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"Burdock" redirects here. For other uses, see Burdock (disambiguation).
Villtakjas 2008.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Cynareae[1]
Genus: Arctium
L. 1753 not Lam. 1779

Arctium is a genus of biennial plants commonly known as the thistle burdock, family Asteraceae.[3] Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide.[4]


Arctium lappa (greater burdock)

Plants of the genus Arctium have dark green leaves that can grow up to 28" (71 cm) long. They are generally large, coarse and ovate, with the lower ones being heart-shaped. They are woolly underneath. The leafstalks are generally hollow. Arctium species generally flower from July through to October. Burdock flowers provide essential pollen and nectar for honeybees around August when clover is on the wane and before the goldenrod starts to bloom.[5]

The roots of burdock, among other plants, are eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli). The plant is used as a food plant by other Lepidoptera including Brown-tail, Coleophora paripennella, Coleophora peribenanderi, the Gothic, Lime-speck Pug and Scalloped Hazel.


The prickly heads of these plants (burrs) are noted for easily catching on to fur and clothing. In England, some birdwatchers have reported that birds have become entangled in the burrs leading to a slow death, as they are unable to free themselves.[6] Burdock's clinging properties, in addition to thus providing an excellent mechanism for seed dispersal.,[4] led to the invention of Velcro[7]).

A large number of species have been placed in genus Arctium at one time or another, but most of them are now classified in the related genus Cousinia. The precise limits between Arctium and Cousinia are hard to define; there is an exact correlation between their molecular phylogeny. The burdocks are sometimes confused with the cockleburs (genus Xanthium) and rhubarb (genus Rheum).


Food and drink[edit]

A dish containing a Japanese appetizer, kinpira gobō, consisting of sauteed gobō (greater burdock root) and ninjin (carrot), with a side of kiriboshi daikon (sauteed boiled dried daikon)

The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favour in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia. Arctium lappa is known as "niúbàng" (牛蒡) in Chinese, which was borrowed into Japanese as gobō, and is still eaten in both countries. In Korea burdock root is called "u-eong" (우엉) and sold as "tong u-eong" (통우엉), or "whole burdock". Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about one metre long and two centimetres across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned or shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes.

Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear; their taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related. The stalks are thoroughly peeled, and either eaten raw, or boiled in salt water.[8] Leaves are also eaten in spring in Japan when a plant is young and leaves are soft. Some A. lappa cultivars are specialized for this purpose. A popular Japanese dish is kinpira gobō (金平牛蒡), julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil. Another is burdock makizushi (sushi filled with pickled burdock root; the burdock root is often artificially coloured orange to resemble a carrot).

In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. It contains a fair amount of dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids,[9] and is low in calories. It contains a polyphenol oxidase,[10] which causes its darkened surface and muddy harshness by forming tannin-iron complexes. Burdock root's harshness harmonizes well with pork in miso soup (tonjiru) and with Japanese-style pilaf (takikomi gohan).

Dandelion and burdock is today a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom, which has its origins in hedgerow mead commonly drunk in the mediæval period.[11] Burdock is believed to be a galactagogue, a substance that increases lactation, but it is sometimes recommended to be avoided during pregnancy based on animal studies that show components of burdock to cause uterus stimulation.[12]

In Europe, burdock root was used as a bittering agent in beer before the widespread adoption of hops for this purpose.

Traditional medicine[edit]

Folk herbalists considered dried burdock to be a diuretic, diaphoretic, and a blood purifying agent[citation needed]. The seeds of A. lappa are used in traditional Chinese medicine,[citation needed] under the name niubangzi (Chinese: 牛蒡子; pinyin: niúbángzi; Some dictionaries list the Chinese as just 牛蒡 niúbàng.)

Burdock is a traditional medicinal herb that is used for many ailments. Burdock root oil extract, also called Bur oil, is currently used in Europe in the belief that it is a useful scalp treatment.[citation needed] Modern studies indicate that burdock root oil extract is rich in phytosterols and essential fatty acids (including rare long-chain EFAs).[13][unreliable medical source?]

Note that the green, above-ground portions may cause contact dermatitis in individual with allergies, due to the lactones the plant produces.

Burdock and Velcro[edit]

After taking his dog for a walk one day in the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to the dog's fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook system that the seeds use to hitchhike on passing animals aiding seed dispersal, and he realized that the same approach could be used to join other things together. The result of his studies was Velcro.[7]

"Black from dust but still alive and red in the center. It reminded me of Hadji Murad. It makes me want to write. It asserts life to the end, and alone in the midst of the whole field, somehow or other had asserted it."

Russian author Leo Tolstoy, in his journal (July, 1896) of a tiny shoot of burdock he saw in a ploughed field

The Serbo-Croatian language uses the same word, čičak, for burdock and velcro.[14] In the Polish language rzep means a burr of the burdock and velcro. The German word for burdock is Klette and velcro is Klettverschluss (= burdock fastener).


Size of greater burdock leaves.
The man holding this burdock leaf is 180 centimetres (71 in) tall. 
This is a burdock leaf. Note the steps in the background for scale. 


Accepted species[2]
  1. Arctium atlanticum (Pomel) H.Lindb. - Algeria, Morocco
  2. Arctium debrayi Senay - France, Belgium
  3. Arctium lappa L. - much of Europe + Asia; naturalized in North America, Australia, New Zealand
  4. Arctium leiobardanum Juz. & C.serg. ex Stepanov - Siberia
  5. Arctium minus (Hill) Bernh. - Europe + southwestern Asia; naturalized in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand
  6. Arctium nemorosum Lej. - Europe, Caucasus, Greenland
  7. Arctium neumani (Rouy) Rouy - central + eastern Europe
  8. Arctium nothum (Ruhmer) J.Weiss - central + eastern Europe
  9. Arctium palladini (Marcow.) R.E.Fr. & Söderb. - Turkey, Iran, Caucasus
  10. Arctium palladinii Grossh. - Iran, Caucasus
  11. Arctium platylepis (Boiss. & Bal.) Sosn. ex Grossh. - Turkey, Iran, Caucasus
  12. Arctium pseudarctium (Bornm.) Duist. - Afghanistan, Tajikistan
  13. Arctium sardaimionense Rassulova & B.A.Sharipova - Tajikistan
  14. Arctium scanicum (Rouy) Rouy - France, Belgium
  15. Arctium tomentosum Mill. - northern and eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Caucasus, Siberia, Xinjiang; naturalized in North America


  1. ^ "tribe Cynareae". Flora of North America. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  2. ^ a b Flann, C (ed) 2009+ Global Compositae Checklist
  3. ^ Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 2: 816
  4. ^ a b "Arctium". Flora of North America. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  5. ^ "Don't Cut Your Burdock Down!". Vermont: Calidonia Spirits. August 2015. 
  6. ^ "Chapter Begins Burdock Removal Project". Greater Bozeman, MT: Sacajawea Audubon Society. August 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Strauss, Steven D. (December 2001). The Big Idea: How Business Innovators Get Great Ideas to Market. Kaplan Business. pp. 15–pp.18. ISBN 0-7931-4837-5. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  8. ^ Szczawinski, A.F.; Turner, N.J. (1978). Edible Garden Weeds of Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Extraction, Partial Characterization, and Inhibition Patterns of Polyphenol Oxidase from Burdock (Arctium lappa). Mie S. Lee-Kim, Eun S. Hwang and Kyung H. Kim, Enzymatic Browning and Its Prevention, Chapter 21, pp 267–276, doi:10.1021/bk-1995-0600.ch021
  11. ^ "Mead Recipes: Dandelion and Burdock Beer". Dyfed Lloyd Evans. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  12. ^ "Burdock (Arctium lappa): MedlinePlus Supplements". 2010-07-20. Archived from the original on July 17, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  13. ^ Burdock Root For Acne. Livestrong.Com. Retrieved on 2013-08-22.
  14. ^ "čičak (Hrvatski jezični portal)" (in Croatian). Novi Liber. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 

External links[edit]