Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Harvested and washed roots. (By: Michael Becker GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)
Season: Late Summer and Fall
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa). There are many types of Dock plants, but the dock with the burrs that cling to your cloths are the ones you want for the roots - but not when you see burs on them.
It is a two year plant (Biennial), in the first year they send up big green Rhubarb looking leaves only, in the 2nd year they have the leaves with a central stalk that flowers and then creates the big marble sized burrs. The root is only good in the fall, or before, of the first year. By the second year they are woody and the flavor is poor, and full of rotted sections. In the first year, they are putting energy into the root for the second year. In the second year, the energy is being used up.
Burdock root is well regarded in the far east for the healthful qualities. It does give you energy, and too much of it is like too much ginseng - you are wound tight, so go easy. If you are a tired or low energy person, this is a good food to give you strength and energy without the nervousness of caffeine.
Luckily, the flavor is so strong, that a little goes a long way. You can make tea out of it by simmering chopped, washed root for about 10 minutes in water and drinking straight up. I like it - the taste is wild and strong, but not bitter or unpleasant.
A traditional Eastern way of using it for tea is to lightly roast it after washing & chopping into small bits. You do not have to peel it, just wash it very well. You can peel it if you are not to sure what condition it is in. It should be a light, off-white color, cut out any discolored sections.
The best way to use it regularly is washed and chopped finely in soups or stir fry's in small amounts. It will give a robustness to the flavor, but not overwhelm it. Sort of the way parsnips add to soup, but the flavor is distinct. It is one of those flavors, that the more you have it, the more you come to like it. Of all the roots and tubers to eat, this is my personal favorite.
I have dug up roots that were close to two feet (60 cm) long and as thick as a broom handle at the top. Don't bother where there is clay unless that is the only choice you have. Sandy loam is the best if you have the chance to dig them there.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Burdock page.
- Plant Size: First year: low plant, no central stalk, large leaves on stems coming from plant center. Plant leaves are about 30 cm (12 inches) or less off the ground. Second Year: Plant forms a central stalk that can reach almost 3 meters (10 feet), but is usually around 1-2 meters (3 to 6 1/2 feet).
- Duration: Biennial
- Leaf Shape: Heart shaped
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: First year: Leaves come from same spot on the ground. Second year: Alternating on stalk.
- Leaf Size: up to 80 cm (32 inches) long
- Leaf Margin: Wavy
- Leaf Notes: Leaf veins are obvious and recessed giving the leaf a quilted look. Starting from about halfway down the leaf, the central vein and stem is a purple-red.
- Flowers: Purple flowers on the ends of the green immature burs.
- Fruit: Little, black, crescent moon shaped seeds inside the marble sized bur that clings to cloths.
- Habitat: All over - fields, waste areas, disturbed soils, river and creek banks. But not in highly shaded areas. Likes rich, moist soils, and grows much larger if the soil is nutrient rich - especially nitrogen. Because of this, huge specimens can be found where there is farm animal manure.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Burdocks in the late summer of their first year. When the first year plant is 3 months old it is ready to harvest. These are perfect for harvesting roots.
Second year Burdock. This is NOT good for harvesting the roots. Gathering the burs for seeds when ripe yes, but not for the root for eating. Compare this to the ones at the top of the page. (By: Christian Fischer CC BY-SA 3.0)
The flowers which will ripen into the burs that stick to everything that contain the seeds. (By: Pethan GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)
The ripe bur up close containing the seeds. (By: Michael Apel CC BY-SA 3.0)
The seeds inside the bur. They can range from this color to solid black. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Roots prepared for cooking or chopping up and drying. (By: Michel Chauvet CC BY-SA 3.0)
"A dish containing a Japanese appetizer, kinpira gobō, consisting of sauteed gobō (Greater burdock root) and ninjin (carrot), with a side of kiriboshi daikon (sauteed boiled dried daikon). This dish is a small appetizer that is served before the entree. Photo taken at Takahashi, Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. The small blue dish contains sliced cucumber and the mug contains green tea." (By: ayustety from Tokyo, Japan CC BY-SA 3.0)
Japanese Burdock root salad. (By: DryPot GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)
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