Burdock (Arctium lappa and Arctium minor) is easily recognizable, especially in the fall when the burrs are out and sticking to everything that walks by.
In the early spring, you’ll find this biennial plant as large wavy green leaves that are woolly and silvery underneath. The leaves can get quite large, up to a foot wide and 2 feet long. Be careful to distinguish from rhubarb leaves, which are a cultivated (non-wild) plant, but are poisonous.
Burdock grows mostly on roadsides, vacant lots, any disturbed area across North America, though Burdock is originally from Europe and Asia.
The roots, flower stalk and leaf stalks are edible.
As a wild edible plant, burdock roots and stem are eaten. The long leaf stems and early spring flower stalks are peeled and eaten like celery, while the long taproots are dug in the early spring or late fall from plants that have not yet sent up their flower stalk; once the flower stalk goes up and seeds (burrs) are formed, the life cycle of that plant is over and the root would be of no use.
In western herbal medicine, the roots are used as a tea or tincture to cleanse the liver, purify the blood and especially for clearing the skin. It’s benefits to the skin are widespread: treating acne, eczema, herpes, wounds, ulcers, even conditions of scalp and hair, including baldness. The leaves are often used as a poultice to treat bruises, burns and joint swellings.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Burdock seeds of Arctium lappa are called Niu Bang Zi and are used to clear Wind-Heat from the throat, for symptoms such as fever, cough and a sore, red, swollen throat. It is also used to clear heat and toxicity from any red swelling, even in cases of rashes, measles and mumps. It will also moisten the intestine when constipation is present.
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