Burdock, also known as Gobo, is one of those plants that’s been calling to me for a while now. Sometimes when you need a plant, they find a way into your life and make their presence known. A year or two ago I began gathering Stinging Nettle from a local farm. They considered this plant a pesky weed and needed it removed but refrained from using chemicals. It worked out well for me as I was able to gather leaves, stalks, and roots and they were able to clear their land. However, one day I began to notice the Burdock and so did the farmers. The plant speckled the landscape like footprints and it was very clear this biennial would be spouting its seeds next year and making more of a mark on itself. Digging up the entire root would be one way to ensure this plant remained in check. Fortunately, the root is AMAZING!
Once the cooler autumn weather rolled in, it was time to harvest, enjoy, and appreciate this bounty. Like many things in life, sharing these gifts with friends, makes it far more enjoyable and that much sweeter. A few women in town joined me to gather some root, it was a pretty special moment. However, harvesting burdock root is no joke! The tap root is quite large and can travel anywhere from a foot to three feet down.
How do you know you’re looking at burdock?
Burdock typically enjoys compact soil in a variety of locations but I’ve found her most prevalent in and around farmland. She’s a biennial plant, meaning she completes her life cycle after two years. The first year she develops large low lying basal leaves with a long tap root. The tap root is white with a pithy center and covered in a thin brown skin. The root is best harvested in the cooler fall months, when all the energy is returning back to earth in preparation for winter. Harvesting the wild root is definitely challenging, so be prepared to work for your food!
The second year she shoots straight to the sky in the form of a flowering stalk that bares a purple thistle-like flower. The flower then develops into a structure containing small hard fruits, which then dies, leaving us with dried burrs. The burrs will hitchhike a ride on anything from fur to jackets and travel around the world spreading their seeds.
So now you’ve identified this wonderful plant, now what?
The leaves can be used the first year as a poultice for wounds, or more interestingly to wrap and preserve butter. The word “burdock” comes from the french word for butter, “beurre.” So cool! I have no experience using the leaves either internally or externally, so I shall move on to the root.
The root is wonderful in that it’s edible AND medicinal. Let’s get to it!
Used as a pre-biotic:
Burdock is high in inulin, a starchy carbohydrate that is indigestible to humans but provides nutrients to the gut flora. Ingesting both inulin and fermented foods (or probiotic capsules) can possibly support a diverse microbiome.
In short alteratives help with metabolism and gets your body working smoothly. Burdock is specific to the skin and elmination through the skin, as well as urinary system and liver. However, if you have the time to read the following explanation, please do so! Alterative actions are difficult to explain but Rosalee de la Foret has done a beautiful job.
Here is her explanation:
“Every day your body performs functions that produce metabolic wastes. (Sometimes these are called toxins, but I personally dislike this harsh term for something that is naturally occurring in the body.) Your body has numerous organs and functions that are specific for handling, processing, and eliminating this metabolic waste. The liver metabolizes hormones and processes nutrients from the portal vein, the lungs exhale CO2, the kidneys filter the blood and remove wastes through urine, macrophages engulf spent cells and remove them through the lymph, and on and on. These are all examples of detoxification and elimination.
When these systems of detoxification and elimination are working well, everything is running smoothly. Nutrients are coming in the body, various functions are breaking down those nutrients and delivering them throughout the body, and the body is naturally eliminating the “leftovers” or waste products. Visually I like to think of this as a clear running brook. Clean, free flowing water.
For a variety of reasons, elimination functions can slow down or become stagnant. Now, instead of that clear flowing brook, we have a stagnant pond. Metabolic wastes aren’t being removed, but instead are building up in one or more areas of the body. This stagnant pond situation is what I think of as “bad blood”. Physiologically it could involve the lymphatic system but in my own broad definition it could also include other examples of stagnancy in the colon, in the skin, etc. Specific examples of this may include lymphedema (lymphatic build up), hormone imbalance (possible liver stagnation resulting in complaints of hormonal excess), or gout (historically defined as being caused by “bad blood” or “rich food”).
Alteratives are herbs that support detoxification organs and elimination functions. Metaphorically speaking, they come into a stagnant pond situation and break the dam to restore that clear flowing brook.”
The seeds can be quite challenging to harvest and maybe someday I will but for now I’ll leave you with this:
From what I’ve gathered the seeds are strongly medicinal and are more effective in acute situations, while the root is best taken long term for chronic complaints.
Wild edible recipes:
Adding fresh burdock root to bone broth is a fantastic way to get a nourishing dish. Just simply let it simmer for 24 hours while the bone broth is being made. A crockpot works well for this!
Kinpira Gobo is a burdock and carrot based dish with sweet and salty sauce. Here is a simple recipe:
1 Burdock Root (sasagaki cut)
1 Carrot (thinly sliced)
1 Tbsp oil
¼ cup water
2 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp Sake
1 Tbsp Mirin
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
Red hot peppers (optional)
How to make Kinpira Gobo:
Cut the vegetables thinly. Soaking the burdock root in water for 5-10 minutes, then strain.
Add oil to a frying pan and heat on medium high heat. Cook the burdock root for a few minutes, then add the carrots and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the water, soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin, and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Add the sesame seeds and stir. Serve!
Enjoy the dried or fresh root in a decoction or the seeds in tincture form. A decoction is simply the process of simmering plant parts in water for 20-40 minutes, covered. Strain the liquid and enjoy. This method is a bit more destructive and is usually done with much hardier plant parts, such as bark and roots. The longer you simmer, the stronger the tea (not always a good thing!)
Burdock decoction recipe
½ cup fresh burdock (finely chopped) or ¼ cup dried
3 cups cold water
Add burdock to saucepan and cover with cold water
Bring to a boil and simmer partially covered for 20-30 minutes, the water will reduce to around 2 cups
Strain and enjoy!
You can refrigerate this tea for up to 48 hours
Head outside, appreciate, and enjoy this wonderful plant!