Cooking with Burdock Root and Stems

Dig up burdock’s long taproot, harvest its immature stems, and enjoy this earthy invasive species in cold-weather comfort cooking.

| November/December 2018

  • great burdock
    Burdock is a biennial plant whose taproot and immature stems can be used in cooking.
    Photo by Getty/Nadezhda_Nesterova
  • cooked burdock root
    Burdock root has a gently sweet and earthy taste to it, lending itself well to cold-weather comfort cooking.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Chenyu
  • burdock taproot
    Burdock's taproot can grow as long as 2 to 3 feet, making it particularly difficult to uproot.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Miyuki Satake
  • freshly dug burdock root
    Digging up burdock roots is easiest in early winter or early spring.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/pat
  • pickled burdock root
    If you're going to consume burdock root, such as burdock root pickles, make sure to soak the roots to avoid tummy troubles from insulin-induced distress.
    Photo by Getty/PicturePartners

  • great burdock
  • cooked burdock root
  • burdock taproot
  • freshly dug burdock root
  • pickled burdock root

Burdock

Status: Widespread in western and eastern U.S. and Canada

Where: Open ground and gardens; occasionally sold in supermarkets, Chinatowns

Season: Spring, late fall

Parts Used: Taproot and immature stem



In culinary terms, biennial burdock is better known as gobo (Arctium lappa), cultivated for millennia in Japan for its impressively long, starchy taproot. Its earthiness lends itself to cold-weather comfort cooking, providing a sweet carbohydrate satisfaction to sauces and stews. In wild plants, the root is good to eat late in the first year or in its second spring, becoming more fibrous late in its last season. But unearthing a 2- to 3-foot taproot requires exceptional determination and good digging skills.

The roots contain indigestible inulin, which will cause a gas attack. If you're using them raw, disarm them by parboiling or soaking. (Inulin is water-soluble.) If you'd prefer not to dig the root in the plant's first year, you can wait for burdock's second edible stage: the immature flowering stems. Appearing in late spring, they're a delicious and easily foraged wild food. Cooked, their flavor is a marriage of globe and Jerusalem artichokes. Prime harvest height is between 1 and 3 feet. The stem should still be immature and actively growing — in the meristem stage — or it will be extremely fibrous. It's too late by the time it's begun to produce laterals. The best stalks remain hidden within the green depths of the wide leaves, and the stouter, the better.






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