Burdock root comes from burdock, a genus of weeds that are related to sunflowers and part of the daisy family. It is available as a tea in various tinctures, with manufacturers promising a wide range of benefits.
Native to North Asia and Europe, burdock now grows widely in the United States as a weed. In some parts of the world, people consume it as a root vegetable, much like potatoes.
Burdock has large heart-shaped leaves and produces purple flowers in the spring and autumn.
In traditional medicine, it is the dark roots — not the plant itself — that offer health benefits.
Burdock contains oils, as well as compounds called tannins and plant sterols. Doctors do not know which of the plant’s components offer health benefits. The reason for this is that most research looks at burdock root as a whole and not at a specific element in the root.
Burdock root has been a part of traditional medicine, particularly traditional Chinese medicine, for centuries. Researchers are now beginning to design clinical studies to assess its benefits. Some potential health benefits of this plant include:
Improving blood sugar and treating diabetes
A 2014 study found that burdock root could prevent dangerously high blood glucose both in a petri dish and in a live tissue sample. In a 2015 study of burdock root in mice, researchers found no benefits associated with raw burdock root. However, fermented burdock root significantly reduced blood sugar in mice.
Treating and preventing infections
For centuries, traditional healers have recommended the use of burdock root to fight the common cold, sore throats, and other ailments. Scientific research now provides some insight into how burdock may fight infections. Some studies have found that it has antibacterial qualities. It appears to be particularly useful for killing biofilms, which are large, sticky colonies of bacteria. The oral plaque that causes cavities is one example of a biofilm. Biofilms grow throughout the body.
‘Purifying’ the blood
Although there is little western scientific evidence to support the need for detox, it has long had a role in traditional Chinese medicine. Alternative health providers often talk about detoxifying the body or purifying the blood, and practitioners of traditional medicine say burdock may purify the blood.
This belief in burdock’s purification benefits could be due to its ability to fight some infections and bacteria.
Burdock root may also act as a diuretic. Diuretics help remove water from the body, offering relief for people retaining water.
Antioxidants help fight the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals in the body that damage the body’s cells and may be responsible for a wide range of ailments, including cancer, aging, and inflammatory disorders. They tend to accumulate with age, so researchers are interested in how antioxidants might slow the process of aging.
Several studies have found that burdock root acts as an antioxidant. A 2014 study of diabetes in mice suggests that because of its antioxidant properties, burdock may improve symptoms of diabetes. Earlier research, including a 1998 study, found that burdock root actively seeks out and destroys free radicals.
Free radical damage, autoimmune disorders, and other medical conditions can cause chronic inflammation. Inflammation is linked to many medical conditions, including osteoarthritis. A 2014 study found that burdock root significantly decreased measures of inflammation in people with knee osteoarthritis.
Treating or preventing cancer
Free radicals and inflammation are both linked to the development of cancer. This means that burdock’s role as an antioxidant anti-inflammatory might help to prevent cancer. Preliminary research also supports the notion that burdock can help slow the growth of cancer. A 2016 study found that burdock might slow the growth of breast cancer tumors.
In 1978, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled some burdock teas after at least two people were poisoned. It is important to choose a trusted source of burdock and only to purchase products that specify the product’s contents. If you are unsure, then do not buy or use the herb.
Burdock may cause allergic reactions and other side effects. People who should avoid burdock root include:
- women who are pregnant, want to become pregnant, or who are breast-feeding
- children under 18
- people with a history of allergies to plants, unless a doctor suggests otherwise
- people taking diuretics, diabetes medication, or blood thinners
People with chronic or life-threatening health conditions should ask their doctor before using burdock root.
Burdock root is a fiber-rich vegetable. People who need more fiber, including those with diabetes, may wish to include it in their diet rather than take it as a supplement. Using the root as a whole product might be safer than using supplements.
Burdock root may also help with some skin conditions, such as acne and minor skin irritation. Apply a paste or tincture directly to the affected area.
Burdock root is available as a tea, an herbal tincture, a crushed powder that a person can take in pill form, and as a decoction, which is a liquid made from boiling the herb. Some studies have found that fermented burdock is the best option, so people should consider fermented tinctures over other options. Some teas may also contain fermented burdock.
Because burdock research is in its infancy, there is no single recommended minimum or maximum dose.
A glass of burdock tea per day should be safe. Consult an herbalist with a background in medicine for advice about the appropriate dosage.
It is unsafe to use wild burdock because it might be contaminated. Other weeds might also be mistaken for burdock.
Research into the benefits of burdock root is not conclusive, so people should not use it in place of any medical treatment. They can, however, use it as a healthful way to improve general well-being and supplement treatment for common ailments.
For more advice, people should talk to a doctor knowledgeable about herbal supplements.