The common burdock plant is a biennial weed that has heart-shaped leaves, prickly burrs for seed dispersal and edible taproot vegetables. Many people use burdock plant leaves, roots and seeds to make traditional medicines that treat a variety of conditions such as rheumatism, high blood pressure and gout.
Burdock seeds sprout in early spring. The upper surfaces of burdock leaves are smooth and dark green in color. The undersides of the leaves are lighter and have a woolly texture.
Burdock plants contain burrs that are composite flowers that bloom in the summer. The burrs on a burdock weed have hooked barbs and produce 30 to 40 seeds each. These spread when the barbs stick to animals and people who touch the plant. Burdock seeds have a 90 percent viability rate and can survive for one to three years in soil. One burdock plant releases up to 15,000 seeds.
People harvest burdock plants for food and medicinal reasons. The burdock taproot contains antioxidants such as quercetin, luteolin and phenolic acids. Traditional herbalists use the plant to make diuretics, laxatives and blood purifying medicines as well as to treat skin conditions such as dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and acne. Chinese medicine practitioners also use it in combination with other herbs to treat colds and sore throats.