes given as a "gag" wedding gift because of their aphrodisiac powers. Medicinally, Burdock Root has been used both internally and externally for eczema and psoriasis, as well as to treat painful joints and as a diuretic. In traditional Chinese medicine, Burdock Root, in combination with other herbs, is used to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, colds, and even measles. It is eaten as a vegetable in Japan and elsewhere. Burdock is a mild laxative. It also aids in the elimination of uric acid. The herb contains polyacetylenes that have both anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties. By improving the function of many organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, bowels), many health conditions can be improved. Burdock Root contains high amounts of inulin and mucilage. This may explain its soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Bitter constituents in the root may also explain the traditional use of Burdock to improve digestion. The polyacetylene constituents have also been shown to have anti-microbial activity. Burdock Root (and the fruit) also have the ability to mildly lower blood sugar (hypoglycemic effect).
The burdock plant's long, slender taproot has a pleasant, crunchy texture and earthy flavor. Native to northern China and Siberia, burdock (Articum lappa) is cultivated mainly in Japan, where it has been an important vegetable since at least the 10th century. It also grows wild in North America. The plant can be recognized by its very large leaves and spiny burrs, which stick to your pants as you walk in the meadow. This "wild burdock" is very popular with macrobiotic students who feel it is one of nature's most powerful foods.