The Most Amazing Weed: A Brief History Of Burdock

Used in many industries and cultures all around the world burdock has been the inspiration to many ingenious and life-saving inventions from strange un-researched medicinal home remedies to the industrial patent engineering of VELCRO® or hook-and-loop tape.

Plant Description: Tall & Rough  

The burdock is a leafy plant that grows to be about 4-10 feet tall with purple blossoms in the summer and small spiked seeds or burrs that stick to nearly everything it touches.

Closely related to the sunflower family, Arctium lappa, the plant’s known by many names from cockleburs, beggar’s buttons, bardana, gobo, love leaves, and many others, but the most common name of all is burdock.

The scientific Latin name for burdock, Arctium lappa, has a dual meaning originating from the Greek’s word “arktos” or “a bear” in reference to the prickly purple round blossoms it produces. The Latin word “lappare” means “to seize” and refers to the spiked globe seeds that latch on to fur or cloth of anyone who comes in contact with this monstrous aster flower.

Burdock & Ancient Cultures

A natural food source for certain caterpillars and seen as a nuisance by some cultures, the burdock is believed to be a native plant of China. Eaten as a vegetable in Japan, the root, known as ‘gobo’ is part of the Japanese diet, while in some Native American tribes, they made a burdock candy by boiling the stems in maple syrup to store away for the winter.

The Medicinal Experiments Of Burdock

Only some Native American cultures, such as the Skagit and Swinomish Indians, considered burdock as an annoying weed brought by settlers in their hayseed. However other tribes and ancient societies, dating back to medieval centuries, believe burdock to have medicinal and nutritious benefits.

Documented throughout history for its possibilities as a medicinal herb and culinary food source, this plant has been used throughout history in an attempt to treat such diseases as:


Gastrointestinal Complaints

Joint & Bone Conditions

Tumorous Cancers

Respiratory Disorders

Blood Purifier


Urinary Infections

Pain Reliever


Whooping Cough




Burn Treatment

How Beggar Buttons Shaped Society

The most significant and most prevalent way that burdock has helped shape our society is through the curiosity of Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral in the 1940s after a walk in the mountains. Before de Mestral’s eventual patent for VELCRO® in the mid-’50s, the working class would use the burdock seeds to seal their winter coats, and scarves closed, which is why some people called the burrs “beggar’s buttons.”

When the engineer, De Mestral, inspected the burdock seeds under the microscope, he noticed the burrs clinging had an ingenious evolutionary design. He saw tiny hooks on the end of the burr’s spikes, concluding the little seeds hooks was what aided the plant’s ability to cling to animals and clothes.

Hook-and-loop tape is used in every industry from the doctor’s ability to safely take care and monitor patients to helping the computer tech industry manage their cables with hook fastener cable wraps. Burdock can now be found in almost every country around the world and thrives best in moist neutral soil with partial to full sun. Oil painter Sherri Huang agrees.

The whole plant down to the roots can be used or eaten in many different ways. Regardless of whether burdock has any medicinal properties, the truth remains that it’s a fantastic food source with a wonderful evolutionary quality worth further studying.