Herbs for Skin: The Benefits of Burdock
Decoction (Tea) of Burdock Root in Arita Porcelain Vessel
For more than a decade, long before I began studying herbalism, I struggled mightily with hormonal acne. I was constantly on the hunt for topical products that would help, spending staggering amounts of my income on whatever thing the product review site that I followed was abuzz about. I'd get the product and have a little short-lived success, but then around the same time every month those enormous, angry, deep under-the-skin blemishes would amass around my chin and I would be embarrassed to leave my house until they went away.
Then, in my early thirties, my husband and I moved to New York and I had the opportunity to study traditional Western herbalism with some incredibly knowledgeable practicing herbalists (Peeka Trenkle, David Winston, and 7Song if you follow herbalists). Once I began to learn about the healing magic of plants - the original pharmaceuticals - and the power of plants both as food and as medicine, my skin slowly but surely began to turn around.
I tried and failed, experimented and tried again until I was able to discern how each medicinal plant would act on its own, and also how they could blend together synergistically. It was a long process because plants are subtle, long-term medicine. Part of the reason that the knowledge of plant medicine has been set aside in favor of allopathic medicine is that plants take time to work. Very few offer fast fixes in the way that pharmaceuticals can. But, the side effects (or as they should be called, actual effects) of herbs are largely beneficial. There are exceptions, of course, in the form of potent and poisonous plants, but that's not what I work with and not what we're talking about here.
The beauty of plant medicine, and the part that is as much magic as science, is that their complex chemistry can work on different parts of your system and supply you with just what you need to heal. You may have heard of Adaptogens - they are currently having a moment in wellness products - and that's exactly what that category of herbs does: help your body adapt to stress by supporting and regulating the system as needed. Much of exactly how this works is largely still unknown, although more studies on these powerful herbs are being conducted.
Now my skin is more glowy and clear than it ever was in my youth, and that's thanks in large part to my knowledge of how to feed it and support it from the inside. One of the first herbs that I experimented with that made a profound and visible difference for me was Burdock. In the realm of herbs that are great for helping to clear skin issues, Burdock root is one of the most widely recognized by both Eastern and Western medicine and has been used safely for thousands of years.
Burdock belongs to an important category of herbs that doesn't get much press: Alteratives. These herbs provide essential actions that keep us healthy and vital. Alteratives support the action of detoxification in the traditional sense of the word: removing waste, cellular debris, hormones and other normal byproducts of our metabolic processes. And the skin is our largest organ of detoxification - we release water and oil-soluble toxins through our sweat and sebacious (oil) glands. Burdock has specific action that helps to improve those glands, which in turn helps to resolve chronic skin conditions like acne and even eczema. It is also an excellent herb for the liver, which is responsible for regulating many of our hormones, and so this is another action that helps to clear hormonal acne. Burdock root is high in vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals.
While the entire plant is edible, the most common uses to treat acne is to take it internally either by cooking and eating the fresh root (it's delicious!) or steeping the dried root (below) into a decoction, or strong tea. Use a heaping teaspoon of dried root and a tea strainer or unbleached tea bag. Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes. I think it has light, almost nutty flavor. You might enjoy it with a dab of raw honey if it is too earthy on its own.
Another easy way to get a gentle dose of burdock to see if it's right for you is with Traditional Medicinals Organic Burdock with Nettle Leaf Tea. As with most plant medicine, give it time to work - at least 30 days - before you expect to see change. But with a little patience and consistency you might find this powerful root changes everything.
Precautions Burdock has no known precautions but you should consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbs, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is offered for educational purposes only.