I fought the root and the root won…. cooking burdock roots

by Ciaran Burke

Bowl of cooked burdock roots- a tasty healthy snack

The story goes, George de Mestral took his dog for a walk and then invented Velcro. The Swiss inventor took his canine for a stroll one day sometime in the 1940s and upon arriving home he noticed that his dog has in this fur the spiky seed heads of Actium minus otherwise known as Burdock. The barbed seed heads attached themselves to the dog’s fur as they do to any fur or clothing that they come in contact with, this is the plants clever method of seed dispersal. Mr. de Mestral was fascinated by this and apparently examined the seed heads under a microscope and voilá…velcro was invented. Well, maybe not quite so easily.

The spiky seed heads attach themselves to clothes and animal fur

Burdock grows in our garden, especially under the old hawthorn tree in the woodland. Each year their impressive wide leaves wave in the wind to be followed by their thistle flowers, which then make fruits that attach themselves occassionally to one of our cats. Many a time I have cursed the burdock plant. Its roots go deep into the earth and I treated it with disdain, because I had viewed it as an unwanted plant, a weed. It was very hard to eradicate. But things have changed, or rather my attitude to plants, and what I condsider a nuisance or a weed has changed. As I grow increasingly interested in using native and wild plants for cooking and exploiting their culinary possibilities, it means that I now embrace a far greater range of plants than I did previously whenI gardened purely as a gardener interested in ornamental, exotic plants.

Burdock, Arctium minus is a handsome plant in its own way, broad dramatic foliage and emphatic thistle flowers of pink. It is a biennial, it dies after it flowers, just as carrots do. Also in common with carrots, the food stored in its long deep tap root can be exploited by us. In Japan, burdock is commonly used in cooking and is cultivated as a crop for its slender tasty roots. In Japanese the it is known as gobo. It is also used in England for making a traditional beer .

Cover the burdock root slices with water and add a good dash of soy sauce

To cook burdock the Japanese way, you cut the centre core of the root into slivers the size of match sticks and boil them in water into which a dash of soy sauce has been added. When the roots become tender, the liquid is reduced until the root pieces have absorbed all the flavour of the soy sauce.

Deep rooted burdock root

With this recipe in mind my wife Hanna and I decided to tackle a burdock root with a garden and tool of which she makes much use of called a Cobra Head. The Cobra Head tool is made in USA and is most effetive a removing weeds from the garden especially deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion. As she dug around the burdock root it became apparent, that even the Cobra Head was no match for the stubborn nature of a burdock root, they do not like to be dug up. After much digging and scraping, Hanna’s efforts to remove the whole root intact were in vain, the burdock root won, and a fair portion of the root remained deep in the soil as I finished the extraction process with a shovel.

Use only the central part of the root, burdock roots are best harvested before the plants have flowered

Luckily we had more than enough to work with for our tasty snack. When preparing a burdock root for cooking, wash it well. Then with a sharp knife remove the outer layer of the root and only use the central core. The outer parts remain woody even after cooking. The flavour of burdock root is mild and agreeable but the addition of the soy sauce when cooking gives it a salty zing. It is high in fibre, calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. Also, as it is prepared in water and not frying it makes a healthy snack. I wish I had not weeded out so many burdock roots in the past…

Cooking burdock root slivers in water with a good dash of soy sauce

 

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3 Comments to “I fought the root and the root won…. cooking burdock roots”

  1. Burdock is mentioned in a very handy little book called Grandmother’s Secrets by Jean Palaiseul.
    The root can be used as a remedy for arthritis, rheumatism and gout, and also skin problems, hair loss and many other conditions.
    I used it once myself when i suddenly got joint pain in my hand, and it took effect very quickly, although I remember that it tasted rather horrible!

  2. Burdock is also wonderful in lacto-fermented dishes….

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