Medical Attributes of Arctium sp. - Burdock

by Vincent Hartzell
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA

July, 2001

Arctium sp., commonly known as the Burdock plant, is a member of the Composite family (Compositae). Other common names for this weed include cockle button, cuckold dock, beggar's buttons, hurr-burr, lappa, stick-button, gobo, hardock, and bardane (Sievers, 1930; Morita, et al, 1993; Hoffman, 2000). The burdock is native to Europe and Asia and was introduced into North America during the colonization period. It grows abundantly along roadways, in fields and pastures, and in disturbed or waste areas (Sievers, 1930). In the United States, Arctium sp. grows abundantly in the Eastern and Central States and can be found, but scarcely, scattered throughout the Western States (Sievers, 1930). The Arctium lappa has been the most thoroughly researched species and is considered the most medically significant in the genus Arctium, but other species of Arctium are also used medically (Sievers, 1930). A. tomentosum and A. minus are two additional species that have been used (Basaran, et al, 1996; Os'kina, et al, 1999).

Traditionally, burdock has been used historically as an alterative, or a good source of nutrients to help build up the body (Ritchason, 1995; Hoffman, 2000). Indians, especially the Cherokee, used this plant extensively to treat a broad variety of ailments. The Menominee and the Micmac Indians, for example, used burdock as a poultice or compress to treat skin infections and sores (Ritchason, 1995; Hoffman, 2000). A poultice is a soft, moist mass that is usually heated, spread on a cloth, and applied to warm, moisten, or stimulate an aching of inflamed part of the body. Burdock is also a diuretic (removes excess water from the body), blood cleanser, and bitter (stimulates digestive juices and bile secretion to aid in digestion and appetite) (Ritchason, 1995; Hoffman, 2000). It has been used to treat arthritis, skin disorders and infections, fluid retention, gout, hemorrhoids, herpes, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, kidney problems, liver problems, lymphatic congestion, measles, poison ivy/oak, obesity, poisons, sore throats, swelling, venereal diseases, tonsillitis, tuberculosis, tumors, ulcers, various other disease states historically, and some still today (Ritchason, 1995; Hoffman 2000). Burdock is used to treat arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory and astringic properties. Burdock was taken medicinally by creating a tea from it, consuming it as you would a vegetable, and applying it (or an extract) topically (Ritchason, 1995; Hoffman, 2000; Iwakami, et al, 1992).

Burdock seeds have been researched to see if they possess a mechanism to protect the stomach and treat ulcers, possibly preventing the formation of ulcers. This study found that the preparations created from these seeds had a definite effective on the activity of gastric secretions in rats and also the action of the smooth muscles in the stomach and small intestine (Os'kina, et al, 1999).

Six compounds have been isolated from the seeds of Arctium lappa. Five if these have been known previously and include daucosterol (I), arctigenin (II), arctiin (III), matairesinol (IV) and lappaol F (V). The sixth compound was a new lignan named neoarctin B (VI) that was determined via spectral analysis (Wang & Yang, 1993). Daucosterol, matairesinol and lappaol F are all derivatives of the organic compound phenol.

Arctiin has been found to be stable in rat gastric juice, but change rapidly over to arctigenin in rat intestinal flora, followed by conversion to the major metabolite 2-(3",4"-dihydroxybenzyl)-3-(3',4'-dimethoxybenyzl)-butyrolactone. The metabolic process of arctiin shows that it first cleaves at the glycosidic bond and then demethylation of the phenolic methoxy group in the alimentary tract follows (Nose, et al, 1992). Artiin has also been found to have protective effects on PhIP (2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo [4,5-b] pyridine)-induced carcinogenesis particularly in the mammary gland in the promotion period by testing on Sprague-Dawley rats. In contrast though, arctiin may have a week co-carcinogenic influence on MeIQx (2-amino-3, 8-dimethylimidazo [4,5-f] quinozaline) -induced hepatocarcinogenesis on male rats. Further more, the results of these tests suggest that PhIP is a weak pancreatic carcinogen in female Sprague-Dawley rats by targeting acinar cells (Hirose, et al, 2000).

Another component in A. lappa, desmutagenic fiber, was isolated and discovered to be a factor for reducing the mutagenicity of mutagens that are active without metabolic activation. An example of this would be mutagens such as ethidium bromide, 2-aminoanthracene, Trp-P-2, and Trp-P-1. The factor is resistant to heat and proteolytic enzymes and sensitive to treatment with MnCl2. The mutagen was irreversibly decreased when treated with the burdock factor (Morita, et al, 1984).

A dietary fiber comprised mostly of Arctium lappa, along with other fibers from various plants, has been found to prevent growth retardation in rats caused by mineral oil ingestion. A dietary fiber is the remnants of plant cell walls that are resistant to digestion by the alimentary enzymes of man, and is comprised of various polysaccharides and lignins. The inclusion of 8% mineral oil in a fat-free diet caused severe growth retardation in rats due to the reduction in nutrient intake and not to the evolution of essential fatty acid deficiency. The lack of nutrients being absorbed in the lumen of the intestine due to the mineral oil uptake prompted a decrease in nutrition to the body resulting in the retardation. The ability of the A. lappa to prevent the retardations can be attributed to it's ability to prevent the absorption of mineral oil in the intestinal lumen (Morita, 1993). Dietary fiber of A. lappa has also been found to improve growth and protection against toxins, such as amaranth in rats. Also, it was determined that the effectiveness of the fiber as a protective agent depends upon the physical properties such as settling volume in water and water-holding capacity (Takeda &Kiriyama, 1979).

Arctium lappa effects on anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenger activity was investigated by subcutaneous administering a crude extract of the plant. The studies showed that the crude extract significantly decreased carrageenan-induced rat paw edema, reducing the inflammation. Also, when simultaneously treated with carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), it produced activities that worked against CCl4-induced acute liver damage (Lin, et al, 1996).

Experimentation of Arctium lappa was assessed in several different tissue cultures for anti-HIV activity and for cytotoxicity in the body. A. lappa has been found to inhibit the activity of HIV and have a fairly low cytotoxicity level (anonymous, 1989; Yao, et al, 1992).

Lignins in A. lappa have been shown to inhibit the binding of platelet activating factor to rabbit platelets (Iwakami, et al, 1992). The significance of this is that A. lappa can act as an anti coagulant and prevent clotting. Medically this could be used as blood thinner for stroke and heart attack victims.

The medical significance of A. lappa is still not fully understood yet. Research is continuing on its applications as an anti-coagulant, AIDS treatment, and as an anti-ulcer treatment. Historically and presently the burdock has a notable rule in our medical world. Though other species of Arctium are used and being researched for other new medical uses, the most significant species is the A. lappa.



Anonymous. 1989. In vitro screening of traditional medicines for anti-HIV activity: memorandum from a WHO meeting. Bull World Health Organ 67 (6): 611-23.

Basaran, A. A., Yu, T. W., Plewa, M. J., Anderson, D. 1996. An investigation of some Turkish herbal medicines in Salmonella typhimurium and in the COMET assay in human lymphocytes. Teratog Carinog Mutagen 16 (2): 125-38.

Hirose, M., Yamaguchi, T., Lin, C., Kimoto, N., Futakuchi, M., Kono, T., Nishibe, S., Shirai, T. 2000. Effects of arctiin on PhIP-induced mammary, colon and pancreatic carcinogenesis in female Sprague-Dawley rats and MeIQx-induced hepatocarcinogensis in male F344 rats. Cancer Letter 155 (1): 79-88.

Hoffman B.Sc., David L. 2000. Burdock.

Iwakami, S., Wu, J. B., Ebizuka, Y., Sankawa, U. 1992. Platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonists contained in medicinal plants: lignans and sesquiterpenes. Chem. Pharm. Bull. (Tokyo) 40 (5): 1196-8

Lin, C.C., Lu, J.M., Yang, J.J., Chuang, S.C., Ujiie, T. 1996. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med 24 (2): 127-37.

Morita, K., Kada, T., & Namiki, M. 1984. A desmutagenic factor isolated from burdock (Arctium lappa Linne). Mutat. Res. 129 (1): 25-31.

Morita, T., Ebihara, K., & Kiriyama, S. 1993. Dietary fiber and fat-derivatives prevent mineral oil toxicity in rats by the same mechanism. J. Nutr. 123 (9): 1575-85.

Nose, M., Fujimoto, T., Takeda, T., Nishibe, S., Ogihara, Y. 1992. Structural transfomation of lignan compounds in rat gastrointestinal tract. Planta Med. 58 (6): 520-3.

Os'kina, O.A., Pashinskii, V.G., Kanakina, T.A., Povet'eva, T.N., Gribel', N.V. 1999. The mechanisms of anti-ulcer action of plant drug agents. Eksp Klin Farmakol 62 (4): 37-9.

Ritchason N:D., Jack. 1995. The Little Herb Encyclopedia. Woodland Health Books, Pleasant Grove, UT. 40-41 pp.

Sievers, A.F. 1930. Burdock.

Takeda, H. & Kiriyama, S. 1979. Correlation between the physical properties of dietary fiber and their protective activity against amaranth toxicity in rats. J. Nutr. 109 (3): 388-96.

Wang, H.Y. & Yang, J.S. 1993. Studies on the chemical constituents of Arctium lappa L. Yao Xue Xue Bao 28 (12): 911-7.

Yao, X.J., Wainberg, M.A., & Parniak, M.A. 1992. Mechanism of inhibition of HIV-1 infection in vitro by purified extract of Prunella vulgaris. Virology 187 (1): 56-62.

This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 2001. Course instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D. ( The information contained herein is based on published sources, and is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees, expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or dangers associated with the plant species in question.

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