Burdock may look like a lowly weed, because, well, it is—albeit one that produces a rad-looking spindly purple flower. Health gurus dig it—literally—for its roots, and they have for ages, especially overseas.
“Burdock root is used in herbal medicine all over the world, because it’s high in antioxidants and has a powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect,” explains acupuncturist Jill Blakeway, director of the YinOva Center in New York City. “In Japan, it’s eaten as a vegetable and throughout Asia, it has been used for thousands of years in combination with other herbs to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, colds, and even measles.”
Burdock root is also used to help treat skin problems, like psoriasis and eczema, she says, though experts still aren’t exactly sure which of its active ingredients make it so darn healing.
You can also apply it puréed “directly to a problem area on the skin,” says Kimberly Snyder, celeb nutritionist and beauty-foods evangelist. “Since it treats so many varying issues,” she says, “people should figure out if it’s personally right for them.”
And proponents of the macrobiotic diet say that it can help metabolize fat, so it’s served as a weight-management veggie.
You can chow down on the roots—which look a lot like white carrots or turnips—much like you’d eat any other root vegetable (perhaps roasted or pickled?), or take it in supplement form (burdock often comes as a dried powder or in herbal tinctures).
But a word of caution to anyone contemplating jumping on the burdock bandwagon: Snyder says that people who suffer from ragweed allergies could potentially have a hard time with it, so check with your doctor before you eat or apply this powerful root. “It also has a diuretic effect, so you need to be careful to stay hydrated if you’re using it medicinally,” Blakeway says.