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One person’s weeds are another person’s dinner, and burdock (Arctium) is a perfect example of this. Although it is routinely weeded out as an invasive species, in Japan it is cultivated as the delicious root vegetable gobo, and you can sometimes find it for sale as a gourmet ingredient at farmers’ markets. It is delicious in stir-fries (see recipe below).
Identifying and Harvesting Burdock
Burdock root can be harvested anytime from spring through fall. A burdock root is shaped like a slender carrot, but brown on the outside and a lighter color within.
In addition to being eaten as a vegetable, the root is also the part of the burdock plant that is usually used for medicine. Burdock roots have been taken internally as a blood purifier, digestive aid, and to treat chronic skin problems including psoriasis. They also have a reputation as being good for hangovers!
Burdock grows in sun or partial sunlight. It is a biennial that grows a rosette of leaves in its first year of growth, then flowers and goes to seed the following calendar year.
The leaves can be huge, up to 2 feet long and 1 foot wide. They remind some people of rhubarb plants, but unlike rhubarb’s leaves, burdock leaves have a felt-y, fuzzy texture and are whitish on the undersides. Although untoothed, the margins of the leaves are wavy, almost ruffled.
In the spring of its second calendar year, after overwintering, burdock sends up a stalk that will eventually bear brush-like purplish flowers. These are followed by the burrs from which the plant gets its common name. Burdock burrs are what inspired George de Mestral to invent and patent Velcro.
The immature flower stalks are another excellent vegetable this common plant provides. Similar to the Italian vegetable cardoon, burdock stalks should be harvested before the plants flower, which is usually in mid to late spring.
Burdock (Gobo) Stir-Fry Recipe
Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish. Add tofu or chicken to make it a main course. Serve over rice.
• 1/2 lb. burdock root
• 1/4 lb. carrots
• 1 tbsp sesame seeds
• 2 tbsp mirin
• 1 tbsp white wine
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 2 tsp honey
• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1. Peel the burdock root and julienne it into matchstick sized strips. The peeling is optional. If you do peel the roots, you will have a milder dish. For a strong, mushroom-like flavor, wash but don’t peel.
2. Soak the burdock matchsticks in water for 30 minutes.
3. While the burdock is soaking, peel the carrot and julienne it into matchsticks as you did with the burdock root.
4. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium low heat, shaking the pan often, for a few minutes until fragrant and just starting to color. Do not allow them to burn. Set the seeds aside.
5. Mix the mirin, white wine, soy sauce, and honey together in a small bowl.
6. Drain the burdock in a colander. Spread on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
7. Put the vegetable oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat.
8. Add burdock and fry for 2 minutes, stirring.
9. Add carrots in the hot pan and fry for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly.
10. Stir the soy sauce mixture into the vegetables. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
11. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and follow her food adventures at Leda's Urban Homestead. Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More
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