Thursday, May 27, 2010

Burdock Root

Wild food is not just a garnish! Yes, the vast majority of edible plants offer nutritious but low-calorie supplements to the otherwise domesticated palatte. They are greens or flowers, tasty but often unsatisfying as a whole meal on their own. Not so the burdock root, or roots in general. Roots and tubers can be organs of energy storage for plants. This is especially true for plants that are biennials, plants that live for two growing season. These plants have an elegant evolutionary strategy. They spend their first year packing away energy the way that a college student might put away money during a summer break. Then the plant will spend all of that energy in a bid for reproductive success, usually by sending up a tall, potent flower. You've no doubt eaten plants that use this strategy, plants like the carrot.

When you eat a carrot, you are basically robbing the college student on their way to school; you are taking the plants stored energy before it can spend it. (This mercenary activity is the way that your ancestors got enough calories to bear offspring.) My metaphor is made with tongue in cheek, but it does serve two purposes. First is a reminder about how important it is to gather roots mindfully. They have a big impact on a plant population. Roots should be taken with gratitude and moderation. Second, biennial roots are best gathered at the time after the energy has been stored but before it has been spent. That means after the first growing season, but before the second.

We had not eaten burdock roots before, but our good friends Rebecca and Ben have. Rebecca showed us the ropes. She prefers to dig them from the loosened soil of a fallow garden with a turning fork. We found that both the inner and outer parts of the root were edible (Sam Thayer again). The sweet and nutty flavor was excellent, and I found that I prefer them, like my carrots, well cooked.


  1. are there recipes anywhere for cooking burdock?

  2. Sorry Nikki,
    We don't have any on our blog. We're relatively new to it and have not experimented extensively. Check out some of the blogs on our blogroll. They're bound to have something.