Scientifically known as Arctium lappa and Arctium minus, burdock is a biennial plant from the Asteraceae family. This plant is used differently worldwide and has many surprising, overlooked benefits!
Keep reading for all you need to know about burdock, including how to identify it, why it’s considered a weed, potential uses, and more!
How to Identify Burdock
Burdock is most commonly found growing along roadsides, pastures, ditch banks, and other places where the soil has been disturbed. Moist, nitrogen-rich soil is ideal for burdock, but the plant is not picky and can thrive in various environments.
During the first year, the leaves grow rosette along the ground. As the plant grows into its second year – grooved, green flower stalks lengthen and rise to produce bright purple flowers and seed burs from July through October. 3-5 feet is average, but it’s not uncommon to see some plants reach up to 10 feet tall!
Burdock leaves are dark green and either egg-shaped or heart-shaped. The leaves grow up to 28 inches long and have gentle hairs. The taproots are large and grow deep, ranging from beige, brown, to almost black.
Burdock is a plant native to Europe and Asia and has since naturalized in North America. After being brought over by European settlers, Native Americans cultivated this weed because of its widespread medicinal uses. Other names for the burdock plant include common burdock, greater burdock, or gobo.
Medicine isn’t the only use for this weed – the plant’s unique method of seed dispersal is responsible for the creation of Velcro! George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, studied the plant’s seeds after they became stuck to his clothing and dog’s fur after a walk.
He observed their ability to “hook” onto various surfaces and thus invented the hook-and-loop fastener, which he named Velcro.
Why is Burdock Considered a Weed?
Although many cultures praise burdock, North America considers the plant a weed. The plant’s prickly burs easily latch onto animal fur or clothing – allowing for an aggressive spread when left uncontrolled.
People who are allergic to daisies, sunflowers, ragweed, chrysanthemums, or other plants in the Asteraceae family should take caution around these weeds.
Touching the leaves or stems of the plant can lead to contact dermatitis – an aggravating, itchy rash that appears after the plant has direct contact with the skin.
The best way to manage the spread of burdock is by stopping the plant before it begins seed production. Once the seeds start attaching to people and animals, it’s much more difficult to control the plant’s spread.
Like most weeds, it can be successfully removed by hand or with a weeding tool. Their taproots grow deep into the ground, at times even reaching a depth of 3 feet. This can make hand weeding rather tricky!
The key is to make sure the entire taproot is removed, as any remnants can allow the plant to resprout during the next growing season.
For help with choosing the right tool for the job, check out our expert guide all about weeding tools.
If the taproots prove to put up a good fight, herbicides are another way to remove burdock from your yard. Not sure which herbicide is best for your lawn? Check out our recommendations for the best organic weed killer. Specifically, you can purchase the best overall pick from that list.
For an even easier option, learning how to make homemade weed killer is a great way to save money and always have a steady supply on hand!
Uses for the Plant
In certain parts of Europe, East Asia, and especially Japan – the burdock plant is celebrated and cultivated as a root vegetable.
Burdock root can be eaten raw or cooked and boasts a crisp yet slightly sweet, bitter, and earthy flavor. Before the widespread use of hops, the root was previously used in Europe for bittering beer!
Young stalks are tender and have a flavor similar to asparagus or artichoke. Their stalks should be peeled before use, and can be enjoyed raw or cooked with other vegetables or added to fresh salads. Their roots make wonderful additions to soups, stews, and stir-fries.
It’s not just humans that love burdock! In the wild, honeybees and butterflies benefit from the nectar and pollen produced by the plant, while butterflies and moths like to munch on common burdock roots.
Burdock is a natural diuretic, aids in digestion, and is often used to purify blood. When applied topically the plant can help treat acne, eczema, and minor burns.
This weed is low in calories yet high in fiber, potassium, and calcium and rich in antioxidants that can help lower inflammation. The root has even been turned into an oil to treat scalp irritation and promote healthy hair.
Burdock has a very similar appearance to belladonna and nightshade plants – both highly toxic plants that pose a danger to people. These plants often grow together. Therefore, you should never gather them in the wild. This weed should be purchased from reputable suppliers only.
There is not enough research on the effects of the weed on children, and youths and pregnant mothers should not consume the plant. As this weed is a natural diuretic, the plant should be avoided if you are dehydrated.
Burdock is commonly grazed by livestock. When consumed in large quantities by dairy cows, the contents of the weed can taint the milk – producing the same effects as if the plant was consumed directly. Their seeds can easily stick to sheep wool, reducing its quality and value.
Burs can even stick to the long eyelashes of livestock, which increases the animal’s risk of infection.
Wrapping Up Burdock
With many uses and interesting backgrounds, burdock is more than just a random plant in your yard!
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.
- About the Author
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Spending her early childhood in the Hudson Valley region of New York, Alanna Singletary has wonderful memories of helping her uncle tend to his lush garden each year.
Rather than turning on Saturday cartoons, her winter mornings were filled with sap collection and maple syrup production; while summer days brought tomato picking and countless hours tending to a homemade tomato sauce.
Now residing in North Carolina, Alanna continues to assist with her father’s grand garden and is working on growing crops of her own. Her garden experience at an early age set her up for a constant desire to learn, something she continues to carry in all aspects of life.