Many of you may already be familiar with Burdock, the plant whose leaves remind one of rhubarb, the plant that grows a tall stalk its second year with purple flowers that turn to burrs and cling to everything!
Several years ago during an herbal intensive class, the teacher asked us to go and sit with whatever plant called to us. The season was late autumn. Burdock called out to one woman as the plant showcased its shriveled, brown leaves and by all appearances looked dead.
Little did we know at the time that Burdock was beaming with health and vitality in her roots. It was a teaching to be sure! The brown leaves were simply the call of the wild taste buds! The plant reflected how the wheel of life turns, how we have only to look deep within to find our treasures ~ surprising new ways of being, new ways of offering our fullness and strength and beauty for the well being of self and others.
For this particular woman and all of the women who shared in her storytelling of it, Burdock provided an insight into her own menopausal changes. Burdock opened her eyes to see her own beauty, the gift of life hidden deep within and gave her courage to age. She literally experienced the “rebirth of the Spirit within the land” so aptly described by Ruth Barrett in her book, Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries. She recognized the great secret she held deep within, that vision not actually seen yet, but drawn to it by the desires of her heart. I love Burdock. Burdock speaks of antiquity and the ancients. She awes me with her presence.
I can’t think of any other plant that was so familiar to me yet one I was never truly acquainted. I can’t help but recall my father repeatedly trying to rid the edge of the patio cornered by the back of the garage of this strange plant that simply kept coming back despite his efforts to destroy it. The plant represented an audacity that somehow sustained life in its roots, ready to spring again with unmatched determination. I was truly stunned and amazed at this plants audacity! It wasn’t until many years later that I encountered burdock with a whole new understanding and deep appreciation.
Burdock roots travel inside the womb of the Earth Mother, deep into the darkness of Her caverns. She offers us the food she shares with the Earth Mother Herself drawing nutrients from her depths of being. Burdock provides us with health and strength. When we eat her roots we consume the beauty and strength of the Mother Herself.
Burdock is a wonderful wild food that we can enjoy sliced up in stir fries, added to soups and rice pilafs and drunk as a beverage prepared as an infusion from dried root pieces or with a splash of burdock infused vinegar on our food. She imbues her heartiness to all who consume her. She is there to share joy and health. Burdock is full of vitamins and minerals.
Digging Burdock root can be very labor intensive for her roots go deep. A couple of years ago I constructed what I call “gobo boxes” in which to grow Burdock. The idea comes from Japan where burdock is called “gobo”. (Shortly, I will post instructions on how to build a gobo box under Practical Tips).
Actually this variety of burdock grows long, straight roots and has a lighter skin than the wild variety. They clean up beautifully. I find them actually more tender than the “wild” variety for pickles.
I find that the common field and garden burdock I dig has a stronger fragrance after it’s dried than what is grown in the box.
Yearly, I enjoy making Steve Brill’s recipe for Pickled Burdock offered in his book Wild Vegan Cookbook. He also provides many more great ways to use wild foods. It’s a book worth having on your shelf.
Burdock Pickles by Steve Brill
4 cups burdock root, cut into finger-sized pieces
1 cup brown rice vinegar
1 cup water
18 common spiceberries or 2 tbs. allspice
2 tbs. bayberry leaves or commercial bay leaves
1 tbs. star anise
2 tbs. fresh commercial ginger, sliced
2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. Vege-sal or salt
- Steam the burdock on a steamer rack over water 40 minutes, or until tender enough to pierce with a fork, or pressure cook it 15 minutes.
- Drain the burdock and put into jar.
- Place a fork in the jar to prevent it from shattering.
- Meanwhile, mix the vinegar and the water, and bring to a boil.
- Pour this over the burdock and stir in the remaining ingredients.
- Remove the fork, cover, and refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving. This recipe lasts for weeks refrigerated.
Makes 4 cups
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
I welcome burdock in my garden and I enjoy opening a gobo box in the fall. It’s kind of like having the best of both worlds. I actually like the challenge of digging burdock. But I also find it a treat to release the tied hinges of the gobo box to unearth the roots tucked in the dirt of the box. It’s like opening a treasure chest. Generally you can find, fresh burdock roots at the market, i.e. a food co-op, if you want to give them a try.