Burdock and Acne

Burdock (Arctium lappa) was originally native to Europe but now this hardy biennial grows throughout Asia and North America. Large-leaved with small purple globe-shaped flowers, it is a member of the Asteraceae plant family—the same as many other herbs and flowering plants (e.g., daisies, echinacea , ragweed). Burdock has edible roots and leaves, and has been cultivated as a vegetable called gobo in Japan.1-2

Traditional Natural Medicine for Skin Conditions

Native Americans used burdock root for food and the bud, root, and seeds for medicinal purposes as a blood purifier and to treat skin infections.2 Other traditional natural medicines utilize the fruit, leaves, and root of burdock for infectious and chronic inflammatory conditions—including eczema and acne.2-3 In Ayurveda burdock is considered an alterative and cleansing herb, with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial for acne.2

Evidence of Bioactive Constituents

Burdock contains beneficial polyphenols and essential fatty acids like flavonoids, tannic acids, and linoleic acid.2 Preliminary research confirms that burdock has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties, and suggests that it may also have hormonal effects.3

Controlled animal studies have shown that burdock extracts reversed hyperproliferation of skin cells, a symptom of both psoriasis and acne.2,4 The linoleic acid content of burdock is believed to be responsible for its inhibitory effects against hyperproliferation.2 Low levels of linoleic acid in sebum is considered a cause of acne, and clinically topical application of linoleic acid reduces pimple size.5 Burdock’s high concentration of linoleic acid may be a significant tool to get rid of acne.2


Burdock root (is considered likely safe, but with insufficient information pregnant and nursing women are advised to not use it. Anyone allergic to members of the Asteraceae plant family (e.g., ragweed) should avoid taking burdock orally since it may also induce an allergic reaction. Topical use of burdock may cause dermatitis.3

Theoretically burdock could increase risk of bleeding if taken with anticoagulant drugs (e.g., warfarin and aspirin) or herbs and supplements with similar effects. Because of burdock’s antiplatelet effects, avoid using several weeks before any surgical procedure.3

If you grow burdock at home, keep it out of reach of dogs since contact with the section of the branch right under the flower can cause Burr tongue, a serious and painful ulcerous condition.2

How to Use

Burdock can be used both systemically and topically. Essential oils from the root and leaves (either crushed or powdered) can be applied to the skin.1-2 Burdock is readily available from reputable online sources as a supplement or an herbal tea, or you can try making your own by steeping 5-30 grams of the dry herb per cup of water (either hot or cold).2

Burdock can be used to treat chronic skin disorders in dogs as well. Steep 5-30 grams of the dry herb per cup of cold water to prepare. Daily dosage levels should be figured at 0.25-0.50 cups per 20 lbs. of body weight, and then divided into three separate doses.2

Or you can try adding young burdock leaves to your salad, or slicing the gobo root into thin strips and sautéing with carrots and a little soy sauce for a tasty and healthy vegetable side dish.

  1. Wyk, Ben-Erik Van and Wink, Michael. Medicinal plants of the world: an illustrated scientific guide to important medicinal plants and their uses. s.l.: Timber Press, 2004. ISBN 0881926027, 9780881926026.
  2. Wynn, Susan G. and Fougère, Barbara. Veterinary herbal medicine. s.l.: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007. ISBN 0323029981, 9780323029988.
  3. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Burdock Full Monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. [Online] 2011. [Cited: January 23, 2011.] http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=111&ds=&name=BURDOCK&searchid=24787259.
  4. Fulton, James. Acne Vulgaris. eMedicine from WebMD. [Online] December 17, 2010. [Cited: December 28, 2010.] http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1069804-overview.
  5. Layton, A.M. Disorders of the Sebaceous Glands. [ed.] D.A. Burns, et al. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. 8th. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010, Vol. 2, 42. ISBN: 978-1-4051-6169-5.
Also known as bardana, lappa, gobo, and love leaves.
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