Healthy wild herbs

Sean McCarthy says common weeds aren’t a nuisance, instead, they’re an apothecary shop on your doorstep.

Burdock or Arctium Lappa, has been the bane of sheep farmers’ lives for years – the dried weed heads stick to sheep wool with a vengeance and spoil the fleece for wool. And the common Irish weed was the inspiration behind the invention of Velcro — but it is as a herb that it is most prized..

The seeds can be used in herbal medicine, but it’s the root that is the primary element used in western herbalism. Bitter, sweet and oily, burdock root is best used in dry conditions where secretions need to be increased.

And the dry condition that it’s used mostly for, is constipation. The condition is generally caused by poor bile secretion, bile being the body’s natural laxative. Poor bile flow means less absorption of lipids which can causefurther drying effect on the skin. Subaceous glands can sometimes get blocked if the lipid flow to the skin is blocked so Arctium lappa would form a part of a treatment for acne, boils and eczema.

Its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties also make it very useful in the treatment of urinary tract infections. And because Burdock has a lubricating effect, it can also be used as part of a treatment for arthritic conditions as well as gout.

If you are using any form of this herb and in particular the root, begin by using small doses and increasing gradually as it can aggravate skin problems if the toxins begin to clear from the body too quickly.

Burdock can also stimulate the digestive system through its work on the gall bladder and liver and has been used as part of a treatment for anorexia nervosa.

Burdock can also be used as a food — I’ve used it with roast vegetables and nobody has been any the wiser as like most roots, it gets sweeter through roasting. In spring, the young shoots and leaves are cooked as a green and the inner pith of the stems can be eaten raw while the roots are often used as a coffee substitute but they have to be dried slowly.

In the 19th century the leaves were mashed to make a poltice for sunburn and a tincture of the seed has been used as a folk remedy for joint inflammation.

Burdock is also used with dandelion as a mass-market health drink in the UK — and latterly here. This practice dates back to the medieval period when a similar form of hedgerow mead was widely consumed. While it’s also commonly believed that drinking burdock infused liquids increased lactation, it can cause uterine stimulation and so, should be avoided during pregnancy.

Burdock root was also used in brewing as a bittering agent before the widespreaduse of hops and burdock root oil extract, also called Bur Oil, continues to be used as a scalp treatment. Rich is phytosterols and essential fatty acids, the plant grows on damp, waste ground and near old buildings.

* Sean McCarthy DBTh MIRCH is an holistic herbalist. Contact him on 


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