Health Care Professional Information
Arctium majus, Arctium lappa
Lappa, edible burdock, gobo, wild gobo, happy major
Derived from the root or seeds of the plant. Historically, burdock has been used as a diuretic and to lower blood sugar. It is also used to treat anorexia, psoriasis, acne, gout, cancer and HIV, although no published clinical studies have evaluated these claims (1) (2). The active components in this supplement are arctiin and arctigenin, lignans that reduced pro-inflammatory factors in vitro (3) (4). Animal studies indicate hepatoprotective (6) and hypoglycemic 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 (Fructus Arctii) reduced urinary protein and albumin, and improved lipid metabolism and post-prandial blood glucose in patients with diabetic nephropathy (5).
Cases of burdock tea contaminated with belladonna alkaloids have been reported in the United States (7).
- Cancer treatment
- HIV and AIDS
- Microbial infection
- Promote urination
- Wrinkle reduction
- 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
- Other constituents: Volatile oils, sesquiterpene lactone (arctiopicrin), bitters (lappatin), arctiin, arctigenin (3) (4), phytosterols (sitosterol and stigmasterol), tannins
Mechanism of Action
In vitro studies have shown that the polyacetylene component has antibacterial and fungistatic properties. Both arctiin and arctigenin inhibit the pro-inflammatory factors, nitric oxide (NO), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (3) (4). Animal studies indicate that the root extract induces hypoglycemia and increases carbohydrate tolerance, stimulates uterine smooth muscle, and has antimutagenic activity; the tannin extract induces macrophage response (2) (8). Burdock also exhibits hepatoprotective effects in rats due to its antioxidative activity (6).
Some commercial preparations of Burdock tea were found contaminated with belladonna alkaloids (atropine).
Patients allergic to chrysanthemums may exhibit cross-sensitivity to burdock.
Burdock may cause uterine stimulation and should be avoided by pregnant women.
- 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).
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.
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- Newall CA, et al. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bryson PD. Burdock root tea poisoning. Case report involving a commercial preparation. JAMA 1978;239:2157.
- 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.
- Rodriguez P, Blanco J, Juste S, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis due to burdock (Arctium lappa). Contact Dermatitis 1995 Aug;33(2):134-5.
- Sasaki Y, Kimura Y, Tsunoda T, Tagami H. Anaphylaxis due to burdock. Int J Dermatol. 2003 Jun;42(6):472-3.
How It Works
Bottom Line: There is no evidence to support use of burdock to treat cancer, infections, diabetes, or other medical conditions.
Burdock extract is derived from the root or seeds of the plant. 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.
- To treat cancer
There is no scientific evidence to support this use.
- To lower blood sugar in diabetes
Although studies in animals show this effect. Studies in animals have shown this effect. 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 wrinkle
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.
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.
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.
- 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.)
- 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.
Burdock is one of the ingredients in the herbal tea Essiac.
Last updated: June 28, 2012