Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Arctium lappa, Arctium majus
Common Name

Lappa, wild gobo, happy major, niubang

Clinical Summary

Burdock, a perennial plant native to Europe and Northern Asia, is now found worldwide. The root has been consumed as food in Asia for many centuries. The fruit is valued in traditional Chinese medicine as a blood purifier, as a cure for sore throat and colds, and as a topical remedy for skin disorders including acne, eczema and psoriasis. It is also used to treat anorexia, gout, cancer and HIV, although no published clinical studies have evaluated these claims.

Preclinical data indicate that burdock has anti-inflammatory(1), antibacterial (11), antiulcerogenic (12), hepatoprotective (6), antidiabetic (13) and anticancer (14) effects.
A clinical study found that topical application of a formulation containing burdock extract significantly improved dermal extracellular matrix metabolism and visibly reduced wrinkles (4). A mixture of burdock fruit and astragalus root reduced urinary protein and albumin, and improved lipid metabolism and post-prandial blood glucose in patients with diabetic nephropathy (5).

A preparation of burdock tea was found contaminated with atropine, an alkaloid(7). Patients should be aware that poor quality control is a major concern with commercial herbal products.

Purported Uses
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer treatment
  • Diabetes
  • Eczema
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Microbial infections
  • Promote urination
  • Psoriasis
  • Wrinkle reduction
Constituents
  • Acids: Acetic, butyric, caffeic, chlorogenic, trans-2-hexenoic, isovaleric, lauric, linoleic, propionic, stearic acid
  • Aldehydes: Acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, butyraldehyde, isovaleraldehyde, and valeraldehyde
  • Carbohydrates: Inulin, mucilage, pectin
  • Flavonols: Kaempferol, quercetin
  • Polyacetylenes
  • Volatile oils, sesquiterpene lactone (arctiopicrin), bitters (lappatin), arctiin, arctigenin, phytosterols (sitosterol and stigmasterol), tannins
    (3) (4) (11)
Mechanism of Action

The lignans arctiin and arctigenin were shown to inhibit the pro-inflammatory factors, nitric oxide (NO), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (3) (4); polyacetylenes and chlorogenic acid have antibacterial properties and are thought responsible for burdock's beneficial effects against infections and skin disorders (11).
Animal studies indicate that burdock extract induces hypoglycemia and increases carbohydrate tolerance, stimulates uterine smooth muscle, and has antimutagenic activity; the tannin extract induces macrophage response (8). Burdock also exhibits hepatoprotective effects in rats due to its antioxidative activity (6).

Contraindications

Patients allergic to chrysanthemums may exhibit cross-sensitivity to burdock.
Burdock may cause uterine stimulation and should be avoided by pregnant women.

Adverse Reactions
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis (9)
  • Case Report: A 53-year-old man developed anaphylaxis (redness over his entire body and dyspnea) one hour after consuming boiled burdock. His symptoms resolved following treatment (10).
Herb-Drug Interactions

Hypoglycemics: Theoretically, large doses of burdock may have an additive effect.

Literature Summary and Critique

Knott A, et al. Natural Arctium lappa fruit extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):281-9.
The goal of this study was to identify an active ingredient with anti-inflammatory and dermal matrix stimulating activity for use in a clinical trial studying its effect on the clinical signs of aging skin. In vitro assays with human dermal fibroblasts and monocyte-derived dendritic cells treated with pure arctiin displayed a stimulation in collagen synthesis and decrease in the proinflammatory factors IL-6 and TNF-a, compared to control cells. Topical in vivo application of a formulation containing A. lappa extract for 12 weeks (n=6), found that it significantly increased procollagen synthesis (p=0.01), and hyaluron synthase-2 expression (p<0.05), and improved hyaluron levels, compared to vehicle-treated areas. Treatment with an A. lappa containing formulation for 4 weeks was also found to significantly reduced “crow's feet” wrinkle volume around the eyes (p=0.05; n=38), as compared to treatment with the vehicle.

Wang HY, et al. Clinical observation on treatment of diabetic nephropathy with compound Fructus arctii mixture. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2004 Jul;24(7):589-92.
This controlled clinical trial investigated the effect of a fructus arctii mixture (FAM) (Fructus arctii and astragalus root) in treating patients with diabetic neuropathy. In this study, 31 patients were given FAM and a group of 23 patients receiving Losartan served as the control group. Both groups of patients received FAM for 3 months. During the study, clinical symptoms, blood glucose, lipid metabolism, and urinary albumin were monitored. Study results indicated that patients who received FAM had significantly improved clinical symptoms, urinary protein and albumin, and lipid metabolism (p<0.05), whereas patients in the control group only experienced a significant improvement in urinary albumin level (p<0.05). The authors concluded that FAM was effective in reducing urinary albumin and 24 hour urinary protein, and it also improved post-prandial blood glucose and lipid metabolism.

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Zhao F, Wang L, Liu K. In vitro anti-inflammatory effects of arctigenin, a lignan from Arctium lappa L., through inhibition on iNOS pathway. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Apr 21;122(3):457-62.
  2. Foster S, et al. Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. New York: Hawthorn Herbal Press; 1999.
  3. Zhao F, Wang L, Liu K. In vitro anti-inflammatory effects of arctigenin, a lignan from Arctium lappa L., through inhibition on iNOS pathway. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Apr 21;122(3):457-62.
  4. Knott A, Reuschlein K, Mielke H, et al. Natural Arctium lappa fruit extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):281-9.
  5. Wang HY, Chen YP. Clinical observation on treatment of diabetic nephropathy with compound fructus arctii mixture. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2004 Jul;24(7):589-92.
  6. Lin SC, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa Linne on liver injuries induced by chronic ethanol consumption and potentiated by carbon tetrachloride. J Biomed Sci 2002 Sep-Oct;9(5):401-9.
  7. Bryson PD. Burdock root tea poisoning. Case report involving a commercial preparation. JAMA 1978;239:2157.
  8. Tamayo C, et al. The chemistry and biological acitivity of herbs used in Flor-essence herbal tonic and Essiac. Phytother Res 2000;14:1-14.
  9. Rodriguez P, Blanco J, Juste S, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis due to burdock (Arctium lappa). Contact Dermatitis 1995 Aug;33(2):134-5.
  10. Sasaki Y, Kimura Y, Tsunoda T, Tagami H. Anaphylaxis due to burdock. Int J Dermatol. 2003 Jun;42(6):472-3.
  11. Chan YS, Cheng LN, Wu JH, et al.  A review of the pharmacological effects of Arctium lappa (burdock). Inflammopharmacology. 2011 Oct;19(5):245-54.
  12. da Silva LM, Allemand A, Mendes DA, et al. Ethanolic extract of roots from Arctium lappa L. accelerates the healing of acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer in rats: Involvement of the antioxidant system. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Jan;51:179-87.
  13. Lu LC, Zhou W, Li ZH, et al. Effects of arctiin on streptozotocin-induced diabetic retinopathy in Sprague-Dawley rats. Planta Med. 2012 Aug;78(12):1317-23.
  14. Hirose M, Yamaguchi T, Lin C, et al. Effects of arctiin on PhIP-induced mammary, colon and pancreatic carcinogenesis in female Sprague-Dawley rats and MeIQx-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in male F344 rats. Cancer Lett. 2000 Jul 3;155(1):79-88.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: There is no evidence to support use of burdock to treat cancer, infections, diabetes, or other medical conditions.

Certain components of burdock were shown to stop the growth of bacteria and fungi in lab studies. In animal experiments, the root extract lowered blood sugar, stimulated uterine contractions, induced an immune response, and protected against DNA mutations. However, none of these effects have been shown to occur in the human body.

Purported Uses
  • To treat cancer
    There is no scientific evidence to support this use.
  • To lower blood sugar in diabetes
    One small study found that burdock reduced proteinuria and improved post-meal blood glucose levels and lipid metabolism in patients with diabetic nephropathy.
  • To treat eczema and psoriasis
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat HIV and AIDS
    This claim is not backed by scientific data.
  • To treat microbial infections
    Although certain compounds in burdock can stop the growth of bacteria and fungi in lab studies, human data are lacking. 
  • To promote urination
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To reduce wrinkles
    One clinical study found that application of a cream containing burdock extract improved the appearance of wrinkled skin. However, more studies are needed to confirm this effect.
Research Evidence

Aging
The goal of this study was to identify an active ingredient with anti-inflammatory and dermal matrix stimulating activity to treat clinical signs of aging skin. Treatment with a burdock containing formulation for 4 weeks was found to significantly reduce “crow's feet” wrinkle volume around the eyes in the 6 patients of the study.

Diabetic nephropathy
In this study, 31 patients with diabetic nephropathy were given FAM (a mixture of Fructus arctii and astragalus root) for three months, and 23 patients receiving Losartan served as the control group. During the study, clinical symptoms, blood glucose, lipid metabolism, and urinary albumin were monitored. Study results indicated that patients who received FAM had significantly improved clinical symptoms, urinary protein and albumin, and lipid metabolism, whereas patients in the control group only experienced improvement in urinary albumin level. The authors concluded that FAM was effective in reducing urinary albumin and 24 hour urinary protein; it also improved post-prandial blood glucose and lipid metabolism.

Patient Warnings
  • Some burdock teas are contaminated with alkaloids such as atropine from the belladonna plant, which can cause undesirable effects on the nervous system.
Do Not Take If
  • You are pregnant (Burdock may stimulate the uterus and increase the risk of premature delivery).
  • You are taking hypoglycemic medication for diabetes (Based on animal studies, large doses of burdock may lower blood sugar even further.)
Side Effects
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis
  • Case Report: A 53-year-old man developed anaphylaxis (redness over his entire body and dyspnea) one hour after taking boiled burdock. His symptoms resolved following treatment.
Special Point

Burdock is one of the ingredients in the herbal tea Essiac.

E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.