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Arctium lappa - L.                
Common Name Great Burdock, Gobo
Family Asteraceae or Compositae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards Care should be taken if harvesting the seed in any quantity since tiny hairs from the seeds can be inhaled and these are toxic[205]. Can cause allergic reactions. Contraindicated during pregnancy [301].
Habitats Waste ground, preferring calcareous soils[7], it is sometimes also found in meadows and woods[9].
Range Most of Europe, including Britain, east to northern Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Arctium lappa is a BIENNIAL growing to 2 m (6ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera, self.The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Synonyms Arctium majus. Arcion majus. Arcion tomentosum. Lappa glabra.
Arctium lappa Great Burdock, Gobo

(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future
Arctium lappa Great Burdock, Gobo
(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Meadow; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root;  Seed;  Stem.
Edible Uses:

Root - raw or cooked[2, 7, 9, 14, 179]. Very young roots can be eaten raw, but older roots are normally cooked[206]. They can be up to 120cm long and 2.5cm wide at the top, but are best harvested when no more than 60cm long[206]. Old and very long roots are apt to become woody at the core[206]. Although it does not have much flavour the root can absorb other flavours[116]. Young roots have a mild flavour, but this becomes stronger as the root gets older[206]. The root is white but discolours rapidly when exposed to the air[206]. Roots can be dried for later use[213]. They contain about 2.5% protein, 0.14% fat, 14.5% carbohydrate, 1.17% ash[179]. The root contains about 45% inulin[240]. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by the human body, and thus passes straight through the digestive system. In some people this starch will cause fermentation in the gut, resulting in wind[K]. Inulin can be converted into a sweetener that is suitable for diabetics to eat[K]. Young leaves - raw or cooked[9, 12, 14, 62]. A mucilaginous texture[179]. The leaves contain about 3.5% protein, 1.8% fat, 19.4% carbohydrate, 8.8% ash[179]. Young stalks and branches - raw or cooked[2, 9, 52, 55, 62]. Used like asparagus or spinach[12, 183]. They taste best if the rind is removed[85, 117]. The leaf stalks can be parboiled and used as a substitute for cardoons[183]. The pith of the flowering stem can be eaten raw in salads, boiled or made into confections[4, 183]. A delicate vegetable, somewhat like asparagus in flavour[4]. The seeds can be sprouted and used like bean-sprouts[12, 52, 183].
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Leaves (Fresh weight)
  • 0 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 0%
  • Protein: 3.5g; Fat: 1.8g; Carbohydrate: 19.4g; Fibre: 0g; Ash: 8.8g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 0mg; Phosphorus: 0mg; Iron: 0mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0mg; Niacin: 0mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
  • Reference: [ ]
  • Notes:
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Alterative;  Antibacterial;  Antifungal;  Antiphlogistic;  Antipsoriatic;  Aperient;  Blood purifier;  Carminative;  Cholagogue;  Depurative;  Diaphoretic;  
Diuretic;  Hypoglycaemic;  Stomachic.

Burdock is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine[254]. The dried root of one year old plants is the official herb, but the leaves and fruits can also be used[4]. It is used to treat conditions caused by an 'overload' of toxins, such as throat and other infections, boils, rashes and other skin problems[254]. The root is thought to be particularly good at helping to eliminate heavy metals from the body[254]. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Rumex acetosella, Ulmus rubra and Rheum palmatum[254]. The plant is antibacterial, antifungal, carminative[9, 21, 147, 165, 176]. It has soothing, mucilaginous properties and is said to be one of the most certain cures for many types of skin diseases, burns, bruises etc[4, 244]. It is used in the treatment of herpes, eczema, acne, impetigo, ringworm, boils, bites etc[244]. The plant can be taken internally as an infusion, or used externally as a wash[244]. Use with caution[165]. The roots of one-year old plants are harvested in mid-summer and dried. They are alterative, aperient, blood purifier, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic and stomachic[218, 222]. The seed is alterative, antiphlogistic, depurative, diaphoretic and diuretic[218]. Recent research has shown that seed extracts lower blood sugar levels[238]. The seed is harvested in the summer and dried for later use[254]. The crushed seed is poulticed onto bruises[222]. The leaves are poulticed onto burns, ulcers and sores[222].
Other Uses

The juice of the plant, when used as a friction, is said to have a stimulating action against baldness[7].
Cultivation details                                         
Succeeds in most soils when grown in partial shade[200]. Prefers a moist neutral to alkaline soil[238] and a sunny position in a heavy soil[22]. Plants are best grown in a light well-drained soil if the roots are required for culinary use[200, 206]. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.6 to 7.8. The top growth dies back at temperatures a little above freezing, but the roots tolerate much lower temperatures[206] and can be left in the ground all winter to be harvested as required. Burdock is cultivated for its edible root in Japan, there are some named varieties[183]. Spring-sown seed produces edible roots in late summer and autumn, whilst autumn sown crops mature in the following spring or early summer[206]. Although the plants are quite large, it is best to grow them fairly close together (about 15cm apart, or in rows 30cm apart with the plants 5 - 8cm apart in the rows) since this encourages the development of long straight roots[206]. The seed head has little hooked prickles and these attach themselves to the hairs or clothing of passing creatures and can thus be carried for some considerable distance from the parent plant[4]. The plants usually self-sow freely[238]. The flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies[206].
Seed - best sown in situ in the autumn[200]. The seed can also be sown in spring[206]. Germination can be erratic, it is best to sow the seed in trays and plant out the young plants before the tap-root develops[206]. Seed requires a minimum temperature of 10°c, but a temperature of 20 - 25°c is optimum[206]. Germination rates can be improved by pre-soaking the seed for 12 hours or by scarification[206]. They germinate best in the light[206]. The autumn sowing should be made as late as possible because any plants with roots more than 3mm in diameter in the spring will quickly run to seed if cold temperatures are followed by daylengths longer than 12½ hours[206].
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Expert comment                                         
Administrator .
a little recent research Feb 12 2011 12:00AM
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[12]Loewenfeld. C. and Back. P. Britain's Wild Larder.
A handy pocket guide.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[22]Sholto-Douglas. J. Alternative Foods.
Not very comprehensive, it seems more or less like a copy of earlier writings with little added.
[52]Larkcom. J. Salads all the Year Round.
A good and comprehensive guide to temperate salad plants, with full organic details of cultivation.
[55]Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds.
Interesting reading.
[62]Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Very readable.
[85]Harrington. H. D. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains.
A superb book. Very readable, it gives the results of the authors experiments with native edible plants.
[116]Brooklyn Botanic Garden Oriental Herbs and Vegetables, Vol 39 No. 2.
A small booklet packed with information.
[117]Rosengarten. jnr. F. The Book of Edible Nuts.
A very readable and comprehensive guide. Well illustrated.
[147]? A Barefoot Doctors Manual.
A very readable herbal from China, combining some modern methods with traditional chinese methods.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[179]Reid. B. E. Famine Foods of the Chiu-Huang Pen-ts'ao.
A translation of an ancient Chinese book on edible wild foods. Fascinating.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[206]Larkcom J. Oriental Vegetables
Well written and very informative.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Leon Durbin Mon May 15 2006
I am confused by the statement that the root has 0 calories and yet you also state that it has .14 % fat and 14.5% carbohydrate. Please can you explain or let me know if this was a mistake - thanks. I am a bushcraft instructor and experience suggests it does provide energy! My email: leon@cuon.net
Ann Z.
Jul 16 2010 12:00AM
Where I live, the mountains of Mid-Atlantic USA, burdock grows lavishly. The rocky ground can make it extremely hard to harvest the roots, and its tenacious seed heads sorely vex all fur (and clothing)-bearing creatures. Nevertheless, the first-year plants' roots are well worth the effort of digging. (Making a special meter-deep bed just for growing them is even better.) I scrub them, slice in thin rounds or chop them in small pieces, and pressure-cook for about 10 minutes in a vegetable steamer over water with a little vinegar in it. Then, stir-fried with onions and other goodies, they become the star ingredient in my Burdock Fried Rice. This dish is so popular with children and wild-food skeptics that it is a central tradition of our holiday meals. Burdock is one of the way-too-many wild plants in this area that should be celebrated instead of cursed by ignorant gardeners. Its vigor and profusion are a gift.
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