How Much Do You Know about Cocklebur Plant?

What is Cocklebur?

Xanthium strumarium is a flowering plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It is an annual herb known for its rough, oval spines covered in hooked spines. These burrs easily attach to clothing, fur, and feathers, allowing the plant’s seeds to disperse over long distances. It is considered a noxious weed in some areas due to its toxicity and impact on agriculture. The seeds and seedlings of this plant contain a toxic substance called atratyloside, which can be harmful or even fatal to humans and animals if ingested in large amounts. Cocklebur is a plant native to Southern Europe, Central Asia and China that has spread throughout the world and is often found in wet or sandy areas such as roadside ditches and river banks. Its distinctive fruit, covered with a tough shell and burrs, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for headaches, nasal congestion, skin pigmentation disorders, tuberculosis-related diseases and rheumatoid arthritis. In recent years, scientists have explored its potential use in treating rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.


Cocklebur extract and skin protection

Cocklebur extracts, extracted from the fruit of a plant often considered a poisonous weed, have shown potential to protect the skin, speed wound healing and fight wrinkles due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The researchers found that in laboratory tests, the extracts reduced UVB damage and improved wound healing, while also affecting the production of collagen, which keeps skin elastic. The findings suggest that cocklebur may be a valuable ingredient in cosmetics, especially when combined with other potent compounds such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, to fight aging.


Compounds in the prickly fruit of this species reduced damage from UVB exposure and accelerated wound healing in laboratory tests using cells and tissues, the researchers found. Cocklebur extract also seems to affect the production of collagen, a protein that gives skin elasticity and prevents wrinkles.


“We found that cocklebur has the potential to protect the skin and help promote collagen production,” said Eunsu Song, a doctoral student at Myongji University in South Korea who conducted the study with Myongji University professor Jinah Hwang. “In this regard, it may be an attractive ingredient in the form of face creams or other cosmetics. If combined with other anti-aging effective compounds such as hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid, it may have a synergistic effect.” Song presented the new research at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Seattle, March 25-28.


Potential toxicity of cocklebur in high doses

Professor Song said: “Cocklebur burrs also contain a toxic ingredient, carboxyside, which can damage the liver. Cocklebur has shown potential as a cosmetic by increasing collagen synthesis; however, at higher concentrations, the results was negative. Therefore, finding the right concentration seems to be very important, which will be the key to commercializing Xanthium extract for cosmetic use.”


Next, the researchers plan to further investigate the biological mechanisms involved and conduct experiments in animal substitutes to explore ways to safely use Xanthium extracts in cosmetics.