Burdock {Past and present medicinal uses}

Arctium lappa

Taken in Germany
Taken in Germany | Source

Introduction

This plant belongs to the Asterales order of plants and the family Asteraceae { formerly the Compositae} and is allied to the thistle group of plants within that family. Despite its common name the species is not in any way related to the true dock and to distinguish it from them it is a dock adorned with burrs -Burdock. the plant produces large leaves and in common with many other such species, in days gone by they were referred to as a dock. Examples of this may be seen with the white water lily which was referred to at one time as the 'floating dock', and in a like manner the large foliage of Butterbur , a plant common enough by the sides of streams, was referred to as the Butterdock.

In earlier times in England the Burdock was referred to as the heriff, aireve,or airup, in common with most other names, the spelling was widely and freely varied. All these names seem to have a common origin-the Anglo-Saxon word haeg, a hedge and reafe-a robber. it has also been suggested that the derivation of these old names should be attributed to the Anglo-Saxon verb reafian, to seize, however, it seems evident that the root of either is the same source.

Here we review the species and its past and present medicinal uses. As always we commence with a description of the species under review.

Taken in Germany
Taken in Germany | Source

Description of Arctium lappa

The root of this species is biennial, thick, long and cylindrical, fusiform,of a brownish colour externally and white within, somewhat branched and fibrous towards the base. The stem is herbacious,annual, branched and furrowed and sometimes tinged with purple,and rising to the height of three to four feet.

The lower leaves are very large, and arranged alternatively, broadly heart shaped with wavy margins, they are borne on long stalks, furrowed above often more than a foot {30 cm } long. They are paler beneath due to the covering of fine hairs. The upper leaves are much smaller, more egg shaped and not so densely covered on the underside as the lower ones.

The large lower foliage of Burdock

Source

Flowers of burdock.

This stout stem has round heads of purplish thistle-like flowers. They are produced on short stalks and more numerous towards the top of the stems. They are enclosed in a globular flower-head which is composed of long stiff scales with hooked tips the scales often being interwoven with a feathery substance. The flower heads also have florets which appear in the summer and into autumn.

These florets are tubular with dark purple stamens. the styles are whitish. The hooked fruits stick to almost anything they come into contact with, clothing, fur of animals etc, which aids the dispersal process of this species. These are referred to as burrs.

The genus name of Arctium derives from the Greek arctos -a bear, which alludes to the roughness of the burrs. The specific name of lappa also alludes to the burrs and means to seize. Birds are fond of the seeds while snails and caterpillars feed on the foliage.

Historical notes

Virgil recommended that it is to be extirpated from meadows in which sheep feed, as it lessens the quality of their wool!. the Burdock is very common on waste ground and by roadsides. It is a plant that may vary a good deal in appearance. In days gone by these variations caused some disagreement among botanists and for some they were suffice to recognize them , not only as varieties but as four distinct species. However, most botanists of that time held the view that the differences hardly justified this division.

Edward Hulme in his book Familiar Wild Flowers {1878}, says on this subject " For the ordinary observer, the long established belief that we have but one species is amply sufficient for practical field work. But as these varieties referred to are often met with, it may briefly be referred to."

" That which is under the name of Arctium nemorosum, the stalks of the lower leaves are hollow, flattened above and somewhat angular. The flower-heads large almost - and usually placed in threes. In the next A.minus,of some writers, the lower stems are hollow, almost round and scarcely furrowed. The flower-heads are small borne on short stalks, and scattered thinly along the branches. In the third variety, A.intermedium, of those that hold it as a distinct species, the lower stems are hollow slightly furrowed, the flower-heads borne on long stalks, the lower being the longest and the involucre wooly. In the A.lappa, the specialist tell us, the lower leaves have the stalks solid, but such a feature is surely, in any case, of but slight value. it suffers too, from practical disadvantage-the great difficulty that would be experienced in getting thses leaves at all, as the plant is not only eaten by many animals, but, from its growth by the roadside, is subject to all sorts of casualties"


Historical medicinal observations and uses

This species enjoyed a great reputation formerly as a detergent, diuretic and diaphoretic { causing perspiration or sweat} and it appears to have been far from inert. As is generally the case the ancients were very loud in their praise. Simon Pauli { Quadripart page 402} extols its effects in lues { any venereal disease or pestilence}, especially in patients already emaciated or of very delicate constitution.

Henry iii, King of France, according to Riverius {Riverius, Obs 41 page 342}, was cured of this disease by Petrus Pena, who administered to him a decoction of the root. Caesalpunus, found the same decoction useful in the cure of bloody and purulent {containing pus} expectoration, and Forestus conveys to us a case of gout cured by this remedy, in which the urine was not only greatly increased in quantity, but was rendered as white as milk.

Sir John Hill { Management of gout, with virtues of Burdock 7th edition, London 1771 } considered it quite a specific in gout, to which disease, he himself, last fell victim. Similar praises were bestowed upon it in cases of calculous and gravelly disorders. Lieutaud {syn Prax.med.page 563} relates an instance of its efficacy in obstinate rheumatic pains. An ounce and a half or two ounces of the root boiled in eight ounces of water until one half was consume, half an ounce of honey was added, and this mixture was taken every morning, in bed, for four to five weeks. The same author reports its utility in promoting the lochial {vaginal discharge after birth}.

Externally the leaves of the Burdock have been found to have been extremely resolute as an application to indolent tumours and swellings of the knee joint," which had excited the greatest alarm" the manner in which it was prepared involved boiling the leaves in urine and bran, and forming them into a poultice to be applied to the part morning and in the evening. this reputedly to be a powerful { though not very elegant } application.

Chomel { Histoire abregee des plantes usuelles page 138} speaks very highly of it, applied as mentioned. the bruised leaves or rasped root were found an excellent application to ' foul smelling ulcers' and also to obstinate and foul cutaneous eruptions. Etmuller, commended the apllication of them hot, to parts affected by gout, and to bruises where there is much extravasation of the blood.

Hufeland {Stirp.helv n 181} recommends the juice of the leaves as an application to ulcers. decoctions of the Burdock root, says Withering, are esteemed by judicious physicians as equal, if not superior to Sarsaparilla. Dr. Woodville { Medical Botany vol.1 page 42} states " As a diuretic, we have known it succeed in two dropsical cases, where other powerful medicines have been ineffectually used, and as it neither excites nausea, nor increases irritation, it may occasionally deserve a trial, where other active remedies are improper".

The powdered root was given in the dose of a scruple to a drachm, several times a day. The fresh juice of the leaves was prescribed to the extent of two or three n. A decoction was produced in the following manner. Take of dried root of Burdock, one ounce. Boiling water two pints. Then boiled down to half. The whole of this, when intended as a , should be taken within 24 hours.

According to the American Flora { Strong,Asa B 1855} the plant is a native of the United States growing in many places in great , in pastures, fields, along the roadside and in cultivated ground. It flowers in July and August. The root should be dug up in spring, before the leaves start, or in the fall after the top is dead, as then it possesses the full strength of the entire plant. The odor of the root is weak and unpleasant, the taste is mucilaginous and sweetish bitter, with a slight degree of astringency. The seeds contain essential oil, and are aromatic, bitterish and somewhat acrid.

The author continues " The root, which is principally used, possesses diaphoretic, diuretic and sudorific and tonic properties. It has been successfully used in a great vaiety of chronic diseases, such as rheumatism,scurvy,gout,lues,venera and nephritic {of or relating to the kidneys} affections."

" A sirup made of the roots, has been successfully employed in dropsical cases { watery fluids in the body cavity} where other powerful medicines have failed. The leaves applied to the feet as drafts, are highly useful in many complaints, especially fevers, they may also be taken when green, rolled and saturated in vinegar and applied warm as can be borne on any part of the body suffering with pain. The root is in considerable demand, and is sold in quantities at the drug store in the city". The author concludes by saying the best way of curing, is by slicing across the root from one forth to half an inch thick, and then drying it.

Millspaugh, {1887} affirms the above conclusions and adds that the root is officinal in the U.S. Ph in the Eclectic Materia Medica.

Despite all the above plaudits and accolades the plant had fell out of favour as a medicinal drug by the late 1800s.

The above information is for historical interest only and not meant as a guide for home made preparations..

Burdock showing flower buds

Source

Modern day uses

As we have seen the burdock has been used for . Modern day uses include the soft drink Dandelion and Burdock pop, produced by utilizing the roots from both these species.

An infusion of the root, harvested in July can be prepared. The root is dried. two to six grams of the dried root is boiled in 500 ml of water and allowed to infuse for 15 minutes. it is then strained and drunk three times a day for skin problems such as eczema. The same infusion can be applies,as a lotion , to the skin . { don't use on open wounds or sores.

It is used today by herbalists in the treatment of fever, infection and kidney stones. However, there is some doubt if the uses have been properly evaluated. During pregnancy the Burdock should be avoided because of some of the chemical constituents. Some people have been reported to have had skin reactions. An is available,with burdock has a main ingredient,to help alleviate itching .

It is reputed to combine well with Yellow dock and Dandelion {constipation} Red clover and Dandelion {acne} and nettle for insulin resistance. It is the root from first year plants that herbalists recommend for use in medicinal preparations.

As with all drugs if you are trying it for the first time try a little amount to test your body tolerance.

Foragers

Foragers in days gone by praised the plant as being a wholesome vegetable. The young stems were reputed to be a great substitute for Asparagus " We know of none so tender as this"

The stems were stripped of their rind just before the flowering period. The plant was cultivated in France on this account. records show that in Philadelphia the peeled stems were commonly eaten as radish. They contain inulin and dietry fibre as do the leaves which were also boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

As with medicine if you are trying this herb for the first time try a little amount to test your body tolerance.

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5 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

aviannovice,

Hello Deb, Thank you for your welcome visit, and your vote up,much appreciated. Best wishes to you.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I met these long ago when I was a kid, as many kids do. However, today I have learned a lot more than to stay away from them, which isn't a bad idea, anyway.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DDE,

Hello Devika, glad to have been of help, thank you for your visit and your vote up both of which are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

Eiddwen,

hello Eddy, Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments, glad you enjoyed this one . Best wishes to you.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

Another wonderful lesson DAL; you are indeed a great teacher and please keep them coming as I am enriching my mind and others also..

Eddy.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Burdock looks a familiar plant to me I am almost sure I have seen this plant before and did not take much notice further. Interesting information about an unusual plant. I learned more here about Burdock and its uses. Voted up.

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