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Burdock Root
Arctium lappa

Burdock is the main herb in the famous Essiac formula. It was introduced as a cancer remedy by Rene Caisse but learned by her from Ojibwa herbal traditions. Interestingly, it is also a key herb in Hildegard of Bingen's 12th century internal tonic for cancer. It is discussed in the appendix of my book where I point out that it remains to this day a highly controversial herb, prized by many as a diuretic and even as the main herb to prevent angiogenesis, the formation of auxiliary arteries that feed tumors. If it is effective for this, it is a reasonable alternative to shark cartilade and the overharvesting of a species. Others disregard the herb to such an extent that it is omitted from some textbooks.

I confess, I stole this picture from a Japanese web site. I hope my action will be appreciated, not scolded.

The ingredients are: soup stock, maitake mushrooms, burdock, leeks, Japanese parsley, and konnyaku, a gelatinous vegetable well known in Japanese cuisine.

Burdock is a member of the daisy family. It is native to Europe but grows almost anywhere, obviously in the Great Lakes area where the nurse's and the Ojibwa's paths met. The Japanese, who call burdock "gobo" eat it as a sort of Zen austerity. The root is long and thin, sort of like a carrot without pigmentation. It is definitely Zen and bland tasting. The French prepare burdock like asparagus and some people prepare it as a potato substitute in soups, pancakes, and cutlets. It is one of the main ingredients in most grain coffees, certainly a reason for cancer patients who are concerned about caffeine and its effect on the pancreas and cancer to switch to grain coffee.

Burdock is easy to grow. I had lots of it in my garden in Cundiyo and ate the leaves and roots. It is the first year's growth of the roots that is used both for culinary and medicinal purposes. The root is harvested before the purple flowers open. Herbalists, who consider burdock to be a tumor resolvent, use burdock primarily for uterine complaints and as a poultice to reduce swelling. The leaves, being quite bitter, have a stronger hypoglycemic action than the roots which are more mucilaginous.

Scientific studies in Germany (1967) and Japan (1986) concluded that burdock has powerful antifungal and antibacterial actions. It is such a good blood purifier that it can even be used with venomous bites. Unlike the Ojibwas and Caisse, most herbalists combine burdock with yellow dock and sarsaparilla . . . in which case it would have extremely valuable blood purifying actions. Even by itself, it is highly regarded as the herb of choice for conditions such as eczema.

Research on burdock is sparse but consistent. Hungarians found anti-tumor actions and the Japanese, who truly love this plant, have identified a desmutagen that they named B-factor in honor of burdock. It is so powerful that it prevents cellular mutation in the absence of as well as presence metabolic activation.

So, we have at least 800 years of herbal medicine supporting the use of burdock. Burdock is in the Hoxsey formula that we have re-created . . . and I would like to go on record saying that I personally believe this formula to be significantly superior to Essiac, but it is also much more concentrated than a tea could ever be.

Burdock Bed

Using hints from Richo Cech at Horizon Herbs, I planted my burdock on straw bales. There is about 3" of good soil on top of the straw. When ready to harvest, the bales will be knocked apart and the roots can be easily picked out without digging. The straw can then be used for mulch.

Burdock is about 50% inulin. It is high in potassium and is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and manganese as well as vitamins C and K. It can be harvested as early as 20 weeks after planting. Both the roots and leaves are edible, but the leaves are very bitter whereas the root is somewhat bland tasting and bit mucilaginous. It is this property that enables burdock to bind with toxins and remove them from the body.

Obviously, regular use and long-term use confer more benefits than sporadic adventures with exotic recipes. Being bland, the root can be added to stir fries, casseroles, and even pancakes or muffins without throwing off the intended flavor of the dish. The root can be boiled, baked, roasted, or fried but if marinated, it is more interesting tasting. I have also included burdock in biscuits that I made for a horse and my dogs.

Finally, if you want to go Oriental, think of tempura, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, chawanmushi, or any recipe with carrots because though lacking the bright color, gobo is a perfect substitute for carrots in just about any recipe. Gobo is a popular food in Japan where it is viewed as a sort of culinary ginseng with significant medicinal benefits.


Warning: large amounts are not recommended for pregnant women because burdock is a uterine stimulant.


Based on the Ayurvedic tenet that taste is a clue to the pharmacology of food, Ingrid relates the six tastes: sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, salty, and astringent to the elements and constitutional balance. The system is so logical and clearly presented that anyone hearing these tapes can immediately begin applying the ideas so as to enhance physical harmony. The relationship of physical and psychological health is also developed to a considerable extent.



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*The material provided on this site is for informational purposes only. The author is not a medical doctor. The statements made represent the author's personal opinions and are not intended to replace the services of health care professionals. The content and products discussed have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information on this page and the products available on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.