Arctium lappa - Burdock Be Good
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
was the first root that I ever harvested as an herbalist. I basically knew what a carrot did down there so I felt confident I was up to the task. An herbalist friend of mine had quite a substantial plot in her yard and invited me out to a dig. In retrospect, I'm sure my friend got a lot of joy handing me a shovel, pointing me toward the burdock patch and instructing me to be careful so as not to break the root. I enthusiastically started digging down around the base of a massive burdock plant. Burrs from the past season attached themselves to my scarf, jacket, jeans, and socks but I blissfully ignored them. I edged the soil away from the exposed root, worked it around with my hands and gave a good tug. Nothing. It didn't budge. I dug down about a foot this time and again tried to pry it from the earth. It didn't even wiggle. I looked at my friend who was standing there smiling and she just said to keep going. I stabbed my shovel into the ground and stood up with all my weight on the flat edge, determined to get to the bottom of this root.
As I nudged my shovel back and forth to get it back to the surface, I heard or rather felt a muffled snap. I got myself into my best squat ever, gathered all of the leaves around the base stem and pulled with all of my power. Up and out of the dark recess she came, the rich scent of humus trailing behind her. Woah. That was about all I could say. I held in my hand a two foot root that was almost as wide as my wrist! And it had snapped. That meant I only held a two foot portion of the entire root. I was impressed to say the least. We then made quite a competitive game of harvesting without snapping to see who could get the longest root, bonus for it being fully intact.
These long roots serve a purpose. They draw healing minerals from deep within the ground. In nature, the decomposition cycles of the seasons would be returning these nutrients to the higher soil levels, making for fertile land. However, I learned in some of my early herbal classes that the current big ag way of farming and eradicating any and all weeds, depletes the soil of vital minerals sooooo they turn around and buy chemicals to add! What a racket.
If you should decide to go in search of burdock root, all I can say is allocate a fair amount of time for harvesting, prepare to sweat and get a good workout, and have yourself a good old time. Burdock root can be harvested in the fall of the first year when it remains low to the ground or the spring of the second year before it shoots up the stalk that we see covered in burrs. Riley shared some ruffs of wisdom too: don't get those pesky burrs in your hair! ( Yes. Burdock burrs and long dog hair are natural enemies! Riley would try yanking them out by pulling tufts of hair which he then would swallow. The burrs irritated his throat and stomach so he would vomit everywhere soon after. NOT fun, at all! So, I have to give a HUGE THANK YOU to the wise friend who gave me the pro tip of using olive oil to remove burrs! It really works well even if its a little messy. Just saturate the area and slide or comb them out.)
A short vid I did of me harvesting burdock:
You may be wondering why go to all this trouble? Well burdock root is a goldmine of goodness. It is one of my four favorite foundational herbal supports (the others being
). I think my favorite aspect of burdock root is that I have used it so many ways and have had so many positive experiences with her. Food, beverage, tinctured in alcohol, extracted in vinegar or oil, I still have a lot of work to do with this herb. Here I will share my successes and a little bit of what it can do for the bod fantastic.
Restorative is a word that I often hear and see in association with burdock. It has been described as balancing, bringing things back to balance for best working order for the whole body. It is very nourishing. It brings out the very best in us over the long term. It is pleasing and purifying to the blood and is a gentle digestive bitter. It can help blood sugar levels, stimulates the glands and is a lymph mover. Burdock is an "alterative" herb, meaning one that gently creates positive, healing changes when used routinely.
It is best to be in a long term relationship with her, not a short fling.
It's a very good source of potassium, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Also a source of protein, phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, silicon, selenium, manganese, chromium, cobalt, zinc, inulin, vitamins A, B complex, C, E, and bioflavonoids!
If burdock had a theme song it would be:
Getting it in
Burdock is best thought of as a food. It is available in Asian groceries by the name gobo. I have sliced it into matchsticks and added it to stir fries. It has a mild earthy flavor and slightly woody texture but its not unpleasantly tough. I have had a delicious Sea Stag sauerkraut made by local Michigan company The Brinery that includes cabbage, carrots, burdock root, sea veggies, turmeric, and sea salt. It is ridiculously good and worth the hefty price. I treat myself to it every now and again and have DIY sauerkraut visions that feature burdock prominently. Until then, one of my favorite ways to get my burdock in is in pickle form! Burdock pickles caused quite a stir when served in a previous herbalism class and afterward there were quite a few Facebook tags, Instagram posts, and Tweets with proud burdock picklers pickling burdock pickles!
I steamed my fresh peeled and cut burdock for about 10 minutes. Then placed them in a brine of fresh ginger, fresh garlic, 1 part apple cider vinegar, 1 part tamari sauce and Braggs aminos, and 1 part water from the steamed roots. Refrigerate. They are ready for snacking in about two weeks. These are great in stir fry and sliced thin into salads. The brine liquid is a great seasoning as well! #Zerowaste
Dried burdock root is also an option. If you don't want to try drying it yourself, it is readily available at a health food store or grocer with a bulk herbs section or can be ordered online. Dried burdock root makes a delicious tea and pairs really well with chai or mulling spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, and cloves. It's mild flavor won't infringe on any herb blend and it can even be placed in a mulling spice bag or cheesecloth sack and added to soups or stews to enrich the broth with no discernible flavor. Burdock root makes a mineral rich vinegar as well. Just place about 1/2 cup of the dried root in a pint mason jar and cover with organic apple cider vinegar. Place wax paper over the mouth of the jar before screwing on the lid. This is an easy way to get to the goodness and can be used in salad dressings, greens or wherever a vinegar is needed. Place a teaspoon in a small cup of water and toss it back for a little ACV bonus brew! Burdock root can also be extracted into an alcohol based tincture.
So go out and get you some gobo! Or dig up some burdock roots from healthy places where there are no pesticides or pollutants in use around or in the soil! Scrub fresh harvested burdock roots well to remove all dirt and debris and then process as desired. Can be sliced into coins or bars, shredded or grated. If drying, chop into small pieces.
I hope this inspires you to get to know burdock root. Are you inspired? How will you use this root in your daily life? I would love to hear all about it!
Thank you for reading.