Burdock is a plant that is part of traditional herbal medicine, but very little about its effects is known. The plant forms part of herbal remedies for a variety of conditions, from a sore throat to curing anorexia, but definitive proof of the benefits of burdock that some alternative health practitioners claim is not, as of 2011, available. Scientific studies do indicate, however, that the herb has some potentially useful biological effects, such as reducing sugar levels in the blood.
Both Arctium majus and Arctium lappa are burdock species that are part of herbal medicine. Other names include edible burdock, gobo and happy major. Growing up to a maximum of 8 feet (about 2.4 m) tall, burdock produces purple, thistle-like flowers and has leaves that are shaped like hearts. According to herbal medicine, the benefits of burdock for medical treatment are primarily in the root of the plant, which can be dried or fresh, but the seeds may also be used. Powdered root, extract from the root or a liquid containing the root are the common methods of administering the herb.
Scientific studies have indicated that at least some of the ways burdock is used in herbal medicine are effective to some extent. One of the most significant is that the plant may be able to lower the level of glucose in the blood, which is potentially beneficial for people who suffer from diabetes and who suffer from high blood sugar often. Practically, though, people with diabetes should avoid burdock as it can interfere with diabetes medication and be dangerous to health.
Inflammation, which is a natural response to infection or injury by the body, may also be affected by burdock. Some studies indicate that the herb may have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may be useful in certain conditions. Some people eat burdock as a vegetable, and one of the potential benefits of burdock is that it is high in antioxidants like phenolic acid, which may improve health and the ability to fend off infection.
Historically, herbalists administered the root as a diuretic, which means the herb was supposed to help the body lose water. This may be one of the benefits of burdock, but is, as of 2011, not proven. No evidence exists to back up claims that the herb can help treat dangerous conditions like cancers or viral infections such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). As burdock root can appear similar to the roots of poisonous plants, and some commercial preparations of the herb have in the past contained poisonous plant material, care must be taken to only use herbal medicine from a reputable source. Pregnant women, or those who are breastfeeding, should never take burdock as it can be dangerous to the baby.