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    Brianna Shaw, MSP
  • on Apr 29, 2019 |

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. 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.