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Burdock by Vanessa Armstrong

My walks with my dog usually take me to a field that is behind a road near to where I live. It an agricultural field and I usually walk along the footpath which goes around the perimeter. Many wild flowers grow here and it is where I picked my elderflowers for my first try at some cordial making this year. I’m enjoying trying to identify all the plants that spring up during the seasons and this past couple of weeks, a new one has sprouted and is growing fast. I use an app for any that I don’t recognize – which was recommended to me by a lovely friend – so I took a photo as the plant was just beginning to flower. I discovered that it is burdock!

I’ve only heard of burdock in a fizzy drink called ‘dandelion and burdock’ – which I’m sure contains the smallest amounts of said flowers – the rest being a fizzy syrupy drink with flavourings. So I thought I’d look up burdock itself as well as seeing if there are any references to whether dandelion and burdock had any medicinal uses long before the fizzy drink was invented.

Arctium Minus, Arctium Lappa or commonly called Burdock is a wild flower, usually found growing on wasteground, meadow edges, roadsides and woodland quite prolifically. It has large dark green heart shaped leaves with purple – almost thistle like – flowers which bloom from mid summer until autumn. The plant itself can grow from between 3 and 7 feet in height. When the flowers have finished, the head forms a ‘bur’ which contains the seeds. The ‘burs’ have the ability to attach itself to your clothes or to the fur of passing animals and this is how they are transported to other places to begin their life cycle again next spring. It is documented that ‘velcro’ was invented after the bur, which looked at closely rather resembles the tiny hooks on one side of the velcro.

*Velcro  is the name of a company that makes fastenings comprising of two separate strips of fabric. One fabric has small hooks on it tightly packed together and the other has a soft side that resembles tiny loops of fabric. When pressed together, the hooks stick to the loops and makes an excellent quick fastener for jackets and anything else that requires fastening together. It also just rips apart for ease of undoing.  

The root of the plant, which is long and black is what is used for medicinal purposes. Apparently it is said to taste like a cross between sweet chestnut and parsnip. Burdock was commonly used in recipes in the UK many years ago but this has fizzled out. In Asia, it is called Gobo and is still used for cooking and is collected on quite a large scale for this purpose.

Burdock root contains many types of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells in your body from damage from free radicals. It is also used to remove toxins from your bloodstream and promote increased circulation. It has been used to treat skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. It has anti inflammatory properties which help calm the skin when applied topically. Burdock has also been documented for use in treating other ailments that include colds, gout, to increase sweating – I presume to ‘sweat out’ fever, stomach problems and facilitate bowel movements. It is also said to be an aphrodisiac.

It was interesting to read about the origins of dandelion and burdock. It was originally made from the roots of both for its health benefits, similar to root beer and sarsaparilla, which was also made for its medicinal purposes. Dandelion and Burdock went on to be made into a type of light mead before evolving into the carbonated drink it is today, presumably as a drink beneficial to health. While researching this, I also found other ‘healthy’ carbonated drinks that were promoted as being good for you – Irn Bru is one, Sanatagon Tonic (made with wine!) to increase brain power is the other.

Burdock has many magical properties. Cleansing and protection are the two main ones. It was popular as an effective plant in spells to ward off negativity and to protect property from those influences. It can be added to charms and amulets when travelling to protect the person from harm. Burdock with its aphrodisiac properties would make a good addition for spells and charms for prosperity, fertility and virility. Add the root of burdock to a bucket of water, together with rosemary and lemongrass as a protective floor wash. Carve a figure from the root, let it dry out and carry or wear it as a protective amulet. Burdock is associated with the element of water and earth and the planet Venus.

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