Burdock – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

The common name for Burdock that we are familiar with today, the English ‘bur’, originated from the French bourre, meaning ‘woolly’. Grieve attributes the French bourre to the Latin burre, or ‘lock of wool’ frequently found entangled with the plant where sheep have grazed.

Burdock might be a form of beurre or butter, which comes from a farm custom of wrapping butter in the large leaves to keep it cool. While the plant’s resemblance to docks, literally seen as a ‘dock with burs’, led to its name bur-dock.

Scientific Name

Arctium lappa and Arctium minus



Botanical Description

Greater burdock grows up to 1-2 m bearing large, heart-shaped, dull green leaves with fine hairs. The flowers are globe-shaped and thistle-like, becoming bur-like seed heads.

Lesser burdock grows up to 1-1.5 m tall with longer heart-shaped, dark green leaves and prickly flowers varying from pink to lavender in colour.


Biennials. Native.

Habitat and Distribution

Scrubs, woodlands, roadsides, fields and wastelands.

Parts Used for Food

Largely the roots, but also the leaves and stalk.

Harvest Time

Summer to autumn.

Food Uses of Burdock

Roots can be eaten cooked as a boiled or fried vegetable. It is more common in Asian cooking in Japan and China. The leaves and stalk can also be used as a wild edible salad vegetable.

Nutritional Profile

Contains vitamin C as one of its most valued nutrients.

Burdock recipes

Herbal Medicine Uses of Burdock

Primarily used as a blood purifier and as a herbal remedy for skin diseases and infections.

Other Uses

The large heart-shaped leaves were used as masks by actors in Ancient Greece. The prickly burs helped to inspire the invention of velcro.

Safety Note

May cause contact dermatitis in some. The plant is best avoided in pregnancy due to oestrogenic effects. Burdock may also interfere with some medications.

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Photo Identification – Lesser Burdock

Photo Identification – Greater Burdock


Duke, J. A. (1985) CRC handbook of medicinal herbs. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Grieve, M. M. (1998) A modern herbal. London: Tiger Books International.

Pedersen, M. (2010) Nutritional herbology: a reference guide to herbs. Warsaw: Whitman Publications.

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Share Your Experience. Leave A Note For Others

  1. Great article, thank you. In your Edible Burdock Root Recipe, you advise to only gather burdock from the first year. In the video, you indicate that spring of the second year is also a good time. Which is right? Thanks, Vincent

  2. Thanks for your article and video. I used to work for Neals Yard Remedies who sell burdock root and I would nibble on it throughout my shift. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found any in the UK that tastes good – I must be finding it in the wrong season. It grows abundantly on a site I used to work on near Lewes in East Sussex. But maybe the chalky soil means a long tap root can’t develop. It has a very strong smell almost of violet.

    I’m now studying MSc Ethnobotany at the University of Kent and was recommended to your website by Pete Yeo.

  3. Thanks for posting this article! Up until now I have been ruthlessly ripping this plant out of my orchard – it having been my second greatest gardening annoyance (bindweed taking number one spot). I will be regarding it now with much more respect! …and will take along a spade and bucket rather than a hoe – job with the kids this afternoon 🙂
    Great stuff!

  4. Thank you Robin for the info on Burdock. I can’t always get out foraging, but it sounds very tasty, so when I do I’ll be looking for it.

  5. A great article,in my early years my mother would buy us a drink named Dandilion and Burdock and very nice it was,is it still for sale or even made.

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