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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 5, 2007

Burdock packed with medicinal values

By Laurie Steelsmith

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The burdock plant, which looks a lot like kale, has a variety of health benefits. Burdock root is the Japanese vegetable known as gobo.

Alex Steelsmith illustration

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Q. I'm interested in learning about common plant foods that have medicinal value. Can you give me an example of one that's available in most grocery stores in Hawai'i, and can you describe its benefits?

A. There are many to choose from, but one of the best examples is burdock, Arctium lappa. A popular food in Hawai'i, burdock is often referred to as gobo, the Japanese name for the roots of the plant.

The wonderful, leafy plant bears a resemblance to kale. A patch of burdock growing in a garden, with its characteristically robust-looking green leaves, is the very picture of health and vitality.

Burdock's leaves, roots and seeds all were used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Greeks, and throughout the Middle Ages in the Western herbal tradition. The leaves are often eaten in modern Europe for their nutritional benefits, and the roots are commonly eaten in Japan, where they have long been revered for their healing properties.

The burdock plant, which is often classified as an herb, has a wide range of potential health benefits. Various parts of the plant are used to relieve digestive disorders, to support the respiratory system, to alleviate skin conditions such as acne, to boost the immune system, to help with liver problems, and as a diuretic (a substance that increases urine production) when needed. Burdock also has been recommended for arthritis, rheumatism, chronic fatigue, inflammation, candida, sciatica and many other conditions. In conjunction with other herbs, the plant may also be used to assist with detoxification as part of an effective cleansing program.

According to the herbalist and botanist Christopher Hobbs, 100 g (or 2.5 ounces) of fresh burdock root contains 77 mg phosphorus, 61 mg calcium, 1.4 mg iron, .05 mg riboflavin, and .03 mg thiamine. In addition, research has shown that chemical constituents in burdock not only have antibacterial and antifungal properties, but antitumor and cancer-fighting qualities as well. Natural herbal remedies derived from burdock, Hobbs says, "may very well be of extreme importance to modern societies such as ours," particularly in light of the high rate of cancer today.

Gobo can be found in many grocery stores in Hawai'i. In Japanese cuisine, the roots are frequently used in a manner similar to carrots or parsnips. There are many recipes available and numerous uses for the roots. They are often added to soups, or thinly sliced and prepared with tofu and other vegetables such as green beans, garlic, red peppers, carrots and greens.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of "Natural Choices for Women's Health" (Random House, 2005). Reach her and read her past columns at www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.