November 21, 2012


Arctium spp.
Native range: Europe, Asia, and the Middle East
Invasive range: Throughout most of North America, Hawaii
Habitat: Roadside, fields, pastures
Description: Large arrow-shaped leaves grow close to the ground the first year. A tall stalk, six or seven feet tall, emerges, with purple flowers on second. Burrs, an inspiration for Velcro, provide seed dispersal. Large fleshy taproot.

Native to the Old World, burdock’s introduction to North America was noted in 1672 by John Josselyn, a sharp-eyed English visitor, who used Gerard’s Herbal: The Historie of Plants of 1597 as a field guide. In a pamphlet called New Englands Rarities Discovered, he listed “such Plants as have sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England,” including common burdock.

Burdock protects itself from predators by a layer of bitterness on the outside and by its thistles, so the early settlers introduced it for its medicinal properties, rather than as food. They went on to instruct the Indians in the making of a roasted-root tea to treat various ills. Among the Iroquois, young medicine men, after days of fasting, were known to drink the bitter infusion in hopes of retaining their spirit-quest visions.

Names. They are also called personata, bardona, appa major, great burdock, and clot-bur. It is so well known, even to the little boys who pull off the burs to throw and stick on each other, that I shall omit writing any description of it.
Place. It grows plentifully by ditches and water sides, and by highways, almost every where throughout this land.”
––Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, 1653

“Docks are very troublesome in our mowing ground; and, without care, they spread much by seed. They stifle the grass by their luxuriant broad leaves.”
––John Bartram, A Brief Account of Those Plants That Are Most Troublesome in Our Pastures and Fields, in Pennsylvania; Most of Which Were Brought from Europe, 1758

“Observation. Every body knows this coarse homely weed, wherever it has gained admittance,––but every body does not take care to keep it in due subjection. One of the earliest and surest evidences of slovenly negligence, about a farm-yard, is the prevalence of huge Bur-docks. The plant is considerably bitter; and the leaves are a favorite external application in fevers, head-ache, &c.”
––William Darlington, Agricultural Botany: An Enumeration and Description of Useful Plants and Weeds, Which Merit the Notice, or Require the Attention, of American Agriculturists, 1847


Basal rosette of first-year burdock.



While first-year roots can be eaten raw, long slow-roasting will make them sweeter. In late summer and fall, the first-year roots, beneath the basal rosettes, can be scrubbed of their outer layer and boiled like potatoes. Here in Vermont, we harvested ours in mid-September and boiled them for about an hour before slicing them. (They can take longer to soften.) We tossed the julienned burdock with soy sauce and sesame seeds. It was simple and delicious.

The larger second-year plants move their energy from the roots to the breeding stalks and flowers are woody and inedible.

Contributor Josey Schanen writes: “The flower stalks can be eaten like artichoke hearts and the leaf stalks like a celery-textured vegetable. The stalks are in season in late spring and early summer. The leaves are way too bitter to be worthwhile.”

Eric Garza of the University of Vermont prepares burdock roots by fermenting them, without fuel-intensive cooking. He describes his energy-postive approach, complete with a pie chart, here.

Young shoots can be boiled until tender––longer if still bitter. Stalks taste of artichoke, a relative.
Second-year stems should be peeled before flowering and boiled 20 minutes. Seed sprouts edible.

Young leaves, boiled, are edible but bitter. Leaf stems can be peeled and boiled. The leaves are large enough to wrap wild food in for campfire cooking, something most easily done if they are wilted by heat from the fire first.


Gobo: Japanese Burdock

A popular Japanese dish using the taproot is kinpira gobo, julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, sake, and sesame oil.

Sushi rolls can be filled with kinpira gobo, which is often tinted to resemble carrot.


Dandelion and Burdock Beer
You can buy “Dandelion & Burdock” bottled in United Kingdom, with its roots in a medieval mead gathered from hedgerow plants. But why not make it yourself, from local invaders?

We’re looking forward to trying this recipe from the Guardian:

A couple of large burdock roots (about 150g)
A handful of dandelion roots (about 50g)
500g sugar (1.1 pounds)
2 tablespoons of black treacle
Juice of one lemon
Teaspoon of carragheen to help clarify the beer (optional)
Beer yeast
4.5 liters of water

Scrub and finely slice the roots then boil them with half the water (and the carragheen if using) for half an hour. Experience the aroma of an unpromising vegetable stew.

Take off the heat, add the remaining cold water, the sugar, treacle and lemon and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the liquid into a clean fermenting bucket and cover.

When your brew reaches room temperature add the yeast, keep covered for up to a week then bottle in strong swing top bottles. Another week and it will be ready to drink, though it is well worth easing the top off of a bottle every now and then to check for potentially explosive levels of fizziness. Once ready it is a good idea to keep the bottles in the fridge to prevent further fermentation.

The flavor is mildly bitter and aromatic with a now pleasant hint of that vegetable stew.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Food May 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Tasty ate some thought it was perfect


    Sally September 28, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Delicious! (the article and the food choice!) My Japanese cookbook spells it kimpira gobo, I think. We sauteed the julienned roots in oil and soy sauce, as yours does, but added lots and lots of freshly ground pepper. Yum!!


    Leave a Comment


    nopales con huevo

    Blue Plate Special: Prickly Pear

    Fall is here, and the “cactus fig” is in season. Time to plate-up another widespread invader.

      EAT ME!
      Screen Shot 2012-11-18 at 8.02.21 AM

      Sow Thistle

      It’s spring and time to weed. Sow thistle is a delicious invader found throughout the continent.

        EAT ME!

        Lamb’s Quarters

        Lamb’s quarters was a popular spring tonic in the South—an early season edible green—but its leaves are good throughout the summer.       Chenopodium album Native range: Described by Linnaeus in 1753, this European native has been transferred throughout much of the world. Because its spread was rarely recorded, C. album‘s native and invasive [...]

          EAT ME!

          Wild Fennel

            Foeniculum vulgare Native range: Mediterranean, from Turkey west to Spain and Morocco Invasive range: Much of North and South America, South Africa, and parts of Oceania and the British Isles. Check out the USDA Plants Database to see if it’s found near you. Habitat: Roadsides, pastures, along the edge of wild habitats. Rocky shores [...]

            EAT ME!

            Garlic Mustard

              Alliaria petiolata Native range: Europe, Asia, Northwest Africa Invasive range: Much of the Lower 48, Alaska, and Canada. (See map.) Habitat: Moist, shaded soil of floodplains, forests, roadsides, edges of woods, and forest openings. Often dominant in disturbed areas. Description: Biennial herb. First-year plant has a rosette of green leaves close to the ground. [...]

              EAT ME!


              Pterois volitans


              Some say it started in 1992 in Miami when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank. Don’t blame the weather, others say; in the mid-nineties, disappointed yet softhearted hobbyists…

                EAT ME!
                chuka wakame


                  Undaria pinnatifida Native range: Japan Sea Invasive range: Southern California, San Francisco Bay, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Argentina Habitat: Opportunistic seaweed, can be found on hard substrates including rocky reefs, pylons, buoys, boat hulls, and abalone and bivalve shells. Description: Golden brown seaweed, growing up to nine feet. Forms thick canopy. Reproductive sporophyll in [...]

                  EAT ME!

                  Asian Shore Crab

                  The first sighting of the Asian shore crab in the United States was at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey, in 1988. Though the source is unknown . . .

                    EAT ME!


                    The common periwinkle, which first appeared in New England in the 1860s, is now found along the coast wherever there’s hard substrate–rocks, riprap, broken concrete, or docks–from Labrador to . . .

                      EAT ME!

                      Green Crab

                      Since the green crab was first recorded off southern Massachusetts in 1817, it has been hard to ignore. A few minutes of rock-flipping in Maine can turn up dozens of them, brandishing their claws as they retreat…

                        EAT ME!




                          There are numerous invasive crayfish. We include details for the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) and the rusty crayfish (Orenectes rusticus). The same recipes can be used for both species–and many other invasive crayfish. Red Swamp Crayfish Native range: Known as Louisiana crayfish, crawdad, and mudbug, Procambarus clarkii is native to the south central [...]

                          EAT ME!
                          Distinguishing _ Channa argus

                          Northern Snakehead

                          His sister was ailing, and the man in Maryland remembered that, back home in Hong Kong, there was a fish that was considered a delicacy and a restorative. He would make a fish soup…

                            EAT ME!


                            “They live in a wide variety of habitats, colonize new ones readily, and eat everything that fits into their mouths,” says Dr. Peter Moyle of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC-Davis…

                              EAT ME!


                              Nutria, also known as coypu and river rat, is native to temperate and subtropical South America. It has been introduced to Europe, Asia, and Africa, mainly for fur farming. These voracious. . .

                                EAT ME!
                                Picture 1

                                Common Carp

                                For a bottom-feeder, what is the good life? The common carp isn’t very demanding: any body of water that’s sluggish and murky will do. One catching sewage or…

                                  EAT ME!

                                  Field Notes


                                  These Invasive Catfish Are Destroying the Chesapeake—and They’re Delicious

                                  “Across the board, biodiversity is being affected,” says Sharon Feuer Gruber of the blue catfish invasion. The Wide Net Project aims to take on this invader in Chesapeake Bay. Read more at Yahoo Food.

                                    EAT ME!

                                    Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition

                                    “Education, mitigation, utilization.” Join the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition to help educate the public and encourage the consumption of lionfish in restaurants and seafood markets. Read more about the coalition here.

                                      EAT ME!

                                      Appetite for Destruction

                                      Night after night, the same scene plays out at Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut. A few less-than-courageous patrons spend minutes gawking at the menu before turning around and walking right back out the door. Read more about putting invasives on the menu in Hemispheres Magazine.

                                        EAT ME!

                                        Green Crabs Are Multiplying. Should We Eat the Enemy?

                                        How to turn the pleasing ocean flavor of green crabs into a profit for crabbers and a new way to control the invaders? Read more about cooking green crabs here.

                                          EAT ME!

                                          Pressure Builds for Swift U.S. Action Against Spreading Salamander Threat

                                          There are signs of hope for American salamanders in the face of a potential biological catastrophe — a fungus that could be carried here through the global trade in exotic pets. The tool for protecting native salamanders is the Lacey Act, which was recently used to limit trade in various constricting snakes and has been [...]

                                            EAT ME!

                                            “During days of happiness, the world is edible.”

                                            Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie

                                            Previous post:

                                            Next post: