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Arctium lappa


Arctium lappa


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Burdock, burdock root, greater burdock, gobo, fructus arctii


Arctium lappa is a biennial plant and may be found growing throughout much of the United States, Europe and Asia. It is characterized by heart-shaped, wavy leaves, purple flowers and deep roots that are cultivated for medicinal preparations. It is thought to be an invasive weed in the United States while in Asia it is cultivated as a vegetable due to its slightly sweet flavor, low caloric and high fiber content. In England, A. lappa is still used to flavor soda pop, along with dandelion, in a manner reminiscent of a traditional beverage purported to have originated around the latter half of the 13th century.

A. lappa, or Burdock, is a biennial herb from the Asteraceae family. Growing to a maximum height of 1.5m, the plant is supported by the rigid, erect stem. The stem is heavily grooved, branched and pubescent. The downy main stem is usually brown, and gradually turns green as it branches. The leaves are either ovate or cordate, and are very broad at the base of the plant, getting smaller as they get closer to the top. The broad leaves are dark green in color, heavily pubescent on the underside, loosely edged and deeply veined. A. lappa produces burs of barbed bracts along its higher levels from which, between the months of July and September, protrude small, brilliant magenta or violet flowers. This provides an excellent mode of transportation for the flowers and seeds. The small, androgynous flowers have a shape similar to that of a funnel. The bracts occur in clusters, and, in the autumn become more brittle, which causes them to easily stick to anything passing by. The seeds remain in the bract until disturbed, at which point they separate from their stem and ripen.

Origin / Habitat

A. lappa is thought to be native to Europe. It is an invasive species that spreads rapidly. It grows in wasteland areas and in damp areas around old buildings and along roadsides that are left in the wild.

Chemical Constituents

Polysaccharides (e.g. inulin)

Lignans (e. g. arctigenin, diarctigenin, arctiin)

Flavones (e.g. luteolin)

Sesquiterpene lactones (e.g. arctiopicrin)

Polyynes (e.g. trideca-1)

Phenolic acids and their derivatives (e.g. caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid)

Triterpenes (e.g. alpha-amyrin)

Phytosterols (e.g. campesterol)


Plant Part Used

Dried root, ripe fruits and leaves

Medicinal Uses


Inflammatory conditions



Skin conditions





Most Frequently Reported Uses

Inflammatory conditions




Dosage Range  

Take 2–6g of dried root, not to exceed 3 times per day.

Most Common Dosage

Three grams dried root taken in tea twice per day.



A. lappa has long been used in the treatment of inflammatory conditions and pain associated with inflammation. Scientific studies support the anti-inflammatory activity of A. lappa in vivo as carrageenan-induced paw edema is attenuated following subcutaneous administration of A. lappa extract in rats.[11] As a result, several scientific studies have attempted to elucidate the mechanisms by which A. lappa exerts anti-inflammatory activity.  Available information indicates that A. lappa is comprised, in part, of the lignan arctigenin and its analogues (e.g. diarctigenin (dimeric structure of arctigenin) and arctiin (glucoside of arctigenin)); arctigenin and its associated lignans have been shown to be inhibitors of nitric oxide production through inhibited inducible nitric oxide synthase expression and enzymatic activity.[1],[6],[12],[13] Through inhibition of nitric oxide production, the ensuing nitric oxide-induced, pro-inflammatory actions such as increased vascular permeability and vasodilation are abolished.[6],[14]  Furthermore, arctigenin and its associated lignans have been shown to inhibit other mediators of inflammation, such as prostaglandin E2 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.[7],[13] The inhibition of inflammatory mediators is pertinent as overproduction of these factors is characteristic of inflammatory diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis).[6] Prostaglandin E2 is one of the predominant prostanoid products released in the inflammatory response cascade and acts on different receptor subtypes to produce varying inflammatory responses; tumor necrosis factor-alpha is a part of the tumor necrosis factor superfamily and involved in the effector phase of the inflammatory response.[14] In addition to in vitro experiments, topical otic application of A. lappa extract in whey-sensitized mice four hours prior to challenge with whey has been shown to inhibit whey-induced ear edema when compared to control animals.[15]


The rapid proliferation is characteristic of tumor cells and a target for anticancer therapies; Arctigenin has shown antiproliferative activity against murine hybridoma cells (MH60) in vitro.[5] The rapid proliferation characteristic of tumor cells creates an increased need for both nutrients and oxygen in order to support the rapid growth. As the demands of proliferating cancer cells typically far outweigh the available supply of nutrients and oxygen, cancer cells have been shown to be extremely adaptable within environments deprived of nutrients and/or oxygen. Thereby, a novel strategy in anticancer research investigated the ability of the extract of A. lappa to preferentially target cancer cells that were nutrient-deprived with the resulting observed cytotoxicity of the extract being 100% at 50 µg/mL; further investigation implicated arctigenin as the constituent responsible as it showed complete cytotoxicity in the nutrient-deprived model at 0.01 µg/mL. The mechanism of action underlying the cytotoxic role of arctigenin in the nutrient-deprived model may involve inhibition of insufficient glucose-induced Akt activation.[16]

The fruits of the A. lappa plant have been cultivated to produce fruit pulp and fruit-based extracts.  Traditional medicinal practices have employed the use of A. lappa in the treatment of various skin conditions. As a result, a scientific study assessed the in vivo and in vitro effects of a formulation that contained A. lappa fruit extract for its anti-aging properties. Human participants topically applied the A. lappa fruit extract formulation for 12 weeks and were examined for synthesis of procollagen and hyaluronan. When compared to areas treated topically with vehicle, the areas treated with the fruit extract formulation showed stimulated procollagen synthesis and increased hyaluronan levels. A related study examined the effect of topical application of the A. lappa fruit extract formulation on wrinkle volume within the outer corner of the eye (area where wrinkles referred to as “crow’s feet” are typically located) for a 4-week period. When compared to treatment with vehicle, wrinkle volume was reduced in the areas treated with topical application of the fruit extract formulation.[8] Arctiin, one of the primary components of A. lappa, has been theorized to possess many beneficial properties. To assess the role of the arctiin in the anti-ageing effects of A. lappa fruit extract, cultures of human dermal fibroblasts and monocyte-derived dendritic cells were treated with arctiin in vitro.  When compared to untreated cells, arctiin treatment was shown to stimulate collagen synthesis and reduce concentrations of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, two cytokine mediators theorized to have a role in the aging process.[17]

Research regarding the role of A. lappa in the treatment of diabetes is conflicting. In one study, treatment with A. lappa was assessed in the streptozocin-induced diabetic mouse model. A. lappa was administered for twenty-eight days and measurements of plasma glucose, plasma insulin, glucose tolerance, etc. indicated no alteration attributable to A. lappa administration. Administration of streptozocin to induce diabetes in selected mice showed that A. lappa exacerbated the streptozocin-induced diabetic condition.[18] In a more recent study, the administration of total lignan from A. lappa fruit was assessed for hypoglycemic activity. Blood glucose levels were taken on the first day of the experiment and after 10 days of treatment with total lignan from A. lappa fruit in both normal and alloxan-induced diabetic mice and rats. Glibenclamide was administered as a positive control in the same manner as the total lignan was administered (oral gavage). The blood glucose level of alloxan-induced diabetic mice and rats confirmed induction of diabetes. Administration of the positive control and the low, middle and high doses of total lignan reduced blood glucose in the diabetic rats in a dose-dependent manner; the same effect was observed in mice, although the lower dose of total lignan did not reach statistical significance but displayed the same dose-dependent pattern with moderate and high doses reaching significance. This study provides support for the use of lignan constituents of A. lappa in the treatment of diabetes but additional research is needed in this area.[19]


Additional health benefits described in the literature pertain to the antioxidant activity of A. lappa and the effects of A. lappa within the gastrointestinal system. The antioxidant activity of A. lappa has been demonstrated through in vitro assays assessing the free radical scavenging ability of A. lappa extract and its fractions to scavenge 2,2-diphenyl, 1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH); the resultant antioxidant activity displayed a dose-dependent profile.[9] The gastroprotective properties associated with A. lappa use may be attributable to its high content of inulin; inulin extracted from A. lappa has recently been shown to possess prebiotic properties.[2] Oral pretreatment with A. lappa root extract has been shown to reduce ethanol- and acetic-acid induced gastric lesions in animal models.[9] Thus, A. lappa may possess gastroprotective properties as well.  In addition to gastroprotective activity, A. lappa extract may confer hepatoprotective properties onto its users as well. In order to investigate the potential for hepatoprotective properties, ethanol- or ethanol concomitant with a single dose of carbon tetrachloride was administered to rats in a manner established to induce liver damage for a period of 28 days. Oral administration of A. lappa three times daily on days 21-28 attenuated the ethanol and carbon tetrachloride combination-induced reductions in Cytochrome P450 and NADPH-cytochrome C reductase activity, elevations in serum transaminase concentrations, etc. that are indicative of hepatic damage; the hepatoprotective effects of A. lappa may be attributable to its antioxidant activity.[10]

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

Chemotherapeutic agents

Interferon preparations

Estrogenic agents (hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents

Agents that alter blood glucose (e.g. hypoglycemic agents including insulin, beta-adrenergic antagonists, excessive caffeine, etc).

Antimicrobial agents


Antiplatelet agents

Anticoagulant agents

Agents with antioxidant activity

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Patients possessing allergies to members of the Asteraceae family (e.g. sunflower, safflower, ragweed, chamomile and mugwort) should not use A. lappa due to cross-reactivity between members within this family. Allergic patients present with symptoms that range in severity from localized symptoms (rhinitis and/or urticaria) to generalized, life-threatening anaphylaxis.[23]  Allergic reactions may also occur following use of A. lappa in patients allergic to pectin. Allergic dermatitis following contact with A. lappa has also been documented in the literature.[24]

A. lappa is contraindicated in patients with a predisposition towards dehydration due to its diuretic effects.

A few case studies have documented toxicity following use of A. lappa teas where patients presented with symptoms consistent with atropine-like poisoning (e.g. dry mouth, mydriasis, tachycardia, and mental confusion).[20],[21] This may be attributable to adulteration of A. lappa root/supplements with Atropa belladonna.[21],[22]


Patients planning to become pregnant, who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use A. lappa supplements due to the potential for uterine stimulation, abortifacient effects and the lack of information concerning the use of supplements during lactation.[25]

Age limitation

Due to the insufficiency of scientific studies specific to the pediatric population, A. lappa should not be used in pediatric patients.

Adverse reaction

A. lappa should be used with caution in diabetic and hypoglycemic patients as conflicting studies have shown it to both increase and decrease blood glucose levels when assessed in laboratory experiments.[18],[19]

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  1)Native American Herbs


  1. Ferracane R. Metabolic profile of the bioactive compounds of burdock (Arctium lappa) seeds, roots and leaves. J Pharm Biomed Anal. Mar 2009.
  2. Li D. Prebiotic effectiveness of inulin extracted from edible burdock. Anaerobe. Feb 2008;14(1):29-34.
  3. Han BH. A butyrolactone lignan dimmer from Arctium lappa. 1994;37;1161-1163.
  4. Liu S. Isolation and identification of arctiin and arctigenin in leaves of burdock (Arctium lappa L.) by polyamide column chromatography in combination with HPLC-ESI/MS. Phytochem Anal. Mar-Apr 2005;16(2):86-89.
  5. Matsumoto T. Antiproliferative and apoptotic effects of butyrolactone lignans from Arctium lappa on leukemic cells. Planta Med. Feb 2006;72(3):276-278.
  6. Zhao F. In vitro anti-inflammatory effects of arctigenin, a lignan from Arctium lappa L., through inhibition on iNOS pathway. J Ethnopharmacol. 21 Apr2009;122(3):457-462.
  7. Cho MK. Arctigenin, a phenylpropanoid dibenzylbutyrolactone lignan, inhibits MAP kinases and AP-1 activation via potent MKK inhibition: the role in TNF-alpha inhibition. Int Immunopharmacol. Oct 2004;4(10-11):1419-1429.
  8. Knott A. Natural Arctium lappa fruit extract improves the clinical signs of aging skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. Dec 2008;7(4):281-289.
  9. Dos Santos AC. Gastroprotective activity of the chloroform extract of the roots from Arctium lappa L. J Pharm Pharmacol. Jun 2008;60(6):795-801.
  10. Lin SC. Hepatoprotective effects of Arctium lappa Linne on liver injuries induced by chronic ethanol consumption and potentiated by carbon tetrachloride. J Biomed Sci. Sep-Oct 2002;9(5):401-409.
  11. Lin CC. Anti-inflammatory and radical scavenge effects of Arctium lappa. Am J Chin Med. 1996;24(2):127-137.
  12. Park SY. Lignans from Arctium lappa and their inhibition of LPS-induced nitric oxide production. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). Jan 2007;55(1):150-152.
  13. Kim BH. Diarctigenin, a lignan constituent from Arctium lappa, down-regulated zymosan-induced transcription of inflammatory genes through suppression of DNA binding ability of nuclear factor-kappaB in macrophages. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. Nov 2008;327(2):393-401.
  14. Rang HP, Dale MM, Ritter JM, Gardner P. Pharmacology: Local hormones, inflammation and allergy. 4th edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 2001.
  15. Knipping K. In vitro and in vivo anti-allergic effects of Arctium lappa L. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). Nov 2008;233(11):1469-1477.
  16. Awale S. Identification of arctigenin as an antitumor agent having the ability to eliminate the tolerance of cancer cells to nutrient starvation. Cancer Res. 1 Feb 2006;66(3):1751-1757.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Swanston-Flatt SK. Glycaemic effects of traditional European plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetes Res. Feb 1989;10(2):69-73.
  19. Xu Z. The antidiabetic activity of total lignan from Fructus arctii against alloxan-induced diabetes in mice and rats. Phytother Res. Jan 2008;22(1):97-101.
  20. Fletcher GF. Burdock root tea poisoning. JAMA. Oct 1978;240(15):1586.
  21. Rhoads PM. Anticholinergic poisonings associated with commercial burdock root tea. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1984-1985;22(6):581-584.
  22. Bryson PD. Burdock root tea poisoning. Case report involving a commercial preparation. JAMA. 19 May 1978;239(20):2157.
  23. Sasaki Y. Anaphylaxis due to burdock. Int J Dermatol. Jun 2003;42(6):472-473.
  24. Rodriguez P. Allergic contact dermatitis due to burdock (Arctium lappa). Contact Dermatitis. Aug 1995;33(2):134-135.
  25. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy? Phytomedicine. May 2002;9(4):352-354.

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