Springtime Herbs To Have On Hand

Traditionally, the days around the Vernal Equinox (mid to late March) and the month(s) after it was seen as a time of intense, rushing energy: days get longer and the sunlight more intense, the first signs of green growth emerge, and wildlife stirs again. Herbalists still consider this a time when the more inward, ‘congealing’ energies of Winter begin to transition into the more outward, ‘expansive’ energies of Summer—and when a little attention paid to the process can improve vitality, strengthen digestion and immunity, and keep us in tune with the changing seasons.

There are specific herbal allies that have gained a deserved reputation for aiding in this transition, and each has its own peculiar “virtues” and affinities. All, however, rely somewhat on two basic strategies: either enhancing digestive and eliminative function or bolstering the power of the body’s immune and hormonal systems. Some do both! And generally, it was (and still is) considered a good idea to start with enhancing absorption and elimination, and then proceed with strengthening the underlying physiology.

The old recipes for “root beers” can be somewhat instructive in this regard: they often feature a combination of bitter roots (which enhance elimination) coupled with aromatic, sometimes pungent ingredients (which improve digestion) and hormonal tonics (to enhance energy and vitality). Many of the herbs and botanicals listed below can be combined along these lines to make a customized spring tonic for yourself or your friends and family, helping to ride along the tides of Spring and get ready for Summer. The last detail in the herbalists’ crafting of vernal concoctions is an attention to the constitution and physiological peculiarities of the individual using the tonic.

Generally, these are pretty obvious considerations – but one point to remember is to try to add “cooling” herbs for those expressing signs of overactivity, heat, and inflammation; and “warming” herbs for those showing signs of sluggishness, depression, chill, and frequent infections. Often eliminative herbs are more cooling, and tonic herbs warmer. Botanicals listed below have their traditional energetic value added as a start in this process.

Tree sap
Often from maples (Acer saccharum, and other species), the sap of Birches (Betula spp.) can also be used. I like to use the unheated, unfiltered sap as a tonic all by itself: this “tree juice” provides unaltered enzymes as well as sugars and minerals ready for optimal absorption. It can also be used as a base for decocting (simmering) some of the roots and barks described below. Usually, a pint to a quart daily is consumed – though more is not necessarily a bad thing! Alternatively, you can reconstitute a similar liquid by using about a tablespoon of maple syrup per pint of spring water.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)
This root, generally cooling in energy though somewhat tonic too, can be eaten as one would a carrot, or simmered into a tonic brew. It is best suited for those with dryer skin, and perhaps an underactive appetite. Its chief traditional use is for acne and other skin complaints. Use about 2 TBS per pint of water, along with other herbs.

burdock-01-web

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)A true remedy that synergizes well with herbs for almost any ailment, Dandelion is a catalyst for change that gently and safely enhances digestive and eliminative function. When in doubt, this is the root to pick! Its yellow flowers remind us early on that it’s time to pay a little attention to our bodies this time of year. The root’s energy is somewhat cooling, and it enhances detoxification through the liver, helping to resolve gassiness and sluggishness that may have accumulated after a winter of congestive, thick foods. Use about 2 TBS of chopped root per pint of water.

dandelion spring tonic

Yellow dock (Rumex Crispus)
These roots are more bitter and are best for those who might have a tendency toward constipation. They combine well with any of the other cooling, bitter roots and improve liver function and elimination. Generally, I suggest using Yellowdock for shorter (1-2 weeks) periods than Dandelion or Burdock, but it is still quite a safe plant. 1 TBS of chopped root per pint is usually adequate to relieve somewhat sluggish digestion.

yellow dock

Echinacea (E. purpurea, E. Angustifolia, and others)
This is a cooling, dispersive root that possesses a good degree of pungency as well. Its chief use as a springtime tonic is to help boost immunity, especially if there are or have been any swollen glands or recurrent respiratory infections associated with winter illness. It can also help dry, scratchy throats that sometimes linger into spring. While I often recommend an extract, the roots are excellent too provided they are simmered for a little while (10-15 minutes). This time of year the plants are just starting to poke up from the soil, making it easy to find and dig out of the garden. Use 2 TBS of chopped root per pint of water.

Echinacea02

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
An abundant relative of Ginseng, this plant possesses starches and bitter saponins that counteract fatigue and gently warm the system to enhance vitality and elimination at the same time. It also has hormone-balancing effects, especially in relation to stress hormones, making it a good adjunct for those who have intense work or personal lives, or who rely heavily on stimulants. It is a little difficult to recognize and find early in the season before the greens emerge, so marking it out in the fall can help with digging the long rhizomes in the spring. Use a piece or pieces of rhizome about the length of your index finger in a pint of water.

Spikenard (Aralia racemosa)
Another Ginseng relative, this is a sweet, spicy and warming root that is most indicated as a tonic for hormonal and respiratory function, particularly for those with chronic lung congestion. Use only 1 TBS per pint – it is a potent ally.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)
Also called groundnut, this is a nourishing and rebuilding tonic that is somewhat rare in the wild, so it should be used judiciously. It flowers early in the spring, and though only a few inches tall, packs a flavor and power that is quite excellent for warming deficient constitutions that have become sluggish and undernourished over winter. If you find a good stand of it (make sure you have the correct plant ID!), you can have one corymb (a round, underground “bulb” attached to a delicate white root) two or three times a week eaten raw, straight from the forest floor, or simmered into your tonic brew.

goldthreadGoldthread (Coptis Canadensis)
This is a very bitter, cooling, a detoxifying and anti-inflammatory plant that you really don’t need a lot of. It chief indication is chronic inflammation, perhaps also involving the skin, and a more “oily” skin pattern that could benefit from drying. It enhances digestive function when taken before meals, improves sluggish bowels, and clears heat that settled into joints and muscles over the winter months. Some have reported an improvement in allergies and sensitivities. It is also evergreen, which makes it easy to find even under a little snow cover! Its thin rhizome is bright yellow, and the above-ground greens are useful too. Use one to two plants (4-5 inches of root total) per pint of tonic brew.

Sarsaparilla (various Smilax species)
Not a local Vermont plant, the root bark from this vine is still such a classic spring tonic that it bears mention. It has a distinctive, warming and spicy flavor that, while enhancing digestion, is most powerful at adjusting hormonal balance (thyroid, adrenal, and reproductive hormones) and I have always found it useful for stubborn skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis (often worse after the dry indoor heat of winter). Sarsaparilla has a strong flavor, so experiment with taste until you find what you like. It is usually available at the herbs store; start with ½ to 1 TBS per pint.

Sassafrass (S. albidum)
The FDA doesn’t appreciate the use of this bark anymore, due to its safrole content, which is considered carcinogenic. Its distinctive spicy/sweet and warming flavor and energy make it perhaps the most classic “root beer” ingredient, evoking memories of times when their brews were actually made from plants… And, for a few weeks each spring, consuming sassafrass provides such a negligible amount of safrole that, truly, doesn’t compare to pumping gasoline in terms of cancer risk. I would use about 2 TBS of dry bark per pint of brew, but I really like the flavor. Experiment and add to taste.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
This green, as well as its cousin sweet woodruff, comes out a bit later in the spring but makes an invaluable cooling tonic for folks who are prone to swelling from chronic inflammation, edema, or water retention. They can be juiced and an ounce of juice taken as a daily tonic or steep into a more complex tonic after roots have been taken off the fire. Use about 2 TBS of chopped herb.

Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Though green, this herb is actually a bit warming and drying. It is great for those who show signs of water retention (sometimes evidenced by a swollen, “scalloped” tongue), or those in need of iron and other nutritive minerals. Finally, it’s mildly detoxifying qualities can help in seasonal allergies. Herbalists use the young, fresh leaves in soups or steep into an herbal brew after the roots are done simmering – about 2 TBS or more of chopped leaves per day.

nettle

Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale)
We would walk through the meadows, before they fully became green with grass, looking for the young rosettes of dandelions and collecting them whole, along with the crown of the root. Back home, my aunt would dress them with olive oil and wine vinegar, for an abundant (though bitter) spring salad. These greens improve digestion, enhance elimination through the kidneys, and are loaded with important minerals. Their reputation for cooling overheated constitutions extends to the cardiovascular system. They are excellent eaten fresh as part of salads or wilted in soups or stir-fry; alternatively, steep 2 TBS of chopped leaves into an herbal brew after the roots are done simmering.

dand-greens1

Mustard greens (Brassica species)
There is a wide range of mustards that come up quick in springtime since they are so tolerant of late frosts. They are warm and spicy, wake up the digestion and liver, and additionally contain compounds that show much promise in preventing and treating cancer. Of course, they are best as part of a wild food salad or cooked in soups (though they lose a lot of pungencies if cooked). I don’t normally brew these into tea.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
This is a very aromatic and cooling plant, rich in anti-inflammatory salicylates and endowed with wonderful flavor, another aroma often found in classic root beer preparations. It is a good digestive normalizer, especially if there is a lot of gas, bloating, and irritation; it can also help with chronic inflammatory conditions of the joints and back especially if these get worse over the more sedentary winter months. Steep 5 or 6 fresh leaves in 8oz of herbal brew, covered so as to not lose the volatile aroma, and do not boil!

Birch bark (Betula species)
The black birch is perhaps the most flavorful, but the bark of any species yields a wintergreen-like essence that is similarly cooling, and much more readily available. Use a good handful of crushed bark (perhaps a cupful) per pint of water, and add it to your brew for the last two or three minutes of simmering.

A note on preparation
Many of the plants mentioned above release their medicinal constituents during a process of light simmering, known as “decocting”. The resulting brew is often called a “decoction”. It is best accomplished by simmering the herbs in a stainless steel container, covered, for 15 minutes or so on low heat. Afterward, the brew can be removed from the heat and more delicate greens added and left in the pot, covered, for another 10-15 minutes or so. Finally, strain the brew and drink immediately, or bottle for 1-2 days.

Soothing Burdock Soup

Burdock Root is indispensable for soothing hot, itchy, or inflamed skin. It is an excellent remedy to use when the skin feels fiery, such as during episodes of eczema, psoriasis, or rashes and is, therefore, an herbal ally for stress-reactive and environment-reactive skin personalities.
1 cup chopped Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh Burdock Root
1 cup peeled and sliced Carrots
1 pound Potatoes (russet or wax)
½ cup fresh Dandelion Leaves (optional)
6 cups Vegetable Stock or water
3 tablespoons dry White Wine or Sherry
3 tablespoons chopped Parsley
Salt
Combine vegetables and stock in a pot and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, reduce heat, and cover, simmering for 1 hour. Remove 2 cups of soup, puree in a blender, and return to pot. Stir in Sherry and Parsley and simmer for 20 more minutes.

Down To The Roots: Burdock And Chicory

For centuries, burdock and chicory have been considered important remedies to help the liver. They have also been used to help rid the body of uric acid, to treat rheumatism and to eliminate skin conditions. By helping the liver, they also improve hormonal imbalances. The Chinese eat burdock to relieve constipation. Chicory is an effective digestive tonic, and can be used as a coffee substitute – chicory coffee does not contain caffeine, but it does taste somewhat like coffee. Chicory increases bile production, moderates a rapid heart rate, lowers cholesterol and destroys bacteria.

Burdock and chicory roots are versatile. Burdock can be used much like a carrot – it can be grated, sliced or blended. My favorite introductory-level burdock dish is a gravy. Thanksgiving, I made the dressing and gravy from burdock. You should have seen the looks on the faces of the guests when I told them that it was made from burdock. Of course, I waited until after they had told me how delicious it was! Even after I told them it was burdock, no one refused seconds.

effortless-gravyBurdock Gravy

1 cup chopped burdock root {1 medium-size root}

1/2 cup yogurt, sour cream or soy milk

1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon honey

Blend ingredients until smooth. Heat mixture over low heat, stirring until it thickens, about 4 minutes.

Fresh burdock and chicory roots are not hard to find. Many natural food stores carry them, at least in the fall and into the spring. Japanese groceries sell burdock as gobo. Even some regular grocery stores sell these roots, especially in Hawaii. You can also grow your own – look for them in the vegetable seed section of a nursery or seed catalog.

In the North American colonies, in the early days of colonization, coffee was cut with chicory so that supplies of the expensive bean would last longer. Later, chicory coffee became a Louisiana specialty. Roasting gives chicory a bitter-sweet flavor. To roast chicory, chop fresh roots, place a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in a 325 F degree oven for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Roasted chicory roots can easily be made into a tea – just grind them in a coffee grinder and steep.

Millet Loaf

This dish can be cooked as a millet pilaf or a millet loaf of “bread” that is nutty tasting and satisfying for a holiday main meal.

Overnight Preparation Time

You may want to start soaking the millet the night before you want to make this dish (soak for 8 – 12 hours). The recipe itself takes about 10 minutes to prepare and 15 – 20 minutes to simmer on the stovetop.

Servings: 4 – 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups presoaked millet
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons dried burdock root or fresh burdock root, diced
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons astragalus powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

  • In a saucepan, bring water to a boil.
  • Once water is boiling, add soaked millet and reduce heat to simmer.
  • Add spices, sea salt, astragalus root powder and burdock root.
  • Simmer until millet is completely cooked and the grains are translucent and fluffy.
  • Add coconut oil and stir thoroughly. If you are eating this as a millet pilaf, it is now ready to serve with your favorite vegetable side dish.
  • If you are making millet loaf, let the cooked millet pilaf sit for 15 minutes to cool. Once cooked, transfer into a greased bread loaf pan and cook in a pre-heated oven at 300°F for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and cool.
  • Slice of bread, spread with some coconut oil, raw butter or ghee if you like and serve with salad and cultured vegetables or with a vegetable soup

 

Burdock Root

Burdock root is a medicinal herb and food that has powerful anti-tumor, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. Burdock root is one of the top recommended herbal remedies for cancer due to the belief that it can stop cancer cells from metastasizing and it is one of the star ingredients of the famous natural cancer remedy known as Essiac tea.

It is also highly beneficial for colds, flu, sore throats, bronchial congestion, ulcers, gallstones, anemia, kidney stones, chicken pox, gout, measles, strep throat, urinary tract infections, bladder infections, hepatitis, and enlarged prostates. Burdock root is an essential blood purifier and detoxifying herb as it can neutralize and safely eliminate poisons and toxins from the body.

Burdock is one of the most important herbs for treating chronic skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and shingles. It can also help to stimulate metabolism, re-grow hair, strengthen nails, and aid in edema and weight loss. Burdock root is an effective painkiller that can help alleviate symptoms of inflammation that affect auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, lupus, and diabetes.

Fresh burdock can be juiced with celery, kale, and apple or used in recipes similarly to carrots. It is often steamed or added to soups and stews. It has a subtly sweet and earthy flavor that works well with potatoes, mushrooms, and onions. Dried burdock root is often used as a medicinal tea.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried burdock root and let steep for at least 10 minutes or more, sweeten with honey if desired. Burdock root can be readily found in a cream, salve, tincture, extract, and capsule form. It’s potent healing abilities has made it a vital herb for your natural medicine cabinet.

MEDICINAL QUALITIES OF BURDOCK

Burdock Root contains a number of medicinal properties that have been used for hundreds of years.  Traditionally herbalists all over the world use Burdock Root as a blood purifier.  It is the root of the Burdock plant that is harvested for folk medicinal use. The roots are about an inch wide but up to three feet long and are best dug in July.  They should be lifted with a beet lifter or a deep-running plow, due to the long tap root.    As a rule, they are 12 inches or more in length and about 1 inch thick; sometimes, however, they extend 2 to 3 feet, making it necessary to dig by hand. They are fleshy, wrinkled, crowned with a tuft of whitish, soft, hairy leaf-stalks, grey-brown externally, whitish internally, with a somewhat thick bark, about a quarter of the diameter of the root, and softwood tissues, with a radiate structure.

Burdock has been used by herbalists worldwide to treat a variety skin diseases such as abscesses, acne, carbuncles, psoriasis, and eczema.    Burdock can be either taken alone or combined with other remedies, such as Yellow Dock and Sarsaparilla.    The beneficial effects of this herb include increasing circulation to the skin, helping to detoxify the epidermal tissues.   Burdock Root has been reported to destroy bacteria and fungus cultures.  It is a popular detoxifying agent that produces a diuretic effect on the body which aids the filtering of impurities from the bloodstream.   By promoting perspiration, Burdock Root eliminates toxins through the skin.   By producing a detoxifying effect, Burdock Root aids blood circulation and produces a variety of positive side effects.  As before mentioned, it contains inulin, a carbohydrate that strengthens the liver.    The high concentration of inulin and mucilage aids in the soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The high concentration of inulin is helpful for individuals that are afflicted with diabetes and hypoglycemia as it provides helpful sugar that does not provoke rapid insulin production.   Inulin, which is very high in Burdock, is a resinoid or camphor-like hydrocarbon that is aromatic, stimulant, expectorant, tonic, stomachic, and antiseptic.

burdock_medical_mediumBurdock Root contains polyacetylenes that give the herb its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is used as a mild laxative that aids in the elimination of uric acid or gout.  It is classified as an alterative, diuretic and diaphoretic. It helps the kidneys to filter out impurities from the blood very quickly. It clears congestion in respiratory, lymphatic, urinary and circulatory systems.    Burdock  releases water retention, stimulates digestion, aids kidney, liver, and gallbladder function.  It also functions as an aperient, depurative, and antiscorbutic.

Decoctions of Burdock have also been historically used for soothing the kidneys, relieving the lymphatic system, rheumatism, gout, GI tract disorders, stomach ailments, constipation, catarrh, fever, infection, fluid retention and skin problems. An article in Chemotherapyidentified the chemical arctigenin contained in Burdock as an “inhibitor of experimental tumor growth.”
Both European and Chinese herbalists have long considered burdock root’s “lightly warming, moistening effect an excellent tonic for the lungs and liver.  It reportedly stimulates toxic waste through the skin and urine, improving digestion and is good for arthritis and rheumatism.

Burdock is an aid to circulation because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

A recent study showed that Burdock blocked dangerous chemicals from causing damage to cells, suggesting the possibility that burdock may help decrease the risk of developing cancer from toxic chemicals.

Some other miscellaneous disorders Burdock Root is good for are:
Helpful in cellular regeneration
Useful in cleansing and treatment of Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis
Aids in alleviating distress related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Useful in the treatment of recovery from Hepatitis
Burdock stimulates the appetite, so modern experts recommend it for anorexia nervosa

Burdock is useful for most of the same needs as Yellow Dock (rumex Crispus) and is effective in treating gout and high cholesterol.

Based on many studies with animals exposed to toxic chemicals, the tea very effectively protects the body against cellular damage and abnormal growths.   The tea also has powerful anti-inflammatory activity based on studies and reduces liver damage from toxic chemicals.   As a mildly bitter-tasting herb, it increases saliva and bile secretion, which aids digestion and cleanses the liver.  Burdock root tea can also be applied externally for treating skin conditions.

burdock-flowersDespite Burdock’s reputation as a noxious weed, it is the source of several very palatable foods.  Edible components of the Burdock plant are its roots, seeds, and its young stems.   Young stalks are boiled to be eaten like asparagus, raw stems, and young leaves are eaten in salads.      Both the root and leaves are used in herbal remedies, but most recipes call for the root which has  a sweetish and mucilaginous taste.   Fresh burdock root also has a distinct aroma. It has been used, after chopping and roasting, as a coffee substitute.

Originally cultivated in China for medicinal purposes, this unique root has become a sought-after specialty in Japan. Flavorful and crunchy, burdock is an excellent source of fiber, along with the vitamins and minerals.   Its nutty taste is delicious sautéed in combination with carrots or just some soy sauce and a bit of sugar, or it can be deep-fried in a tempura batter. Avoid rinsing this brown-skinned vegetable until you’re ready to use it.  In markets, it’s sold with the dirt still lingering on the roots because it is quick to wilt when washed.    The white flesh immediately discolors once peeled.   You’ll want to soak it in a mild vinegar solution until you’re ready to cook it to maintain the color.

You can harvest the large, deep, beige taproot from the basal rosette form (as soon as the flower stalk appears, the root becomes tough and woody) from early spring to late fall.

burdock-root-largeScrub the root with a coarse copper scouring pad, but don’t peel it. Slice it razor-thin on a diagonal, oriental-style, or use the finest slicing disk of a food processor.  Simmer 20 minutes or until tender. You may also sauté  it, but add liquid and cook it in moist heat another 10 minutes afterward, or it may not get tender.    You may also harvest the immature flower stalk in late Spring, before the flowers appear, while it’s still tender and very flexible.  Peeled and parboiled for 1 minute to get rid of the bitterness, it tastes like artichoke hearts, and it will enhance any traditional recipe that calls for the heart of artichokes. Cook this another 5-10 minutes.

Its hearty flavor is a little like that of potatoes, although it’s related to artichokes. Mashed roots can also be formed into patties and fried.  The white pith can be added to salads or simmered in syrup to make candy or soaked in vinegar  to make pickles.

Kinpira Gobo Recipe
Beginners usually get into trouble when they sauté root (gobo in Japanese) instead of simmering or steaming it because sautéing makes it harder to make the root tender. The trick is to slice the root razor-thin and braise it after sautéing, as in this spicy Japanese side-dish.

2 tbs. dark (toasted) sesame oil
2 cups  root, very thinly sliced
2 cups wild or commercial carrots, thinly sliced
2 tbs. fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled but not cut
1/2 cup redbud wine, mirin (Japanese rice wine), or white wine
1/4 cup whole sesame seeds
2 tbs. tamari soy sauce
1 tbs. chili paste or 1/2 tbs. cayenne hot pepper, or to taste

Sauté the carrots, ginger, and garlic in sesame oil 10 minutes, stirring often.  Remove and discard the garlic as soon as it turns slightly brown.  Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they pop and become slightly brown and fragrant.  Remove the sesame seeds from frying pan and set aside.  Add the remaining ingredients to the sautéed vegetables, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.  Add the sesame seeds.  Serve hot as an appetizer, a condiment, or a side dish.

Makes 2-1/2 cups
Preparation Time: 35 minutes

burdock-rootAdditional Information About Burdock Root:

COMMON NAME

Standardized: burdock
Other: great burdock, gobo, goboshi

BOTANICAL NAME

Arctium lappa L.1
Plant Family: Asteraceae

OVERVIEW

Burdock has been an important botanical in Western folk herbalism and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, primarily valued for its cleansing and skin smoothing properties. The entire plant is edible and is a popular vegetable in Asia, particularly in Japan. More recently, burdock has been an ingredient in hair tonics and in cosmetics for mature skin.4,5

BOTANY

A biennal member of the Asteraceace family, with bright pink-red to purple thistle-like flowers on long stalks, and oblong to cordate, huge hairy leaves3,6 that is native to Europe and Asia, and now naturalized in North America and Austrailia.1 This plant can grow to a very robust height, reaching up to 9 feet,6 and its aromatic “carrot-like”7 taproot can grow as much as 3 feet deep into the ground (making them difficult to harvest).8 It is naturalized and abundant in northern U.S and Europe and is considered a weed in such areas.

The generic name arctium is derived from the Greek word for bear or arktos and the species name, lappa, is from the Latin word lappare which means “to seize.” The fruit (bur) looks rough and hairy resembling a big, fuzzy bear and will grab on to anything in the vicinity in order to spread its seed, hence the name.8,9 Its common name is derived from the French word bourre referring to a tangle of wool (often entangled with burs) and the German “dock” referring to large leaves.8 Various species, such as A. minus or A. tomentosum, may be used interchangeably.10 However, burdock is often confused with cocklebur or Xanthium spp. that has entirely different properties.7

CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING

Cultivated in China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in various countries in Europe.1

Seeds are picked in the fall and can be loosened from the chaff with a rolling pin. Harvesting the roots is no easy task yet can be done in the fall of the first year or spring of the second, preferably the former. According to the late herbalist Michael Moore “harvesting full flowered plants in the fall can be as much work as digging up a small tree”7

HISTORY AND FOLKLORE

Burdock is an all-purpose herbal that has been used continually for myriad purposes the last few thousand years in Asia and Europe, and more recently in North America. It is a food plant called gobo in Japanese and is a much consumed vegetable in Japan. The root may be eaten fresh or cooked and the young leaves can be cooked like any other vegetable.9 The stalks have a taste somewhat like asparagus and can be eaten raw in a salad, boiled, or candied with sugar.8

In traditional Chinese medicine, burdock fruit has been used continually for thousands of years. It is known to balance internal heat, is specifically helpful for supporting skin health, and is associated with lung and stomach meridians. It is considered energetically cold and having a slippery consistency that soothes mucus membranes. The root is also commonly cooked in order to change its energetic properties and specifically to make it easier to digest.2In European folk medicine, an infusion or decoction of the seeds was employed as a diuretic. It was helpful in enhancing health through supporting digestion, and as topical poultice.

-Culpepper in his Complete Herbal, written in 1653, says the following about Burdock:

It is so well known, even by the little boys, who pull off the burs to throw and stick upon each other, that I shall spare to write any description of it……The Burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying. The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking of the sinews or arteries, gives much ease. The juice of the leaves, or rather the roots themselves, given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents.11

Further, Culpepper, an avid astrologer in addition to being an herbalist, considered burdock to be a feminine plant, ruled by the planet Venus and took this into consideration when preparing his burdock elixirs.11 Traditionally the root was thought to carry magical power, particularly powers of protection and healing. It was believed that wearing a necklace that is made from the root, gathered during the waning moon, would protect the wearer from evil and negativity.12 In the Native American healing tradition, the plant was used by the Malecite, Micmac, Ojibwa, and Menominee for skin health. Further, the roots were dried by the Iroquois over a fire and stored for food for the following year.13 They also utilized the related A. minus in medicinal baths.

According to the William Cook, author of the Physio-medical Dispensatory in 1869, burdock “enters into a sort of family beer along with such agents as yellow dock, spikenard, elder flowers, and ginger” making a beneficial spring beverage. Herbalist Matthew Becker states that burdock is a “potent yet safe lymphatic decongestant.” Also, that as a subtle alterative it works best over time and demonstrates restorative properties due, in part, to its bitter tonic effects on the digestive system. It also contains inulin which feeds the healthy bacteria in the colon.14

Burdock is considered by many herbalists to be the best known medicinal for skin conditions (Hoffman, Moore). This herb is highly effective, gentle, and multipurpose. It promotes the flow of bile and also increases circulation to the skin. Further, it is a mild diuretic and lymphatic.15 Burdock is used widely as an alterative and blood purifier. The leaves can be made into a fresh poultice to soothe poison oak and poison ivy and a leaf decoction makes a therapeutic wash for the skin.3

FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS

Flavor: acrid bitter cold,2 sweet8

HERBAL ACTIONS

Diaphorhetic,10 mild diuretic, mild laxative, alterative,3,7,8,14,15,16 cholagogue3

USES AND PREPARATIONS

Dried root or seed as a cold infusion, decoction, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated. Fresh or cooked root and leaf as an edible vegetable Fresh root or seed as a tincture Fresh leaf as a poultice

CONSTITUENTS

Sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpene lactones, acetylenic compounds, phenolic acids, and up to 45% inulin,16 flavanoid glycosides, bitter glycosides, alkaloids,17 chromium, copper, iron, magnesium,18 Arctiin2

HERBAL MISCELLANY

The inspiration for Velcro came from the burdock bur. The inventor, a Swiss electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral, was walking along one day in the mountains and saw burs sticking on his wool socks and his dog’s fur. He went home and examined the barbed, hook-like seeds that make up the fruit and thought he could replicate this “gripping” action in the laboratory. And so he did, and, in 1955, Velcro was patented and released to the world.19,20

PRECAUTIONS

Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.

REFERENCES

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  9. Nature’s Pharmacy Deck: History and Uses of 50 Healing Plants. New York Botanical Gardens: New York; 2002.
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  14. Becker M. Materia Medica Intensive Seminar. Boulder, CO: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, Inc; 2005.
  15. Bergner P. Immune – Lymphatics and antibiotics. From The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal 1997 in Medical Herbalism: Journal for the Clinical Practitioner. Accessed at http://medherb.com/Therapeutics/Immune_-_Lymphatics_and_antibiotics.htm on June 23, 2014.
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  19. Accessed at http://www.velcro.com/About-Us/History.aspx#.U6hekfldWSo on June 23, 2014.
  20. Accessedhttp://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/archive/How_a_Swiss_invention_hooked_the_world.html?cid=5653568 on June 23, 2014.
For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.