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Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)

close up of Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)

What is Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)?

Great Burdock Achene (niu bang zi, 牛蒡子) refers to the dried ripe fruits of Arctium lappa L., which is a member of the family Asteraceae. Great Burdock Achene is also known as Arctium lappa fruit, Fructus Arctii Lappae and Common Burdock. Mainly grown in the wild, Great Burdock Achene is native to China and later introduced to Japan around AD 940. Today, Great Burdock Achene is consumed all around the world as a tender, juicy and succulent vegetable.

The name ‘Arctium’ is derived from the Greek word for bear, while the species’ name ‘lappa’ comes from the Latin word ‘lappare’, which means ‘to seize’. This is because the fruit of the plant is hairy, and resembles a fuzzy bear that will grab onto its surroundings to disperse its seeds.

Aside from being a culinary ingredient, Great Burdock Achene is also known for its medicinal value. In China, Great Burdock Achene is mainly produced in regions such as Zhejiang, Sichuan, Hubei, Hebei and Henan. The plant’s fruits are usually collected in autumn, where people will dry them under the sun, have its impurities removed, and dried again for medicinal usage.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Great Burdock Achene falls under the category of ‘Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior’. Such herbs can treat early stages of diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, eyes, ears, nose, throat and skin. It is believed that these herbs can induce sweating by dilating our capillary pores, which then expel external diseases from the body and prevent them from invading further.

Cold in nature, Great Burdock Achene can help individuals with too much Heat in their body, such as those experiencing a Yang Excess or a Yin Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yin-yang balance. Bitter and pungent in taste, Great Burdock Achene can cleanse the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. Also, the herb can promote the circulations of qi and body fluids. In particular, Great Burdock Achene targets the Lungs and the stomach.

Functions and Benefits of Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Great Burdock Achene has the following health benefits.

Great Burdock Achene can disperse Wind-Heat to treat Wind-Heat Exterior syndromes manifested as symptoms such as swollen and painful throat or coughing with phlegm. It is often combined with other Exterior-releasing and throat-clearing herbs such as Peppermint (薄荷) to disperse External pathogens from the body and clear toxic Heat.

As Great Burdock Achene can clear toxic Heat without congealing, it can also subdue inflammation and relieve Heat toxin syndromes such as ulcer, carbuncle and mumps. Also, Great Burdock Achene can lubricate the intestines, and is thus often used to relieve Heat toxin diseases accompanied by constipation due to the accumulation of Heat.

Great Burdock Achene can treat measles in the early stage by releasing Exterior Wind-Heat and clearing Interior toxic Heat to promote the eruption of measles.

Some consider Burdock to be one of the best known treatments for skin conditions as it promotes the flow of bile and releases toxins from the skin. Great Burdock Achene is often used as an ingredient in skincare products too.

Rich in inulin, Great Burdock Achene is able to strengthen the Liver and aid the treatment of hepatitis. The high concentrations of inulin and mucilage in the herb can help to soothe one’s gastrointestinal tract and stimulate one’s appetite, which then also helps to treat anorexia nervosa.

Modern research has also discovered that Great Burdock Achene could be used for the prevention and treatment of diabetic nephropathy. Also, Great Burdock Achene is considered to be helpful for cell regeneration and in the treatment of Crohn’s disease.

Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi) close up
Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi) can help to ease skin irritations, such as rashes.

How to Use Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)

The recommended daily dosage of Great Burdock Achene is 6 – 12g, when used as a decoction. You can use Great Burdock Achene in its stir-baked form to reduce its Cold and bitter properties, as well as to weaken its actions of lubricating the intestines.

Great Burdock Achene is also often available in supplement forms such as Great Burdock Achene tea, tinctures, extracts, essential oil and even products such as lotion and skincare products. Great Burdock Achene can be used in culinary dishes too. 

Great Burdock Achene and its products can be found in many herbal stores and Asian specialty markets.

Cautions and Side Effects of Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi)

Great Burdock Achene should not be used by individuals experiencing loose stools, open sores, or open carbuncles. Also, individuals with Qi Deficiency, and pregnancy should use this herb with caution.

Do note that Great Burdock Achene should be used with caution with antidiabetics such as insulin, sulfonylureas, tolbutamide and glipizide. 

We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Great Burdock Achene to your healthcare routine!


Here is a summary for Great Burdock Achene (Niu Bang Zi):

  • Herb name (Chinese): 牛蒡子
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): niú bàng zǐ
  • Herb name (English): Great Burdock Achene
  • Herb name (Botanical): Fructus Arctii
  • Origin of species: Arctium lappa L.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Fruit
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Dongbei, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Hubei, Hebei, Henan, Shaanxi
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent, bitter; Cold; Administrates the Lung and Stomach Meridians
  • Actions: Relieves symptoms of respiratory discomforts during onset of heat-related illnesses or common colds; Eases skin irritations, such as rashes; Relieves severe throat discomforts

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