When you stir up your soil prepping and planting your beds, seeds come to the surface where they can get light and water . . . and can sprout. Here's a Japanese burdock plant that has volunteered in our shady side garden. It was more than a decade ago that I planted this variety offered by Kitazawa Seed Company. Lovely, beloved by pollinators, a food staple in southeast Asia AND grows in the shade, you gotta love that! Let’s learn more about Burdock.
Good Food or Dreaded Weed? Burdock is mostly considered a pesty weed in many of our gardens. It has mostly fallen out of favor in European and American kitchens. Yet it is an essential food crop in Southeast Asia. It is called gobo in Japan. Millions and millions of people eat burdock as a regular part of their diet, like some folks eat potatoes. Rather than a weed, see burdock as another part of your edible landscape.
Burdock root has a crunchy, mild, earthy flavor that is not unpleasant but it is very earthy. It pairs nicely with soy sauce and high heat. I always feel like I’m eating something really healthy when I eat burdock. I like it. You can buy fresh burdock root at Asian markets, natural food stores, farmer’s markets and well-stocked produce sections. Burdock tinctures and concoctions can be found in natural health and supplement stores.
Common burdock is a biennial that grows leaves and roots one year and makes flowers and seeds the following year. Harvest roots and leaves in the first and second year. Harvest the stalk the second year in late spring or early summer.
Dig and Eat Some Roots Harvest the roots when the leaves are big and before it starts to make a flower stalk. Loosen the soil all around the plant with a digging fork and firmly but gently pull and dig out the root. Try to get as much as you can. It is nice to get roots that are as big around as your thumb and as long as possible.
Wash, peel and thinly slice the root then added to a stir fry with soy sauce. Burdock root is a food staple in Southeast Asia and there are many delicious ways to prepare it. Kinpira Gobo is a classic Japanese dish made with burdock root, oil, soy sauce, sake and sugar. Burdock root can be pickled and used as a condiment.
Eat the Whole Thing The root is a common part to eat but all parts of the burdock plant can be eaten. There are varieties for salad where the leaves are most prized. The variety I grew was the Ha gobo from Kitazawa Seed Company. It is a short season variety that is grown as an annual crop for the edible leaves and stem but the root can also be used. Here is the description from their catalog.
“Ha Gobo. Heirloom, Arctium lappa. Also known as ci cai ji, dong yang lu bo, edible burdock leaves, ha gobo, ngao pong, niu pang, uang. 70 days. NonGMO. Open pollinated. Warm season annual.
Edible burdock root is gobo in Japanese and burdock leaf is ha gobo. This special Japanese variety is grown for its delicate edible leaves. The thick white stalk is about 12" long and the light green leaves are tender. The edible root is about 6" long.”
I just learned that you can harvest the flower stalk before it flowers. Chop it down to the ground the strip away the leaves and tough stringy outside until you get to the white center. This is what Black Forager, Alexis Nikole Nelson calls “potato stick.” I haven’t done this yet but apparently you cook the peeled stalk and it tastes like potato or artichoke. I need to try this!
Eat, Drink and Feel Merry It seems you can do just about anything with burdock. There are some really tasty sodas that are made from Dandelion and Burdock, they are a treat! Burdock root is strong medicine and can be tinctured or extracted. It can be dried and used in tea. What can’t you do with burdock?!
Burdock seed There are many seed houses that offer common burdock seed. For other exotic varieties, take a look at Kitazawa Seed Company www.kitazawaseed.com That Salada Masume variety looks really cool, it is on my wish list.
Get Growing! There is so much more to learn about burdock. If you are intrigued, there is plenty of good info out there. Go ahead, spend an enriching hour down the burdock rabbit hole, then seek it out at a local market or find some seeds and get growing! Enjoy!
Grow food . Have fun . Feel better
burdock flowers in bloom
Burdock, common Arctium lappa Family: Asteraceae, sunflower Biennial or short season annual Size: Large leaves, grows 2-3 feet tall; 4-8 feet tall flower stalk. Origin: Native to Asia and Europe but spread pretty much all over the world. Habitat: Grows in a variety of conditions from full sun to shade. It prefers loamy, well-drained soil but can grow in just about any soil so long as there is good drainage. Lighter soil makes harvesting the roots easier. Flowers July to October. Magenta flowers are beloved by pollinators. Self-sowing. Special note: Burdock burrs were the inspiration for hook and loop fasteners – Velcro. In some languages the words for burdock and Velcro are the same.