Found in Northern Asia and Europe, burdock root has become a staple in many cultures for its medicinal purposes. Like a carrot or parsnip, the tubular plant looks kind of like a zombie’s nobby finger. And (also like carrots or parsnips) the burdock root benefits are plentiful.
“Burdock root is the thick, square root of a plant more technically known as Arcticum,” says Noah Rubinstein, DACM, LAc, clinical herbalist and chief clinic director of New York City’s Yinova Center. “One of the neat things about traditional herbal medicine is that different parts of a plant have different therapeutic benefits.” Yes, burdock’s leaves and seeds have health victories all of their own—but Dr. Rubinstein says the root is really what’s worth writing home about.
“Roots in Chinese medicine [like burdock] are believed to nourish and heal at the deepest levels because they come from the soil,” says Chinese medicine expert and herbalist Tsao-Lin Moy, LAc, founder of Integrative Healing Arts in New York. “They are a reservoir of minerals and vitamins because they absorb directly from the earth.”
“Burdock root is both food and medicine,” adds Moy. “In Chinese medicine, it is called Niu Bang and the seeds Niu Bang Zi are used for treating heat conditions such as fever, cough, and a sore, red swollen throat.” It’s also considered a staple food, she says, and can be found in Asian grocery stores near the parsnips and turnips.
Below, I asked the experts to break down the benefits of burdock roots, the possible side effects associated with the plant, and how to use it in teas, food, and even skin care.
The 5 burdock root benefits worth knowing about now
1. It’s good for your skin
“Burdock root has been known to fight common skin afflictions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis thanks to its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Jamie Bacharach, DiplAc, of Acupuncture Jerusalem. It’s important to note that the study Bacharach is referencing was conducted in vitro, aka not on living humans but on cells in a lab. So take this particular benefit with a grain of salt.
2. It’s rich in antioxidants
Older research from 2009 found the burdock root has tons of antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are substances that help your body to actively fight off disease, and they’re also found in foods like blueberries, cherries, and coffee.
3. It may help manage blood pressure.
“Studies show that burdock root may help with high blood pressure as it has a relaxing effect on blood vessels in addition to lowering blood cholesterol,” says Moy. Perhaps for that very reason, many traditional Asian soup recipes containing beef and pork will also call for burdock roots to balance out the fat of the meal, she says.
4. It may be an aphrodisiac
A small study conducted on rats suggests that burdock root may serve as an aphrodisiac: a food that may make you ready to get it on. So in case you’re looking for a plant-based alternative to oysters, burdock root might just be your thing.
5. Burdock root is high in fiber
A 100-gram serving of burdock root contains about three grams of fiber, about 12 percent of your daily recommended intake. (Not too shabby!) Fiber, of course, is crucial for digestive and gut health because it feeds good gut bacteria while helping move food through your system smoothly and efficiently.
The potential side effects of burdock root to know about
Although burdock root is mostly harmless, herbalists say that it’s not necessarily the best medicinal food for everyone—and that’s completely okay. “Burdock root is safe for most people to consume but should be avoided by people with blood disorders due to its potential to increase bleeding risk as a side effect,” says Bacharach. “Additionally, pregnant or nursing women should avoid burdock root due to the lack of studies conducted which verify its safety in such women.”
Burdock root has also been found to lower blood sugar, so it’s not a good supplement for people with diabetes.
Of course, where you get the root is also important. Bacharach stresses that you’ll want to buy the stuff from reputable growers who don’t pick the root from the wild (where it could possibly come into contact with dangerous plants or plant byproducts that you don’t want in your body).
How to use burdock roots in teas, cuisine, and more
1. Use it to make a skin salve
If you have a local herbal shop near you, you can purchase burdock root in the form of oils and extracts that can be applied (carefully!) on acne, eczema, and psoriasis. “When used on the skin, burdock root can be irritating and cause a reaction for some people. Applying a small amount to the inside of your forearm is a good way to test your reaction,” says Dr. Rubinstein.
2. Cook it like you would any root vegetable
Just like roasted carrots, parsnips, or beets, burdock root thrives in the oven. Sprinkle it with rosemary, a pinch of salt, and black pepper, then pop it in the oven—and bam—you’ve got a side veggie dish that’s so much more exciting that boiled spinach. “The flavor of burdock root has been compared to artichoke, and can be used similarly in dishes such as stir-fries or soups. Its texture is generally agreeable, although it does oxidize quickly when peeled and should be soaked in lemon water to limit browning,” adds Bacharach. Moy compares burdock root more to a turnip, and says that you can throw it into soups too—although she warns that it can taste a bit bitter.
3. Brew it into a cup of tea
“Burdock root can easily be shredded and boiled to make into a tea and combined with honey and ginger,” says Moy. Purchase it dried (or already in tea bags) and add it to a cup of boiling water. Take a sip and decide if your tea needs any add-ins.
Burdock root, in short, is basically a less popular carrot that deserves a little bit of wellness hype as well. It’s anti-inflammatory when applied topically, and provides loads of antioxidants and fiber when consumed via stir-fries, roasted sheet veggies, or in teas. If you’re someone who’s pregnant, diabetic, or has a blood disorder, however, this particular root may better serve you in the ground.
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