After the recent Dandelion & Burdock thread I thought I would post some photos of how to go about foraging Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) and their roots. Photos from my garden last weekend. For more detail on uses and the plant check out the PFAF Database - Arctium lappa. Plant in flower here
1. Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) Shown with 14cm billy can for scale. This is the second year growth (it is a biennial plant)
2. Leaf Detail. Very young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked (prepared like spinach and cooked). They contain around 19.4% carbohydrate. I found the larger leaves to be very bitter.
3. Detail of Young Shoots These can be eaten raw or cooked. The larger leaf stems tend to be bitter. This can be reduced by standing the stems in water for 24 hours or by cooking and replacing cooking water half way through. Used like cardoons.
4. Young Stems. Tidied and outer layer peeled like celery to remove stringy outer layer and eaten raw or cooked. Flavour is fairly neutral and quite acceptable with little bitterness. Eating it raw will preserve more minerals and vitamins. The flowering stem is also used in a similar way and has a somewhat asparagus-like flavour (not shown here).
5. Digging Stick. To get to the long tap root of the burdock you will need a digging stick if you don't have a handy narrow spade. This is a simple two faced point, slightly blunted to reduce splitting when digging. This one is made from hazel. Be warned. If the ground is dry and hard or gravely then think twice as it requires a LOT of effort!
6. Hardening Digging Stick. To further harden the digging tip of green wood (not necessary with seasoned wood) place it into the embers of a fire to drive off the moisture in the green wood and rotate every so often. You can tell when the moisture has been driven off by tapping it and you hear a different sound. Careful not to burn it!
7. Digging. Start digging around the root careful not to get too close. You need to make quite a wide hole in order to dig down deep to get the long tap root. It is easier to use a 'front to back' type action like a canoe paddle to break up the soil, then remove the loosened soil by hand. Here the ground is dry and hard and not easy!
8. Extending The Hole. Getting down to the end of the tap root (leaves remove to make digging easier) size and depth of the root will depend on soil type
9. Burdock Root. After a good ten minutes effort the long tap root (approx. 45cm/18" long) is out along with a few smaller plants
10. Burdock Root Trimmed & Washed. Looking like thin long parsnips. They are a good source of carbohydrate containing around 14.5%. The root also contain around 45% inulin which is an indigestible form of starch (passing straight through the digestive system) which also gives the root some sweetness.
11. Burdock 'Heart'. The best part of the burdock for me is the 'heart'; the solid white part extending a few centimetres up from the root. Rather like an artichoke heart. You can see it more clearly on this image. It has a sweet mild flavour and is good eating. Eat raw or pan fry with a bit of butter or olive oil and season. Similar in texture to asparagus. Remove the leaf stems which are bitter.
12. Roasting The Root. Perhaps the best way to eat the root is to simply place it on hot embers of the wood fire and cover with the embers and leave for 5-10 minutes to roast. Check to make sure it does not burn!
13. Detail of Root Parts. The best bit of the root to eat it actually the outer layer which can be nibbled off the root raw (quite chewy) or peeled off easily. In young specimens the root can be chopped up and is rather like bamboo shoots but older ones are just woody and inedible. It has a distinctive 'artichoke' flavour when roasted. The whole root can also be boiled or the outer layer removed, chopped up and added to stews like parsnip or carrot. It may be quite chewy but has good flavour)
The whole root of the burdock is also dried and used medicinally or for recipes such as 'dandelion and burdock beer'. You can see the 'heart' on the right hand side.
From my efforts I would say that all the easily edible parts (especially the 'heart' can be collected without all the digging unless the plants are young or you want them for other uses. The best time of year to gather the first years growth is in the autumn when the roots have fattened up for the next springs growth, or in springtime for the older second year growth.
Please add your experiences with burdock, recipes etc