Burdock Vs Cocklebur; 2 Proven Risky Things To Know About

It might seem a bit strange that we are looking at the burdock vs cocklebur discussion for those who know what each of these are. Given that we often have people ask us ‘is cocklebur edible?’ this has highlighted the need for an article exploring the topic.

What is the Difference Between Burdock and Cocklebur

Considering the burdock vs cocklebur discussion, these are two different plants that belong to different botanical families.

There are several key differences between cocklebur and burdock that can help you identify them:

Burdock vs Cocklebur Burdock Identification Cocklebur Identification
Botanical classificationArctium genus (Asteraceae family)Xanthium genus (Asteraceae family)
Physical appearanceBiennials that grow to a height of about 2-5 feet, with large, hairy leaves and long, tapering rootsAnnuals that grow to a height of about 3-4 feet, with rough, hairy leaves and spiny, globular fruits
FloweringBurdock flower is purple or pink flowers that grow on tall stemsCocklebur flower is small and greenish in appearance
HabitatNative to Europe and AsiaNative to North and South America
UsesOften used as a vegetable in many dishes and is known for its earthy flavor and crunchy textureNot recommended for consumption
Other characteristicsGenerally considered safe to eat and may have some potential health benefitsSeeds are toxic and can cause irritation and inflammation if ingested 1

The root of the burdock plant is often used as a vegetable in many dishes and is known for its earthy flavour and crunchy texture.

As this article is more weighted towards cocklebur, if you are after more information about the uses and benefits of burdock, we took a closer look at these in “Is Burdock Root Good For You? Unlock 7+ Stunning Benefits“.

By considering these differences, you can more accurately distinguish between burdock vs cocklebur.

Why are we looking so closely at the differences between these two in this burdock vs cocklebur article? With the HerbiTea Iron Fluorine tea blend containing burdock root, some people may choose to collect their ingredients to try making a tea themselves.

Is Burdock Root Good For You - burdock vs cocklebur

If this is your intention, the last thing we want is for you to collect what you think is burdock to find that it is something completely different, and potentially harmful. It is really easy to make a simple mistake like this if you aren’t well-versed in foraging and plant identification.

Can You Eat Cocklebur?

This is the main point to the whole burdock vs cocklebur topic we are exploring.

It is not recommended to eat cocklebur, as it can cause gastrointestinal distress and other adverse health effects. The plant contains chemicals that can irritate the skin and mucous membranes, and ingesting it can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

In addition, the burs of the cocklebur plant can stick to clothing and animal fur, which can lead to further spread of the plant.

It is best to avoid consuming cocklebur and to take precautions to avoid contact with it, particularly if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

Cocklebur seeds may also cause gastrointestinal distress and other adverse health effects if ingested. This is largely because the seeds contain toxins that can be harmful if consumed.

Burdock vs Cocklebur Caution: 2 Things to be Mindful of

Cocklebur plants contain several chemical compounds, including toxins, that can cause adverse effects in humans and animals. One of the toxins present in cocklebur plants is called xanthotoxin. 2

This chemical can cause skin irritation and is toxic if ingested. It can also cause photosensitivity, which means that the skin becomes more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and is more prone to sunburn.

Other toxins present in cocklebur plants include psoralens, which can also cause photosensitivity, and mucilage, which can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. 3 4

What are Xanthotoxins?

Xanthotoxins are a group of toxic compounds found in certain species of mushrooms, as well as in certain species of plants, including cocklebur, and marine organisms. They are known for their strong neurotoxic and hepatotoxic effects.

The most well-known xanthotoxins are the amatoxins, which are found in several species of the mushroom genus Amanita, including the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) and the destroying angel mushroom (Amanita virosa).

These mushrooms are among the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, and consumption of even a small amount can cause severe liver and kidney damage or death. Other xanthotoxins include phallotoxins and virotoxins, which also found in the Amanita species.

burdock vs cocklebur - Amanita muscaria and Amanita phalloides comparison
Note: Like with the Burdock vs Cocklebur discussion, Amanita muscaria is different to Amanita phalloides.

Xanthotoxins work by inhibiting the activity of a vital enzyme called RNA polymerase II, which is necessary for the synthesis of proteins in cells. This leads to the accumulation of toxic metabolic products, which in turn causes damage to the liver and kidneys.

If someone is suspected to have eaten a poisonous mushroom, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Treatment for mushroom poisoning is primarily supportive, to remove the toxins from the body and maintain the function of the liver and kidneys.

What are Psoralens?

Psoralens are a group of naturally occurring chemicals found in certain plants not limited to cocklebur, but also plants such as parsley, celery, and limes. They are also present in some species of fungi. Psoralens can increase sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light, a property known as photosensitisation.

Psoralens have been used for centuries in traditional medicine for the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo. They are also used in phototherapy, a medical treatment that involves exposing the skin to UV light.

The most commonly used form of phototherapy is called PUVA (psoralen plus ultraviolet A), which involves the oral or topical administration of a psoralen compound followed by exposure to UVA light. PUVA therapy is considered one of the most effective treatments for psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo.

Psoralens are also found in some herbal remedies and cosmetic products, although the use of these products is not recommended without the supervision of a healthcare professional. Excessive or prolonged exposure to UV light can increase the risk of skin cancer and can cause skin damage such as sunburn, premature aging, and hyperpigmentation.

It’s important to note that people taking medications, who have a history of skin cancer or a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to skin damage should avoid using or being exposed to psoralens without consulting with a doctor.

Burdock vs Cocklebur FAQs

What is the other name of Cocklebur?

Cocklebur is also commonly known as Xanthium, this is the genus name for the plant. The most common species of cocklebur is Xanthium strumarium, commonly known as common cocklebur, rough cocklebur or strumaria.

The names “cocklebur” and “Xanthium” are used in different regions and scientific contexts, but both refer to the same plant. It also goes by other common names such as:
• Clotbur
• Beggar’s lice
• Stick-tight
• Spanish needle, and
• Sticker bur

These names reflect the plant’s characteristics of having burs with stiff, hooked spines that can stick to clothing, hair, and animal fur.

It is called “beggar’s lice” as the burs can be found all over clothes, animal fur, and human hair making it look as if they were covered in lice.

It’s worth noting that some other plants are also commonly referred to as “cocklebur” and they may or may not have similar characteristics, however, the Xanthium strumarium is the most common and the one that generally is referred to when using the common name “cocklebur”.

Is it Cockleburr or Cocklebur?

Both “cockleburr” and “cocklebur” are commonly used spellings of the name of the plant. The correct spelling of the word is “cocklebur.” It is derived from the Middle English word “cokylebur,” which is a compound word made up of “cokyle,” meaning “cockle,” and “bur,” which refers to the plant’s burs, which are the seed-bearing structures covered in stiff, hooked spines.

“Cockleburr” is an alternate spelling, but it is less commonly used and it is considered a misspelling. It is important to note that the spelling of common names can vary and the same plant can be known by different names in different regions or cultures, but when referring to the scientific name, the spelling should be Xanthium spp.

What is the Common name for Burdock?

The common name for the Burdock plant is just Burdock, it’s scientific name is Arctium Lappa. Burdock is also known by other common names such as:
• Greater burdock
• Lappa
• Beggar’s buttons
• Cockle buttons
• Fox’s clote
• Thorny burr, and
• Philanthropium

The name Burdock is most commonly used, but the other names are also used in different regions and cultures. The plant is known for its large leaves and purple or pink flowers that grow on tall stems, and it is often used as a medicinal herb and is considered to have several health benefits.

What are some of the Wild Burdock Uses?

Burdock has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and it is considered to have a number of health benefits. Some of the most notable uses of wild burdock include supporting digestive health, skin health, diuretic properties, anti-inflammatory properties, and culinary uses.


Cocklebur is a pioneer plant, which means that it’s one of the first plants to colonise disturbed or disturbed areas like roadsides, waste ground, and abandoned fields. It’s known for its ability to grow in a variety of soil conditions and can quickly establish itself in areas where other plants struggle to survive, this has led to it being considered as an invasive species in many regions.

Interestingly, it has been studied for its potential as a biofuel crop. The plant can grow in a variety of conditions and can be harvested multiple times per year, making it an attractive source of biomass for bioenergy production. Research is ongoing but cocklebur could become a viable bioenergy crop in the future. 5

Making sure that you choose the right plant when looking at burdock vs cocklebur is important. The last thing you want to do is wind up making yourself sick on a potentially toxic burdock lookalike.


  1. “Are Cocklebur Seeds Safe to Eat?” – L. Lui, Last Checked 10 January 2023 [Poison Control] [Archive] ↩︎
  2. “Xanthotoxin (8-methoxypsoralen): A review of its chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, and toxicity” – A. Wu, J. Lu, G. Zhong, L. Lu, Y. Qu, C. Zhang, 1 August 2022 [Wiley] [Archive] ↩︎
  3. “Psoralen” – NCI Staff, Last Checked 10 January 2023 [National Cancer Institute] [Archive] ↩︎
  4. “Therapy for Severe Psoriasis – Chapter 3 – Psoralen-Ultraviolet Light A Therapy” – L. M. Madigan, He. W. Lim, 2 December 2016 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  5. “Synthesis and Structural Characterization of Biofuel From Cocklebur sp., Using Zinc Oxide Nano-Particle: A Novel Energy Crop for Bioenergy Industry” – K. Ullah, H. A. Jan, M. Ahmad, A. Ullah, 4 September 2020 [Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology] [Archive] ↩︎

Last Updated on 2 months by D&C Editorial Team

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About the Author

Matthew has been on an active journey towards living a healthy life from a young age. Influenced by his Grandmother, a practicing Naturopath who served her community from the 1940's to the 1980's, his views on living holistically were shaped from a young age. Growing up in different parts of Australia, his connection with the Ocean and a passion for sustainability comes through in everything he does and shares.

"I'm not a Doctor, and I don't play one on the Internet." - me

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