Balancing Burdock: Skin, Urinary, & Digestion
It’s Burdock root season… as the leaves twinge towards the colors of fall, I’m starting to feel that urge to harvest the roots before they turn completely inward and I can’t find what I’m looking for.
Burdock or Arctium lappa, has always been my “root”. I know that sounds really weird but I’ve had a strong affinity for this sweet majestic plant even before I started getting all nerdy with herbs.
I remember my mother making a burdock stem frittata with the young stalks of the flower stalks of burdock, cleaning and slicing their nutty stems and making a weird but deliciously nutty breakfast for dinner option.
Then there were those dried seed pods in the fall or cock-a-burr, which were excellent weapons to chuck at each other to add a little more drama when they got caught in hair during our epically long Russian spies games in the woods (it was the 80’s folks).
But then I remember I would sit and try, peel the seed pods back, and if I was lucky, munching on the rewarding little nutty seeds and i’m sure scattering burdock all around our little getaway hunting cabin.
Burdock is a biennial plant, meaning that the first years growth produces no flowers and in the second year you will get the stalk and flower (and thistle-ly seed pod) before it dies off. This edge of the woods plant grows unbelievably quickly and once established it takes some work to get it out of where the seed has been sown.
Burdock is also known as gobo and is available in international grocery stores as the super long roots, packaged up and ready to be peeled and sauteed into stir fries, added to soups and other dishes, especially this time of year.
Let's get into the love of all things burdock.
Burdock as a Traditional Herbal Medicine
Burdock is a multi faceted plant that is considered an alterative in herbal medicine. An altera-what?
David Winston's (one of my favorite herbal gurus) definition is:
"My definition of an alterative, which I believe to be an accurate description of what these herbs actually do, is: An alterative is a substance that gently increases elimination of metabolic wastes through the major eliminatory organs (lungs, lymph, skin, kidney, liver, and bowel) thus improving the body's ability to heal and function in a healthy manner.”
One of the primary ways that burdock works is to balance the dry and damp conditions in your body. It also can be a diaphoretic which means that it’s working on eliminating heat from the body by sweating and increased cleansing urine output.
For the skin
Burdock has an affinity for healing the skin, from the flair ups on the skin to eczema, scaly, pimples that come to a head and inflammed or skin that is rooted in outbreaks. Since it’s our largest organ so usually if there is an issue with the skin something deeper is going on but burdock with all of its energetic, nutritional and medicinal component works on the root of this.
Burdock is used to normalize the sebaceous glands, helping to distribute oils throughout the body in a more balanced way. By supporting and strengthening the liver and kidneys purifying actions on the body. Which in turn helps promote healthier (and clearer) skin.
I love using burdock as a food, but you can also add burdock to your favorite chai tea recipe and drink a cup a day to see if it would work for your skin.
For the urinary system:
Burdock is considered a diuretic herb. Which helps support the cleansing of harmful toxins of the body through the urinary system. Just note that burdock should be combined with a moisten herb, like red clover, marshmallow or licorce because it can be a little bit drying.
Burdock for digestion
Burdock contains bitter glycosides, flavanoids, tannins and inulin that supports digestive health. It also support the detoxification process of the liver and enhances the metabolic function of the digestive system.
Plant Spirit of Burdock
I love using burdock to dig deeply into the root of disconnection from self whether that is in the form of oppression or inaction. Often times energetically I use burdock to help support someone that is deeply grieve, because it tends to loosen and let the person rise naturally from there grieving state slowly and at their own pace. It's a beautiful comforting and gentle energy. But also gives the person the strength to rise and get moving. Like adding oil to an engine.
Ways to use Burdock as food and medicine
Other ways to get burdock into your daily is by tincture, but I highly suggest that you actually eat burdock. Digging this root is NOT an easy chore and make sure that you are harvesting it away from any sort of toxicity like run off.I specifically “plant” burdock in a pile of compost so that it’s slightly easier to grow and harvest.
In the fall I'll find a burdock plant that has gone to seed and shake it over my compost. But note that organic burdock actually starting to show up in the grocery stores like Mom’s Market near the other super cool roots like dandelion and salsify.Here is one delicious way to incorporate burdock in your diet that I love to eat well into the fall. But adding burdock slices to your soups and stews is also a perfect way to add this supporting harmonizer into your daily.
Sweet and Sour Burdock
½ pound burdock root or early flower stems, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch matchsticks
⅛ cup Hoisin Sauce
1 tablespoon good soy sauce
½ juice of a lemon
1/4 cup sliced scallions
Burdock oxidizes really quickly so I always have lemon juice water ready to go. Peel & clean the burdock root or stem. Dip into lemon water to preserve color. Cut into 2 inch sticks and add olive oil to the pan, saute burdock in a small amount of oil until burdock softens, about 5-8 minutes. Add hoisin, soy sauce and lemon juice and glaze until coating the burdock until it sticks. Finish with scallions.Love this as a side dish to a Chinese meal or just as a side dish for any food that’s asian-ish.
You can also make a Burdock decoction, which is boiling fresh or dried roots at least 20 minutes and then add a little sweetener and milk to make a nutty skin balancing, gut building, urinary tract supporting tea.
I hope you enjoy burdock as much as I do and share this gift with your friends by linking our page to your website or facebook page.
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A little note on why I do little snap shots and not full reports on herbs.
I do want to note that all my writings are not exhaustive. I will list a few websites that you can go to at the bottom of this article that will really let you nerd out. My goal is to get you comfortable with herbs as food, medicine and allies. I could write (and have) and exhaustive materia medica on plants but it’s been done. If you need a book to look up all of the plants, Andrew Chevalier, Encyclopedia of herbs is a great beginners tool with pictures. Really I’m just here, sprouting your love for all things plant medicine based.
Here are some great sites where you can find all the details about burdock in monographs which means a little more "clinical" a little less story based and practical usage:
Last of all here is my disclaimer:
None of the above has been evaluated by the FDA for actual effectiveness.