Common burdock weeds are invasive plants. They are commonly found growing along roadsides or in pastures. The ability to quickly grow and spread means that if they get into your garden they can quickly overrun a lawn or flowerbed.
Our guide to controlling burdock weed is designed to help you manage the weeds before they overtake your garden.
Burdock by John Munt / CC BY-NC 2.0 Common burdock weed may look attractive but it is an invasive plant. If left unchecked it will quickly colonize lawns or flower beds. Common burdock (Arctium minus) should be kept in check as soon as possible.
Origin and Distribution
Native to Asia and Europe and now thriving throughout North America, burdock weed is a plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family with sunflowers and daisies. It has a very good name considering that the plant’s fruit is a round ball of seed material that is literally covered with teeth or hooks. It closely resembles a bur that sticks to anything that brushes by it, and it was the inspiration for Velcro as you know it.
Due to the plant’s ability to spread, some states have it listed as a weed. However, it’s actually a herb that has a long history of medicinal use for a broad range of ailments. For use in traditional medicine, burdock seeds, fruits, leaves,and roots have been used as cures for gout, rheumatism, cancer, and stomach ailments by making tea. Also, it has a history of use to increase sweating, promote urination, facilitate bowel movements, and people have claimed that it’s an aphrodisiac.
You can use every aspect of this plant, but it’s the white, carrot-shaped root that can grow up to two feet long that has the highest nutrient content. This is the part of the plant that has the most benefits for healing ailments. Inside the root, you get several phytochemicals, including triterpenoids, lignans, and polyacetylenes. They have been thought to increase your blood circulation and given the plant a reputation as a natural detoxifying agent, and they have links to antidiabetic properties.
Other components of this plant include flavonoids, and they have shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and this could explain why there is a long history of use to help treat skin conditions like burns, acne, eczema, and boils. Additionally, research shows that this root is very commonly eaten in Japan, in the United States, and throughout parts of Europe, and is a great source of inulin. This is a probiotic fiber that works to feed the healthy bacteria in your intestines.
Biology of the Burdock Weed
During the first year you have this herb, burdock grows very slowly. It’s also not uncommon for a rosette to only have a few leaves on it. The rosette leaves will die over the winter months to allow new basal leaves to form when the weather starts to heat up in the spring. In June, the plant will produce flowering stems, and the flowers appear in July and go to October. Burdock typically flowers during the second year, but the flowers may not come out until year three or four.
When the burs dry out, they have hooked bristles that will attach to clothing or fur and separate the bur from the plant to disperse the seeds. Bur and seed dispersal starts in September, and it continues through winter and into the spring. This plant can spread readily because one plant can produce up to 15,000 seeds on average. However, it’s been reported that plants produced between 200,000 to 400,000 seeds
Common burdock weed also has associations with several microorganisms that cause powdery mildew to form, and this disease usually infects sunflowers, cabbages, and Chrysanthemums. It also can attract the microorganisms that cause root rot, and it won’t tolerate frequent cultivation well.
General Information About Burdock Weed
Burdock weed flourishes in undisturbed sites where it’ll produce a smaller rosette in the first year and flowering spikes in the second year. The young leaves, roots, and shoots are edible. The plant is very easy to grow and spread, and the roots can go down two feet in less than 100 days. If you want to keep this plant, you should know that it’s much easier to harvest the longer roots if it’s in loose, sandy soil. This plant can reach between two and nine feet high at full maturity, and you’ll get sticky, rough, burred fruits. The fruits give the plant the scientific name of Articum lappa from the Greek words arktos that means bear and the word lappos that means seize.
The name refers to the seed capsules or fruits that have barbed spurs that grab onto anything that brushes by it. The flowers on this plant are a very bright purplish-pink color, and they look very similar to thistles. The leaves are slightly lobed and broad, and you have to manage it to prevent it from becoming a nuisance. If you wanted to use it as a root vegetable, you should deadhead it religiously or grow it in pots.
How to Identify Burdock Weed
Common burdock weed is a biennial plant. New growth is visible from early spring onwards. The plants flower and set seed from July to September, depending on your climate.
Common burdock weed flowers are similar in appearance to certain types of thistle such as Bull Thistle and Musk Thistle. Instead, common burdock weed is usually identified by its foliage.
The large leaves are often described as being similar to “elephant’s ears.” They can be oval or triangular in shape. The top side of the leaf tends to be dark green. It can be either smooth or hairy. The underside of the leaf is usually covered in lots of small hairs and is pale green in color.
Burdock + Japanese Gobo by Pictoscribe – / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Burdock’s flowers bear similarities with many types of thistle. Instead it is the distinctive foliage of the plant that helps you to identify it.
If left unattended, in their second year burdocks will go to flower, or bolt. This process sees the plant reach heights of between 3 and 10 ft. It also produces numerous small flowers in various shades of purple, pink or white.
You’ll recognize burdock best as a common, strout weed that has burrs that stick to clothing and animal fur. It grows relatively tall and has a very deep root system that is a brownish-green coloring, and it can look nearly black on the outside. For the first year, the basal rosette leaves stay very close to the ground and for the first part of the second year. They can get up to three feet wide.
You’ll get purple flowers on the tips of a very spiky ball of bracts. It will bloom from the middle of summer until the fall months. The flower heads are under an inch across, and they feature purple disc florets that get surrounded by several overlapping hooked burs.
The leaves on this plant are heart-shaped and wavy, and they have a green coloring on the top with a white colored bottom that makes it very easy to spot. The leaves are also slightly larger at almost 20 inches, and they sit on longer stems.
Why Control Burdock Weed?
Common burdock weed is not only difficult to eradicate, it is also quick to spread. If allowed to flower the plant will set seed. Each seed head, or burr, contains up to 40 seeds. A single plant can produce up to 17,000 seeds.
The wind often carries dry heads over a considerable distance, scattering thousands of seeds in the process. The plant’s seeds are also spread by its prickly burrs attaching themselves to passing animals or people.
In addition to its invasive tendencies, another reason for controlling burdock weed is that it can cause allergic reactions in some people. This happens when the bristles contact the skin. Additionally, the burrs can also cause eye infections, mouth sores and skin problems in livestock.
Finally, common burdock weed can also host diseases such as root rot and powdery mildew. If the plants are left unattended these diseases can spread to other plants in your garden.
Arctium tomentosum by Tatters ✾ / CC BY-NC 2.0 The plant’s prickly seed head, or burr, can attach itself to passing people or animals. This helps the plant to spread its seeds over an area. Contact with the burr can also cause allergic reactions in some people and animals.
How to Kill Burdock Weed
There are a number of different ways to eradicate or control burdock weed. Manual control is often difficult and hard work. However, it is also both the safest and most effective way to eradicate the plant.
If you are unable to physically dig up the plant, chemical, organic, and homemade weed killers can be applied.
How to Dig Up Burdock Weed
The best time to dig up weeds is when the plant is young, before it has reached its full size. Leaving the plants in place allows them to return bigger and stronger the following year.
Larger plants can also be pulled up. However, as the plant grows it develops a large taproot. This can reach over 1 ft in size and spread. This makes it difficult to completely eradicate larger or more mature plants.
Aim to pull the plants when they are young, ideally before the leaves reach their full size. The best time to pull up weeds is in early spring, when the soil is soft and wet. These conditions help you to pull up intact root systems.
To pull the plant, grip the base of the leaves. Firmly pull up the plant, applying pressure evenly all around. This should be done as slowly as possible to ensure that the root doesn’t break as you pull.
Once the plant is pulled up dig around the root with a spade. Dig widely and deeply enough to expose the entire root. Remember these plants develop large taproots, so you may need to do a lot of digging.
Once the root is exposed pour undiluted, distilled white vinegar on the base. Carefully pour the vinegar between the leaves of the plant. Aim to cover as much of the foliage and root system as possible. White vinegar is also useful for controlling ant infestations.
Allow the dying plant to sit in place for 2 days. During this period the leaves will soften and begin to turn brown. As the foliage changes color and dies, pull the leaves and any connected burdock roots.
If the root shows signs of producing fresh foliage apply more distilled white vinegar. A weed eater can also be used once a week to keep the plant cut down to the ground. Continually cutting back new growth and applying distilled white vinegar prevents the root from harvesting the necessary nutrition, causing it to die.
Remember, once pulled, to dispose of the plant in the correct manner. Either burn the weeds or place them in your household waste. Don’t add the plants to your compost heap.
Taller or mature plants can be cut or mowed down before exposing the roots and dowsing in vinegar. Aim to do this before the plants set flowers. Mowing plants that have set seed only helps to spread the seeds over a wider area.
After removing the plant remember to re-seed any bare patches of lawn.
Other Control Solutions
There are a number of organic controls available. You can also make your own homemade weed killer. Homemade solutions are just as effective as chemical or commercial products. They also come with the added bonus of allowing you to know exactly what you are putting in your soil.
Chemical controls or herbicides, such as Roundup Max Control, are also available. These should only be used for the specific purpose they are intended for. When not in use, store the herbicide in a safe place, away from children.
Herbicides should only ever be used as a last resort. Organic and homemade solutions are just as effective and far more environmentally friendly.
If you do choose to use a herbicide, remember to wear the appropriate protective clothing. Pets and young children should be kept inside while you are applying the herbicide.
Whichever control method you choose to apply, make sure to follow the instructions on the packet. You should also use only as much as you need. Avoid applying herbicides on windy days and in close proximity to ponds or other bodies of water. These steps help to prevent chemicals from spreading to unaffected areas of your garden.
Finally, if digging the plant is too difficult you can try starving it of light. To do this, cut the plant down to ground level.
Urban Nature (3) by Carl Campbell / CC BY-SA 2.0 Burdock is extremely labor-intensive to remove after the first year, so you really want to try and take it out before the root take off and gets two feet down.
Cover the plant and surrounding area with a sheet of thick, black plastic. Use bricks to hold the black plastic firmly in place. This helps to prevent light and moisture from penetrating the sheet and feeding the plant. A season under the black plastic will effectively kill off burdock weed.
Boiling Water with Salt Will Kill Burdock Weed
Adding a few tablespoons of salt to boiling water and putting it on the plants will kill almost any weed. You should take the water directly outside at a full boil and pour it right on the weeds to cook them. For larger areas or more stubborn weeds, you can use a white vinegar solution. You should pull by hand if the weeds are close to your other flowers or vegetation that you don’t want to damage.
The salt or white vinegar solutions are extremely acidic, so you want to be careful with them. If your burdock weed starts growing through the cracks in your sidewalk, using boiling salted water is usually enough to get rid of them, especially if it’s in the first year. If you have burdock weeds that survive your first treatment, try an application of white vinegar.
You should also note that you shouldn’t use the white vinegar solution if you need to clear a larger area because it’s highly caustic and it can increase your soil’s acid content for months.
Burdock’s thistle-like flowers seem attractive. However this invasive plant, if allowed to establish itself, will spread through a lawn or flower bed.
Facts and Folklore Regarding Burdock Weed:
- Burs can usually stick to sheep, and this can reduce the wool’s value.
- Common burdock roots and fruit were used to treat a broad range of health issues, including asthma, coughs, rheumatism, venereal diseases, scurvy, skin diseases, and lung diseases.
- Common burdock weed supposedly has larger amounts of vitamins and minerals, and you’ll find it in pill form in health food stores.
- Native Americans used burdock roots as a food source in the winter months. In Japan, the root of some burdock species gets cultivated as a vegetable called gobo.
- If cattle eat large enough quantities of this weed, it can give the milk a sour taste.
- The genus name of Arctium comes from a Greek word meaning bear, and it most likely references the brown, scruffy look the burs have.
Selection, Preparation, & Storage of Burdock Weed
You can buy fresh burdock root in natural food stores or at farmers’ markets. It has a mildly bitter, earthy taste, and you can easily eat it raw if you peel the brown layer away. However, most people slice it and add it to a stir-fry. It can get stored in the refrigerator for up to four days in a shallow dish of water. You can also get burdock dried root powder, liquid extracts, tintiuc res, and more from health food stores.
There is very limited clinical evidence showing how much burdock weed you should have. In studies, the dosages vary from 200-milligrams to extract from the root to six grams a day. Another study recommended up to 12 grams a day.
Additionally, you have to keep in mind that burdock weed supplements haven’t had the proper testing for safety as a dietary supplement, and they’re all largely unregulated. This means that the produce could give you more or less than the specified amount for the burdock weed. In other cases, it could have contaminantes like metal. There also isn’t any evidence to support that this root is safe to take by children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, or people with medical conditions that require daily medications.
Possible Side Effects
Burdock wood is usually safe, but some people should avoid ingesting it. If you have diabetes and take medications to lower your blood sugar, you don’t want to use this root as it can cause hypoglycemia. Traditionally, this root has been used as a diuretic to increase your urine output, and taking prescription diuretics with this root isn’t recommended because it can lead to dehydration.
This weed could also trigger an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemums, or daisies. You should always consult your healthcare provider before you take any new supplements. If you have a sensitivity to foods that have a higher inulin level like leeks, asparagus, or artichokes, ingesting this root could cause bloating or gas. If you’re pregnant, avoid using it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Arctium lappa? By Chris Winters / CC BY-SA 2.0 There are a few questions people have regarding burdock weed, and we’ve rounded up the biggest ones for you below.
1. Can you eat burdock weed?
Herbalists consider this weed to be powerful for medicinal use, but most people would be surprised to know that it’s edible. Burdock stalks, leaves, and the roots are edible, and they can even be good if you know how to prepare and cook them.
2. What kills burdock weeds?
You should use a herbicide to control the plant’s rosettes during the first year of growth. A few herbicides that would work for this task include dicamba, 4-DB, 4-D, MCPA, and glyphosate-based herbicides.
3. Is it a good idea to remove burdock weed?
Yes because this weed will come back much stronger and bigger during the second growing season. Killing this plant when they’re young can save you a huge amount of work. Never put the burdock roots near the garden or into the compost bin because they will quickly set root and grow.
4. Is this weed a perennial?
Most weeds are perennial, biennial, or annuals. This particular plant has a very little known but specific designation of being a monocarpic herb. This designation means that a seedling will grow over a few years, between two and four, until the root has enough energy to produce a flower stalk. It will only die after it flowers.
Effective control of common burdock weed can be difficult to achieve. Control is usually most successful if you are able to identify and remove plants when they are young. Early detection prevents the plants from developing their large taproot and from setting seed. It will also help to keep your garden neat and problem free.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.