Burdock the Magical Weed

Botanical Name: Arctium Lappa

Common name: Burdock

Group: Dicot

Family: Asteraceae


This is a herbaceous, biennial plant belonging to the genus Arctium and has prickly purple flowers and large coarse and ovate leaves which are woolly underneath. The plant is widely considered as a weed. However it is also highly recommended as a medicinal herb because of the  innumerable health benefits it has. Though the upper leaves are smaller and ovate, the leaves on the lower part of the plant are larger and wavy.

The plant gets its name “dock”  from its large, wavy dock-like leaves and “Bur” based on the prickly, clingy nature of the plant heads (burr) due to which it adheres to fur, wool and clothing.

Burdock is commonly considered as a nuisance due to its prickly seeds and flowers which stick to the fur of the pets and prickly seeds and the flowers get irritatingly stubborn when it comes to removal. Most animals avoid these plants as it causes  irritations and intestinal hairballs in pets. It can have an allergic effect in humans too.

Which animals on  feed on Burdock?

Larva of Ghost moths feed on the roots of these plants. Scalloped Haze (moth), brown tail (moth) and lime-speck Pug (moth) feed on this plant.

Is Burdock eaten by humans?

The plant is cultivated for its taproot which has a sweet and pungent flavor and is widely eaten in Asia, Japan and Korea. Because of its off white colored flesh and mild flavor, is a popular substitute for potato chips. The flowers of Burdock taste like artichokes. The stalks and the young leaves are edible too. The young sprout can be eaten like asparagus. It contains a fair amount of dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, amino acids  and is low in calories. It is popularly used in soft drinks in the United Kingdom.

Burdock: An inspiration for the discovery of Velcro

Around the 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor accidently noticed it while taking his dog for a walk. The burr attached to the fur of his dog and his clothing made him realize that the same mechanism can be used for adhering other things too.  After that, he took the seed of burdock and studied it under the microscope. He studied the hoop and the loop functionality of the seed which helped it to stick to the clothing and fur. Eventually he came up with an idea and applied the “adhering mechanism” to invent  the Velcro which is now part of daily life.