Story of Burdock Root for Chronic Dermatitis
Ellen Dart, 39, knows the distress of chronic dermatitis all too well. She had good skin when she was younger, but developed chronic skin inflammation as an adult—in spite of her healthy lifestyle. “My skin was riddled with inflamed cystic lesions that were almost like boils,” she says, “but I was determined to get to the source of the problems.”
Dart consulted several skin specialists and made a few attempts at natural remedies, but nothing was working. “I knew I needed more, so I thoroughly explored the basis of inflammatory skin disease, studied the herbal approach to treatments, and concluded that my dermatitis was caused by a liver so congested and burdened that it wasn’t breaking down, processing, and eliminating wastes properly,” says this Boulder, Colorado, yoga teacher.
“I began taking burdock root and dandelion root, and within nine months of beginning this herbal work, the dermatitis was gone,” continues Dart. Three years have since passed, and “my skin quite frankly, is gorgeous—totally clear and smooth,” says Dart.
Burdock as an Herbal Remedy
A native thistle from Eurasia, burdock (Arctium lappa) is now firmly established as a weed in North America. Over the centuries, it’s become a mainline remedy in Western and Chinese herbal systems for a variety of health conditions. The genus name (Arctium) from the Greek arktos, or “bear,” is a reference to its seed pod’s rough burrs. The species, lappa, comes from “to seize.” Same idea.
This member of the daisy family is rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids, lignins, and bitter glycosides. The root contains up to 45 percent inulin, a non-nutritious fiber, plus assorted other polysaccharides.
Did You Know?
Researchers at Heilongjiang University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Harbin, China, believe that burdock improves the anti-aging processes.
Burdock Used for Skin Conditions
There are many fine herbs for the skin, but few are better than burdock root, as Dart’s story perfectly illustrates. Burdock has a long history of use as a detoxifier in skin conditions, and it really earns its stripes when it comes to skin inflammation, including eczema, psoriasis, and boils. Clinicians in Britain consider it to be specific for eruptions of the head, face, and neck, for which it’s often combined with dandelion root, yellow dock root, red clover flowers, or cleavers.
Burdock as Diabetes Remedy
The inulin makes burdock valuable in treating diabetes by grabbing sugars from the digestive tract and preventing them from entering the bloodstream. A 2019 paper summarized its antidiabetic action as regulating glucose homeostasis and improving oxidative stress. Another 2019 study confirmed that the polysaccharides in burdock help regulate blood fats. Bonus: The inulin in burdock also promotes the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestines.
Detoxifying with Burdock
Burdock root is a general detoxifying remedy that influences skin, kidneys, and mucous membranes to remove accumulated wastes. A 2019 study found that it can also treat constipation. Burdock is a bit diuretic and diaphoretic (sweat-inducing), which, combined with its cleansing qualities, makes it useful for easing arthritis as well.
Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval German herbalist, used burdock to treat cancerous tumors. Today, burdock is a chief ingredient in the popular Essiac and Hoxsey formulas, anecdotally used as cancer remedies. One study found that arctiin, a lignan isolated from burdock, prevents mammary cancer, while other burdock lignans slowed the growth of leukemia cells. Research from 2018 has identified arctigenin as another potential anticancer constituent. And similar research in 2017 showed that arctigenin may reduce prostate tumors.
British herbalists especially value burdock for addressing all manner of liver toxicity conditions, which are closely linked to skin inflammation. Scientists in Taiwan confirmed the powerful liver-protective effect of burdock in a series of studies.
The high levels of lignans and inulin in burdock have been shown to have anti-inflammatory activities, explaining its use in damp heat conditions, such as laryngitis and skin inflammation. Chinese researchers confirmed these effects in 2019.
Burdock’s polysaccharides are antioxidant-rich, perhaps explaining why the herb is included in many Chinese and Ayurvedic upper-respiratory formulas. Chinese scientists found that a burdock lignan helped ease flu symptoms, and another study showed that polysaccharides from burdock may help suppress coughs.
Burdock in Recipes and Supplements
You may have eaten burdock root at a sushi restaurant. In Japan, it is cultivated as a food, where it is called “gobo.” Bearing a resemblance to a long (up to 3 feet!) brown carrot, the root is crisp, with a sweet, pungent flavor. Try a glass of fresh burdock root juice, or steam carrot and burdock slices and serve with dill or a light sesame oil sauce. (Soaking the root before steaming helps reduce some of its harshness.) The peeled, steamed stem is edible, too.
Since burdock is a moderately powerful cleanser, a tea prepared from the dried root can be beneficial. Try ¼ oz. (7 grams) by weight of the dried herb, brewed, per day, or use the equivalent in capsules, powder, or tinctures.