Burdock Arctium lappa
This is the ‘greater dock’, a member of the Aster family, the Compositae. Its leaves can get gigantic in the right soil, and in the fall it sends up a stalk with many thistle-like flowers that quickly turn into barbed ‘burrs’ that love to latch on to hair and clothes. We harvest the root in the fall, usually from first or second year plants as the root becomes quite branched and hard to handle after that.
Elemental associations: Water
Phytochemistry: Bitter principles, flavonoids, alkaloids, inulin
Actions: Alterative, cholagogue
Specific systems: Digestive, skin
Burdock has a set of actions which all relate to ‘moving’, or clearing. It is gentle, too, and accomplishes its tasks with a downward-trending, cooling energy, which resembles the growing pattern of its root as it digs deep into moist soil.
To begin with, its bitter qualities have an immediate benefit on the stomach, but it doesn’t stop there. Burdock gently works on the liver and gallbladder, promoting the secretion of bile, thus helping to eliminate residual toxins from our bodies and encouraging smooth digestion. This ability to aid in the body’s detoxifying process is again echoed in its traditional description as a blood cleanser, with the power to resolve latent infections, and help clear up eruptions of toxic blood on the skin’s surface. A good, long-term regimen of Burdock tea or extract is usually indicated for acne, and even eczema and other chronic rashes. The seed can be added, too.
Our kidneys are constantly filtering liquids from our blood, lymph and other body systems and eliminating harmful toxins from these fluids. If the kidneys are weak, and the body is having difficulty with its water balance, Burdock’s clearing power can help reduce the burden of toxins shouldered by the kidneys, protecting them and aiding in recovery.
Deep nourishment follows its cleansing action, which is very good when we consider that mal-absorption of nutrients is most often linked to a buildup of toxins and/or a sluggish digestive system. Burdock first gently prepares the way, then provides the body with a rich array of minerals dug from deep beneath the topsoil, easily absorbable long-chain sugars, and even traces of FOS (starches our intestinal flora favors). This double action, coupled with its cooling energy, makes this one of the first herbs I think of for light cleanses and fasts, as well as for recovery from protracted illness when there is a loss of appetite and digestive function.
Indications: Convalescence, skin conditions (acne, eczema, psoriasis), digestive congestion
Contraindications: None really
Preparation/Dosage: Decoction of the root, 3 TBS in a pint of water, taken twice daily. The tincture can be made from the fresh or dry root, 40%, 1:3 to 1:5. Take ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily before meals.