Friday, May 25, 2012

Burdock Root--A Satisfying Wild Edible Plant

Harvesting burdock roots with a shovel. 
I love the idea of eating burdock (Arctium lappa and A. minus).  It's just the type of plant food that could play an important role in a completely wild diet.  It has a thick, starchy root.  It's not that much work to gather if one finds the right spot where the soils are loose.  And there are enough calories to give proficient foragers a good return on their energy investment.  When we mow the lawn, we mow around any burdock in hopes that it propogates well. (I know what you're thinking.  What self-respecting cave man mows the lawn?  I hang my head in shame.)  

Following the roots deep underground. 

As spring began this year, we watched a healthy patch of burdock rosettes tightly clumped in the soft soils by our roadside.  So Yub-yub and I (Thag) set out with shovel in hand.  Despite my enthusiasm, my experience with burdock was limited.  But I'd dug a few roots before, and the key lesson I had learned was this:  Dig deep.  This was no job for some hastily chosen digging stick.  We  went at these puppies with a full-length garden shovel.  Even the small rosettes had roots that penetrated two to three feet into the ground.  And despite my conviction to dig deep, I still did not dig deep enough.  The tip (puportedly the tenderest and tastiest parts--I wouldn't know) broke off every time.  

One meal's worth of roots, cut and scrubbed. 

Even so, we took home a hefty shopping bag full of plants after 20 minutes of easy work.  The burdock grew closely together, and we were able to dig one big hole and pull a number of plants into it rather that having to dig seperate holes for each root.  

We cut off the bitter leaves and the rough, wrinkled, and woody top sections of the roots.  Then we peeled them like carrots, and cut them into coins.  We decided to roast them, and that was where we went wrong.  The product was tasty, but the fast-tapering roots were hard to roast evenly.  The smallest sections dried into hard nuggets when the largest ones had just cooked.  Next time, I think we'll try them in a stew or some other dish where they can be boiled instead of getting a dry heat.  

This was not a culinary triumph, but I still love burdock.  It's flowers are beautiful.  It's velcro seed heads are ingenious.  Its flavor is mild and pleasant.  And it takes wild food beyond just being a garnish, side dish, or salad.  It's real food that could sit at the center of a hunger-satisfying meal.  It is a plant worth practicing. 

Peeled, chopped, and ready to cook. 

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