Know your Burdock

  • Arctium lappa of the family Asteraceae, commonly called Burdock or sometimes Greater burdock, Edible burdock, or Lappa Burdock is a biennial plant, cultivated in gardens for its root used as a vegetable.
  • Burdock “Takinogawa” is a special, late-variety burdock that is rich in flavour. This important Japanese vegetable is essential to many classic Japanese dishes including "kimpira," made with sautéed burdock and carrots.

  • Burdock is rather tall, reaching as much as 2 metres (6'6"). 
  • It has large, alternating, cordiform leaves that have a long petiole and are pubescent on the underside.
  • The flowers are purple and grouped in globular capitula, united in clusters. They appear in mid-summer, from July to September. The capitula are surrounded by an involucre made out of many bracts, each curving to form a hook, allowing them to be carried long distances on the fur of animals. 
  • The fruits are achenes; they are long, compressed, with short pappuses.
  • The tap root can be as long as a metre (36”) in length, and they have a texture similar to parsnips and when cooked quickly, retain their crispiness; the outer skin is very thin, similar to carrots.

  • This species is native to the temperate regions of the old world, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and from the British Isles through Russia, and the Middle East to China and Japan, including India.
  • It is naturalized almost everywhere and is usually found in disturbed areas, especially in soil rich in nitrogen. It is commonly cultivated in Japan where it gives its name to a particular construction technique, burdock piling.
  • The leaves of Greater Burdock provide food for the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, such as the Thistle Ermine (Myelois circumvoluta).

  • It prefers a fresh, worked soil, rich in humus, and should be positioned in full sunlight. 
  • Burdock is very reactive to nitrogen fertilizer. 
  • Propagation is achieved through direct sowing the seeds midsummer. 
  • The harvest occurs three to four months after the seeding until late autumn, when the roots become too fibrous.

  • Burdock was used during the Middle Ages as a vegetable, but now it is rarely used, with the exception of Japan where it is called gobō (牛蒡 or ゴボウ), Taiwan (牛蒡), Korea where it is called ueong (우엉), Italy, Brazil and Portugal, where it is known as bardana. 
  • Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about 1 metre (3'3") long and 2 cm (0.75")  across.
  • Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear. 

  • Dandelion and burdock is a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom. 
  • Burdock is believed to be a galactagogue, a substance that increases lactation, but it is sometimes recommended to be avoided during pregnancy based on animal studies that show components of burdock to cause uterus stimulation.
  • Cardoon is not the same as Burdock.
  • However, in parts of the US (notably Western New York), burdock stalks are eaten as a substitute for cardoon. 
    • The stalks are peeled, scrubbed, boiled in salt water, and fried in an egg and breadcrumb batter.

  • The taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related.
  • Very young roots can be eaten raw, but older roots are usually cooked. 
  • Cut root into slivers and stir-fry. 
  • Young leaves and stalks are eaten raw or cooked. 
  • Seeds can be sprouted like bean sprouts; nothing goes to waste with this plant.
  • In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. 
    • The root contains a fair amount of gobō dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low calorie. 
    • It contains polyphenols that causes darkened surface and muddy harshness by formation of tannin-iron complexes.
  • The root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes. 
    • The harshness shows excellent harmonization with pork in miso soup (tonjiru) and takikomi gohan (a Japanese-style pilaf).
  • A popular Japanese dish is kinpira gobō, julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil. 
  • Another is burdock makizushi (rolled sushi filled with pickled burdock root; the burdock root is often artificially colored orange to resemble a carrot). 
  • In Kyoto, gobō can also be found as a snack food similar to potato chips.
  • The root is eaten cooked and the young sprout can be eaten just like asparagus. Gobo is also used in Tempura.
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