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Greater burdock fruits

Chinese: 牛蒡子

Pinyin: Niú Bàng Zi

Parts used: Dried ripe fruit

TCM category: Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Stomach Lung

Scientific name: Arctium lappa

Other names: Gobō, Edible burdock, Lappa, Beggar's buttons, Thorny burr, Happy major

Use of greater burdock fruits (Niu Bang Zi) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: After harvesting, dry the inflorescences and, once fully dried, shake to remove the fruits and seeds. Clean to remove any impurities.

Dosage: 6-12g

Main actions according to TCM*: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Heat. Allows the release of toxicity from the surface and clears Heat. Reduces swelling and clears pathogenic Heat. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieves sore throat.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which greater burdock fruits may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Coughing Measles Rubella Sore throat Mumps Erysipelas Carbuncles

Contraindications*: Can have a laxative effect. Not indicated for people with a Qi deficiency with diarrhea.

Common TCM formulas in which greater burdock fruits (Niu Bang Zi) are used*

Yin Qiao San

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Disperses Wind Heat. Clears Heat. Resolves Toxicity.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldInfluenza and others

Niu Bang Zi is a deputy ingredient in Yin Qiao San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Yin Qiao San, Niu Bang Zi spreads the Lung Qi and improves the throat. 

Read more about Yin Qiao San

Key TCM concepts behind greater burdock fruits (Niu Bang Zi)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), greater burdock fruits are plants that belong to the 'Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior' category. Herbs that release the Exterior aim to to treat the early stages of diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the throat or the skin. TCM believes that External diseases such as colds or allergies can only invade the body if the External environment overwhelms our Wei Qi (the TCM version of the immune system). In order to counteract this invasion Cool/Acrid herbs aim to induce sweating by dilating our capillary pores so that they release more sweat. The belief is that this will expel the disease from the body and stop it from invading further.

As suggested by its category greater burdock fruits are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that greater burdock fruits typically help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition greater burdock fruits can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Greater burdock fruits also taste Bitter and Pungent. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like greater burdock fruits tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Pungent ingredients tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such greater burdock fruits are thought to target the Stomach and the Lung. In TCM the Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on greater burdock fruits (Niu Bang Zi)

Greater Burdock extracts have clear anti-oxidant effects.1

A mixture composed of Greater burdock fruits has the effects of reducing urinary protein within 24 hrs, lowering urinary albumin, improving blood glucose after meals and lipid metabolism.2


1. Pin-Der Duh (1998). Antioxidant activity of burdock (Arctium lappa Linné): Its scavenging effect on free-radical and active oxygen. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 455–461

2. Wang HY, Chen YP. (2004). Clinical observation on treatment of diabetic nephropathy with compound fructus arctii mixture. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 24(7):589-92.

Use of greater burdock fruits (Niu Bang Zi) as food

Greater burdock fruits are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Gobō salad or Stir-fried Carrot & Burdock Root.