Nourishing Burdock

I love eating my medicine. Moreover, Burdock (Arcticum Lappa) happens to be both delicious and beneficial to almost all of the major organ systems of the body. Burdock is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as protein, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, tannins, and fiber.  Burdock’s action is most profound on the liver, making it one of the best natural blood purifiers around.  I use burdock root and stems mainly in soups. Because of its high inulin content, a valuable substance, it is important to cook it well. Be forewarned: inulin is difficult to digest and will cause excessive gas if not cooked thoroughly.

Burdock belongs to those special kinds of plants that offer both nutrition and healing benefits. Though western cuisine has largely ignored this wonderful herb, the Japanese truly appreciate Burdock as a wholesome, medicinal food – they even produce it commercially and sell it at market under the name of ‘Gobo’. The key to its popularity among the Japanese may lie in the well-kept secret of Burdock’s lesser known qualities: It is rumored that Burdock gives strength and endurance, especially with regard to sexual stamina. This has earned it a reputation as an aphrodisiac. However, it is important to note that the fresh herb/root is infinitely more powerful than the dried material. Fortunately, finding wild burdock, or even cultivating it yourself, is very easy.

Harvesting Burdock                                                                                                      Since you want to make use of the roots, stems, leaves and seeds of the Burdock plant, it is important to harness the herb’s peak productive energy from each part during the harvest process. Roots, when all the vital energy is most concentrated within and being sent down into them; before the plant’s stems and flowers are being developed. Collect the aerial parts while the vital energy is rising. Finally, the seeds after the plant has finished its growing process and starting to go back to the earth.

Burdock is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its life cycle. It can grow more than 5 feet tall and its huge, expansive, heart-shaped leaves can reach over a foot in length. Burdock certainly ranks among the tallest and most space consuming herbs, sporting extraordinarily big leaves as well as the stickiest burrs.

First year burdock growth

First year plants have a rosette of large dusky green, heart-shaped leaves with a gray underneath from a mass of fine wooly down. First year burdock resembles and is often mistaken for rhubarb, so get out your field guide and make sure you identify it properly. It has a long tapering root with a white inner pith. In its second year, the plant grows to a large size, measuring from 3 to 7 feet in height. The stem is round, fleshy, and with many branches, the lower ones frequently measuring 18 inches in length. The flowers are purple, in small-clustered heads armed with hooked spines, and the spiny burrs formed attach themselves to clothing and hair of animals. The lower leaves are very large, on long, solid footstalks, furrowed above, frequently more than a foot long. The upper leaves are much smaller, more egg-shaped in form and not so densely clothed beneath with the grey down.

burdock root

Harvesting Roots                                                                                                             You want to harvest first year roots in the fall or the following spring before stems start to develop.

A pitchfork is the best tool for removing the plant roots from the soil. Susun Weed suggests that it is best to start on the east side of the plant, and then move around the plant and working the pitchfork at each of the four directions. Plunge the pitchfork in and rock it back and forth, continue until you have loosened the soil all around the root and then use a spade to remove the loosen soil.  As a rule, the roots are 12 inches or more in length and about 1 inch thick, sometimes, however, they extend 2 to 3 feet, making it necessary to dig by hand. Some suggest peeling the root but I find simply scrubbing the soil off the root until I get to the root white, works just fine. They are delicious in soups and stews.

Harvesting Stems                                                                                                              Like the roots, you want to harvest the stems when they are most concentrated with the plant’s vital energy: before the flower develops. The outside of the stems have a bitter taste, so peel the green outside until you get to the white center. I soak the inner white stems in a cold-water bath and change the water several times to remove any bitter residue, so that what is left is a sweet inner stem. Take a nibble to test if all the bitterness has been removed. The stems can be chopped up and added raw to salads, or cooked in soups and stews.

 “Debbie’s Nourishing Root Soup”                                                                         (portions are up to you and how much you actually want)

  • Dig up equal amounts of burdock and dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)                           (keep dandelion leaves but compost burdock’s) you can also use Burdock stems instead of the root.
  • Harvest Stinging Nettles (Uritica dioica)
  • Sauté chopped onions in olive oil. When translucent  add lots of chopped garlic and wait a couple minutes
  • add peeled and chopped ginger root, wait a couple minutes
  • add chopped shitake mushrooms, wait a couple minutes
  • add  1 – 2tsp turmeric powder
  • after a couple of minutes add broth (veggie or chicken) or water (4 -6 cups)
  • add chopped roots: burdock, dandelion, beets (keep tops for later), carrots, sweet potato, potato, turnip, or whatever floats your boat (I like to add sweet veggies to balance the bitterness of the dandelion)
  • Simmer for at least 45 mins.
  • add chopped nettles, dandelion & beet greens
  • Simmer for 15 mins.
  • Put in blender or not (I blend it so Mathew eats it without picking out veggies but it tastes great either way)
  • Add 1 tsp. of miso to bowl
  • Pour soup over miso
  • hot pepper to taste
  • ENJOY!