Burdock Seed Pack


Arctium lappa. 

Burdock’s root and seed are both held in high esteem by herbal traditions around the world for their cleansing and alterative properties. 

If you have ever returned from an autumn walk to find yourself (or your dog) covered in large burrs, chances are you (or the dog) have brushed past a burdock plant. The extraordinary sticking power of the prickly seed cases is burdock’s way of ensuring its progeny is spread far and wide – a strategy that has been remarkably successful. The hooked barbs on the burrs are also said to have been the inspiration behind the invention of velcro. 

Burdock is a biennial that usually grows to around 150cm, sometimes more. It thrives in disturbed soils and can be grown almost anywhere. However, if you are growing it specifically for its root, best to grow it in moist, loamy soil, ideally in a sunny location. It’s worth growing a few plants so that you can harvest some roots at the end of the first year and then enjoy its purple flowers and seed in the second; the flowers are also much loved by bees and butterflies. 

Sowing and Growing 

Sow seed in pots or direct in the autumn or the spring. Seed needs light to germinate so gently press into the soil rather than bury and keep damp. When sowing indoors germination rate can be improved by soaking the seeds for 12 hours before sowing.

It produces a large taproot that doesn’t like to be transplanted unless small. Growing plants close together will encourage a straight root.

Uses and Benefits 

 Burdock is considered an alterartive. Alteratives are herbs that ‘alter’ the condition in a tissue by eliminating metabolic waste via the liver, large intestine, lungs, lymphatic system, skin and kidneys. Other examples include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) and nettle leaf (Urtica dioica). Its an interesting categorisation of how a plant works as it gives insights to herbalism as a whole. Traditionally used for ‘bad blood’, alteratives were used empirically to help removes tissue and extra-cellular wastes as well as enhance nutritive levels. Commonly used for disorders of the skin and infections, helping the digestion and organs of elimination do their job. Different ‘alteratives’ were seen to work at different ‘levels’; From superficial issues such as acne, boils, sore throat, low grade fever, swollen glands to deeper issues such as chronic infection, abscesses, eczema, psoriasis. Alteratives are called for where there are elements of torpor and stagnation indicating them in chronic fatigue, arthritis and emotional disturbances. 

As William Cook, the renowned 19th century herbalist said, alteratives are herbs which normalize the metabolism by supporting nutrition or improving the body’s natural mechanisms of detoxification and which act “slowly, steadily, and moderately in improving the circulating fluids.” 

The seeds are specifically used in a condition categorised in Chinese Herbal Medicine as ‘wind-heat’- implying surface infections; sore throat, fever, itchy-red skin, boils. Given its high inulin content the root is perhaps more beneficial for the digestion and as a more nutritive alterative. 

The young roots are delicious when roasted or simmered in a tonic soup. 

Harvesting and Preparation

 Dig the roots up at the end of the first year’s growth for an easy to harvest haul and when the inulin levels are at their highest. For a more bitter-burdock harvest early in the second Spring. Older roots are fine to use but are much harder to dig and may be damaged. They can also be very hard to dig up. 

Give the freshly-harvest roots a good wash, cut into 0.5mm slices and lay out on a drying rack at 40c for a day or so. 

Harvest the seed in the second Autumn after it has put up its tall stem with elephantine-ear leaves and burr-producing flowers. Use some rubber gloves as the burrs are prickly, or snip them off with secateurs. The moisture content is low but they still need to be dried and then rub out the seed from the chaff. 

Make a tea by decocting 1 tsp of the root in a cup of water and simmering for 15 minutes. Combines well with Nettles and Red Clover for a hearty-herbal brew. 

Make a tincture using 1:5@25%. 

Make a poultice with the freshly grated root for itchy skin. 

And here’s how to make an oil or a salve. 

Minimum 30 seeds per pack.