Power Plants: Burdock

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

BURDOCK (Arctium lappa)
If you’ve ever picked a sticky round burr from your clothes after walking in the countryside, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered burdock. This plant’s ingenious mechanism for seed dispersal was the inspiration for Velcro!
Burdock is in the Asteraceae family, which makes it a relative of daisies and coneflowers (see Echinacea, page TK). It is native to Europe and Northern Asia, but it now grows as a weed throughout North America.
In Japan, burdock is cultivated for its root and eaten as a vegetable called gobo. The root is crispy with a sweet, earthy flavour that resembles celery and is jam-packed with micronutrients.
Historically burdock was used to treat a wide variety of inflammatory ailments such as arthritis. In 14th-century Europe, burdock and wine were supposedly used to treat leprosy. Later European herbalists tested it on a variety of skin-related conditions (baldness, scrapes, and burns), syphilis, and even gonorrhea. However, no evidence currently supports using it for any of these indications.
Beginning in the 1920s, burdock gained popularity as part of an herbal remedy intended to treat cancer. The formula—which also contains rhubarb, sorrel, and slippery elm—was created by a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse, who claimed she learned about it from an Ojibway healer. She reversed the letters of her surname and called the concoction “Essiac.” It is still available today in various forms, including the brand Flor Essence, though it is not an approved cancer treatment in either Canada or the U.S.
Research suggests burdock root may have blood-sugar-lowering effects. The root contains inulin (not to be confused with insulin), a type of fibre that is not digested or absorbed in the stomach. It moves through the intestines, where probiotics (friendly bacteria) use it to flourish. Inulin also decreases the body’s ability to make certain kinds of fats. Research has also looked at burdock root as a way to help manage diabetes.
Other studies have explored the use of burdock for bacterial infections, cancer, HIV, and kidney stones. But although it is believed to exhibit this range of healing properties when used orally or topically, there is no consensus on the most important active constituents.
Difficulty: Easy (it’s a weed!)
Hardiness: Biennial in zone 3a or above
Time to Plant: Sow seeds in spring
Time to Harvest: Roots can he harvested from mature plants any time
Location: Full to part sun
Soil Type: Will grow in most soils but prefers good drainage
Burdock is a weed and can easily be found growing along just about any country road. It’s a stout plant that demands space: it will grow up to 1 to 2 m high (4 to 6 feet), with a width about the same. Burdock is best identified by its heart-shaped leaves, which are green on the top and whitish on the bottom. Purple flowers bloom between June and October. The spent flowers produce seed burrs that stick to clothing and pets.
You can probably find all the burdock you need by taking a walk in the country, but if you want to grow your own, I recommend sowing seed in pots. That way there’s less danger of the them spreading out of control in your garden. You can harvest the seed from burrs you find in the wild and plant them the following season. The seeds only need to be lightly covered and will germinate in 4 to 7 days.
Burdock is a maintenance-free plant—in other words, it’s a weed! However, if you water and fertilize it you’ll get bigger leaves and healthier roots. Remove flowers and burrs during the growing season to improve growth of roots and foliage.
You can eat burdock foliage, but its main appeal is the root. Harvest only mature burdock, typically in late summer. Roots can penetrate up to 2 m in depth, so they should be removed only after loosening the soil with a garden fork.
Burdock foliage should be treated like spinach and harvested only as needed. The roots can be eaten raw or cooked in stir-frys, but it is best to dry them. After excavating the roots, cut them from the plant and wash well with a vegetable scrubber. Cut the roots into small pieces and lay them on a pan to dry in the hot sun for 3 or 4 days. Or just lay them on a cookie sheet and bake at 250°F for 4 hours. To air dry indoors, cut clean roots into small pieces and place on a drying screen in indirect light for up to 2 weeks. Store in a glass jar.
Blood sugar blues? Taste this tincture!
Less than 20% of dieters can keep the weight off for more than two years. It’s time to shift your mindset when it comes to dieting, focusing less on fads and more on maintaining a healthy balance and stabilizing your blood sugar. Imbalanced blood sugar (not to be mistaken for undiagnosed hypoglycaemia or diabetes) can cause mood swings and lack of energy as wells as weight gain, and burdock root might help.
To make your own tincture, grind 4 oz (½ cup) of chopped and dried burdock root in a blender or coffee grinder until it becomes a powder. Place the powder into a large Mason jar and add enough vodka to cover the powder by ¼ inch. Cap the jar tightly.
Check the jar after 12 hours. If the powder has absorbed the vodka, top it up until there is again ¼ inch of extra liquid. Shake the tincture once daily for 14 days. After two weeks, extract as much liquid as you can by squeezing the root powder in a coffee filter. Store the tincture in a glass container, ideally equipped with a glass dropper. Take 1 tsp in water three times daily with meals.
Have eczema? Here’s your salve-ation!
Eczema is usually a signal that a deeper issue is brewing, such as lack of omega-3 fatty acids, food intolerances, or stress. But a burdock root salve can be a godsend to manage the itchy, sore and often raw and aggravated skin that is the classic symptom of eczema. A salve is a semi-solid herbal mixture applied to the skin for its healing, protective, and nourishing effects. The base for most salves is a mix of wax and oil: the wax gives firmness to make it easier to apply, and the oil enhances the absorption of the medicinal plant into the skin.
You can make your own burdock root salve with a base of beeswax and olive oil. Start by grinding 2 oz (¼ cup) of chopped and dried burdock root in a blender or coffee grinder until it becomes a powder. Stir the powder into 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil and place the mixture in an uncovered Pyrex container. Heat in the oven at 120°F for 3 hours, stirring periodically.
Line a large strainer with a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Remove the mixture and, while still warm and flowing easily, extract the oil by pouring the mixture through the strainer into a stovetop pan on low heat. Discard the cloth and root powder.
Add about 1 oz of shaved beeswax to the oil infusion and stir until fully melted. Now comes the tricky part: determining how much beeswax to add to get the right consistency after the salve has cooled. To test the firmness, dip a spoon into the warm mixture and place into the freezer.          After about 10 to 15 minutes, the mixture will be hardened on the spoon. Remove the spoon test the firmness of the sample. If it’s too soft, add a little more beeswax. Repeat this procedure until you have desired consistency. Then pour the salve into small glass jars and let sit at room temperature to cool and harden.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase the Clef des Champs Burdock Root Tincture or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Both oral consumption and topical use of burdock may cause severe allergic reactions. Avoid this plant if you have any allergy or sensitivity to members of the Asteraceae plant family (including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies). Caution should also be used if you have an allergy or an intolerance to pectin.
Although its primary indication is to help control blood sugar, caution is advised in people with diabetes (or low blood sugar) and especially in those taking drugs, herbs or supplements that affect blood sugar. If you have diagnosed diabetes, always speak to a qualified healthcare practitioner before using anything that may adjust your blood sugar.
Taking burdock with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs (including aspirin) might increase the risk of bleeding.
Burdock may also cause oxytocin-like effects and stimulate the uterus. Because it has not been thoroughly studied, burdock is not considered safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
#Iwakami S, Wu JB, Ebizuka Y, Sankawa U. Platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonists contained in medicinal plants: lignans and sesquiterpenes. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1992;40:1196-8
Cicero, A. F., Derosa, G., and Gaddi, A. What do herbalists suggest to diabetic patients in order to improve glycemic control? Evaluation of scientific evidence and potential risks. Acta Diabetol. 2004;41(3):91-98.
Zick, S. M., Sen, A., Feng, Y., Green, J., Olatunde, S., and Boon, H. Trial of Essiac to ascertain its effect in women with breast cancer (TEA-BC). J Altern Complement Med 2006;12(10):971-980

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