Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.
Akujitsu, anthraxivore, arctii, Arctium lappa Linne, Arctium minus, Arctium tomentosa, Arctium tomentosum Mill., Asteraceae (family), bardana, Bardanae radix, bardane, bardane grande (French), beggar's buttons, burdock root, burr, burr seed, chin, clot-burr, clotbur, cocklebur, cockle button, cocklebuttons, Compositae (family), cuckold, daiki kishi, edible burdock, fox's clote, grass burdock, great bur, great burdock, great burdocks, gobo (Japan), Grosse klette (German), happy major, hardock, hare burr, hurrburr, Kletterwurzel (German), lampazo (Spanish), lappola, love leaves, niu bang zi, oil of lappa, personata, Philanthropium, thorny burr, turkey burrseed, woo-bang-ja, wild gobo.
Burdock has historically been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including arthritis, diabetes, and hair loss. It is a principal herbal ingredient in the popular cancer remedies Essiac® (rhubarb, sorrel, slippery elm) and Hoxsey formula (red clover, poke, prickly ash, bloodroot, barberry).
Burdock fruit has been found to lower blood sugar in animals, and early human studies have examined burdock root in diabetes. Laboratory and animal studies have explored the use of burdock for bacterial infections, cancer, HIV, and kidney stones. However, there is currently insufficient human evidence regarding the efficacy of burdock for any indication.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Animal research and initial human studies suggest possible blood sugar lowering effects of burdock root or fruit. However, the available human research has not been well designed, and further study is needed before a clear recommendation can be made.
Quality of life in cancer patients (breast cancer)
Burdock is an ingredient in the popular purported cancer remedy, Essiac®. Preliminary study has shown that burdock may have anti-cancer effects and increase quality of life in cancer patients. More study is needed in this area.
*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Abscesses, acne, anorexia nervosa, aphrodisiac, arthritis, back pain, bacterial infections, bladder disorders, blood thinner, boils, burns, cancer, canker sores, catarrh, common cold, cosmetic uses, dandruff, detoxification, diuretic (increasing urine flow), eczema, fever, fungal infections, gout, hair loss, headache, hemorrhoids, HIV, hives, hormonal effects, ichthyosis (skin disorder), impotence, inflammation, kidney diseases, kidney stones, laxative, lice, liver disease, liver protection, measles, pain, pneumonia, psoriasis, respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis, ringworm, sciatica, scurvy, seborrhea (over-activity of sebaceous skin glands), skin disorders, skin moisturizer, sores, sterility, syphilis, tonsillitis, ulcers, urinary tract infections, venereal diseases, warts, wound healing.
The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
Adults (18 years and older)
No specific dose of burdock has been proven effective or safe, although a range of doses and types of preparations have been used. As a dried root, tablets/capsules, decoctions, tinctures, fluid extract, and root teas are available. Burdock has been used as a diuretic (to increase urine flow) with preparations made from powdered burdock seeds into a yellow product called oil of lappa.
Burdock has been used on the skin as a compress or plaster for eczema, psoriasis, baldness, and warts.
Children (younger than 18 years)
There is not enough scientific information to recommend the use of burdock in children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Allergy to burdock may occur in individuals with allergy to members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family, including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have been associated with burdock. Allergic skin reactions have been associated with the use of burdock plasters on the skin. Caution should be used in patients with allergies or intolerance to pectin since certain parts of the burdock plant contains different levels of pectin complex.
Side Effects and Warnings
Based on traditional use, burdock is generally believed to be safe when taken by mouth in recommended doses for short periods of time. Handling the plant or using preparations on the skin (such as plasters) has occasionally been reported to cause allergic skin reactions. Diuretic effects (increasing urine flow) and estrogen-like effects have been reported with oral burdock use in patients with HIV. Although reports of symptoms such as dry mouth and slow heart rate have been noted in people taking burdock products, it is believed that contamination with belladonna may be responsible for these reactions. Contamination may occur during harvesting.
In theory, tannins present in burdock may be toxic, although toxicity has not been reported in animal studies. Tannins can cause stomach upset and in high concentrations may result in kidney or liver damage. Long-term use of tannins may increase the risk of head and neck cancers, although this has not been seen in humans. Based on animal research and limited human study, burdock may cause increases or reductions in blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood sugar levels may need monitoring by a qualified healthcare provider, and medication adjustments might be necessary. In theory, burdock may also cause electrolyte imbalances (for example, changes in potassium or sodium levels in the blood) due to diuretic effects (increased urine flow).
Several case reports of burdock root tea poisoning exist along with cases of burdock ophthalmia (eye inflammation). There have been several reports of stomatitis (mouth sores) present in dogs that have come in contact with burdock, burs, and bristles.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Based on animal studies that show components of burdock to cause uterus stimulation, burdock is sometimes recommended to be avoided during pregnancy. Due to limited scientific study, burdock cannot be considered safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
Interactions with Drugs
Based on animal research and limited human study, burdock may either lower or raise blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also affect blood sugar. Patients taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare provider. Medication adjustments may be necessary. Burdock has been associated with diuretic effects (increasing urine flow) in one human report and in theory may cause excess fluid loss (dehydration) or electrolyte imbalances (for example, changes in potassium or sodium levels in the blood). These effects may be increased when burdock is taken at the same time as diuretic drugs such as chlorothiazide (Diuril®), furosemide (Lasix®), hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ), or spironolactone (Aldactone®). Based on limited human evidence that is not entirely clear, burdock may have estrogen-like properties and may act to increase the effects of estrogenic agents including hormone replacement therapies such as Premarin® or birth control pills.
Based on animal research, burdock may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding (although human research is lacking). Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®). Tinctures of burdock may contain high concentrations of alcohol (ethanol) and may lead to vomiting if used with disulfiram (Antabuse®) or metronidazole (Flagyl®).
Medications taken to treat gout, cancer, or HIV may interact with burdock. There is also a possible interaction with antibiotics.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Based on animal research and limited human study, burdock may either lower or raise blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that can also alter blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
Burdock has been associated with diuretic effects (increasing urine flow) in one human report, and in theory, may cause excess fluid loss (dehydration) or electrolyte imbalances (for example, changes in potassium or sodium levels in the blood) when used with other diuretic herbs or supplements.
Based on animal research, burdock may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, fewer cases with garlic, and two cases with saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
Herbs or supplements taken to treat gout, cancer, or HIV may interact with burdock. There is also a possible interaction with herbs with antibacterial, antioxidant, or anti-inflammatory effects (such as ginger).
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
Anonymous. In vitro screening of traditional medicines for anti-HIV activity: memorandum from a WHO meeting. Bull World Health Organ 1989;67(6):613-618.
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Grases F, Melero G, Costa-Bauza A, et al. Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol 1994;26(5):507-511. View Abstract
Holetz FB, Pessini GL, Sanches NR, et al. Screening of some plants used in the Brazilian folk medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz 2002;97(7):1027-1031. View Abstract
Iwakami S, Wu JB, Ebizuka Y, et al. Platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonists contained in medicinal plants: lignans and sesquiterpenes. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1992;40(5):1196-1198. View Abstract
Lin CC, Lu JM, Yang JJ, et al. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med 1996;24(2):127-137. View Abstract
Lin SC, Chung TC, Lin CC, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa on carbon tetrachloride- and acetaminophen-induced liver damage. Am J Chin Med 2000;28(2):163-173. View Abstract
Lin SC, Lin CH, Lin CC, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa Linne on liver injuries induced by chronic ethanol consumption and potentiated by carbon tetrachloride. J Biomed Sci 2002;9(5):401-409. View Abstract
Morita K, Kada T, Namiki M. A desmutagenic factor isolated from burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Mutat Res 1984;129(1):25-31. View Abstract
Os'kina OA, Pashinskii VG, Kanakina TA, et al. [The mechanisms of the anti-ulcer action of plant drug agents]. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1999;62(4):37-39. View Abstract
Rodriguez P, Blanco J, Juste S, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis due to burdock (Arctium lappa). Contact Dermatitis 1995;33(2):134-135. View Abstract
Sasaki Y, Kimura Y, Tsunoda T, et al. Anaphylaxis due to burdock. Int J Dermatol 2003;42(6):472-473. View Abstract
Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Flatt PR, et al. Glycaemic effects of traditional European plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetes Res 1989;10(2):69-73. View Abstract
Yang L, Lin S, Yang T, et al. Synthesis of anti-HIV activity of dibenzylbutyrolactone lignans. Bioorganic Medicinal Chem Lett 1996;6:941-944.
Zick SM, Sen A, Feng Y, et al. Trial of Essiac to ascertain its effect in women with breast cancer (TEA-BC). J Altern Complement Med 2006 Dec;12(10):971-80. View Abstract
Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.
March 22, 2017