By Tracie Korol
A massage therapist friend of mine has a houseful of Irish wolfhounds. She decorates her office with photos of her canine family. While on her table one day I noticed photo of one of her dogs, a full-body profile, covered in socks head to tail. Socks? The story: after a run in the fields, Seamus came inside and flumped down on the pile of dirty laundry. Later, when he sauntered into the living room, covered in socks, my friend realized that underneath the socks, he was also completely covered in burrs. Combing out burrs is usually a dog lover’s introduction to burdock. (Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro fasteners!)
But beyond being a grooming aggravation, as an herbal remedy, burdock (known also as gobo root or Arctium lappa) has been used for centuries to treat a host of ailments. It is in the daisy family of biennial thistles. This means it blooms and flowers every two years. It grows by ditches and watersides and by the highways almost everywhere.
Medicinally, burdock root is thought of as a ‘liver herb’ used as a tonic for its immune-strengthening capabilities. It has been used for centuries as a diuretic and to clear the blood of toxins by stimulating perspiration. When applied topically, it is used to relieve certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, acne and eczema. Burdock is also being used to lower blood sugar, to treat digestive troubles, minor skin infections, colds, sore throat, flu, HIV and rheumatoid arthritis and to stimulate bile production. Historically, burdock has also been used to treat cancer. In 2006, researchers at the Institute Natural Medicine at Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Japan noted that arctigenin, found in burdock, inhibited cancer cell viability.
Both, the fresh, grated root or the mashed fresh leaves can be applied as a poultice to wounds, bruises and badly healing sores. Simultaneously, a tea or decoction of the root can be used internally to facilitate inner cleansing and support liver and kidneys. Burdock root and nettle root extract are said to be helpful to prevent loss of hair.
As a staple in Japanese and macrobiotic diets, burdock is eaten as vegetable — it tastes somewhat like a parsnip, can be prepared as any tuber, and dogs usually enjoy the slightly sweet flavor. If I don’t feel like harvesting my own, I can occasionally find fresh burdock at upscale heath/grocery stores and frozen, at Asian markets. It’s low in calories and rich in trace minerals including potassium, phosphorous, chromium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, silicon, zinc, thiamine and sodium. It’s a very healthy food. Burdock also contains inulin, the latest health food craze. Currently, inulin is promoted primarily as a pre-biotic and as a fiber supplement. Prebiotics are defined as: non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improve host — you, your dog — health.
Burdock help to “coordinate” the metabolism so that everything is working “in sync”. The result is a generalized improvement in the body’s metabolic functions, which in turn increases the efficiency by which nutrients are absorbed and energy is used. This increased efficiency allows us, and our Best Friends, to more fully experience the vibrancy of well-being.
A caution: If you are allergic to plants in the daisy family, like ragweed and chrysanthemums, you may also have an allergy to burdock.