Wrestling with Burdock

Even through snow and ice, if you know where the burdock patches are you can still get to the all important roots, stuffed with carbs and starch to keep energy up in the cold. Arctium lappa/minus (Greater and Lesser Burdock respectively) can be used in just the same ways as each other.

Burdock in Spring & Summer

Those giant cabbagy leaves are a giveaway, with their wavy, scalloped edges and white, suede-like underneath. They are thick and have a leather feel. They come from a central rosette low on the ground. What we are looking for is the first year plant (Burdock is a biennial plant), without a central flowering stem. A second year plant won’t kill you, but its root will be tough and fibrous instead of tender!

Bring a ruddy great spade, as the root can easily go down to 2m underground. if your’e not sure where to dig, look for the tall second year dried seedheads. There are usually some first year plants nearby.

Remember, all the energy of the plant has gone down to its root to prepare for next year, so don’t expect glamour from the aerial parts at this time of year (this was taken in December). In fact, Burdock looks like something you wouldn’t wipe your bum with right now, but that’s not the part you’ll be eating, so try not to worry. Dig all around the root to two or three spade depths, or whatever you can manage. (I hope you asked the landowner for permission, too!) Leave some of the root in the ground so the plant can regrow. This is also far easier than digging it all out…

WARNING! BURDOCK SEED IS EVIL! It will stick to your clothes and hair and butt and is extremely difficult to remove…this is how the plant spreads its seeds. It is also VERY ITCHY! If you can get beyond these drawbacks, the seeds are an important Chinese medicine for clearing toxins out of the body. I tried this and got the seed hairs, which are like glass fibre, in my eyes. Best leave that to the experts.

So here comes the even more entertaining part…making this into something my 6 year old son will eat.

Burdock root can be chopped like parsnip, boiled for 5 mins then braised with butter and a little honey to glaze. it has a naturally sweet flavour, (like aniseed crossed with parsnip). But i’ve done that before, so I decided to make Burdock & Pine Nut Latkes. A latke is a Swedish fritter made with grated or mandolin’ed root veg and eggs plus a little flour. These are great with strongly flavoured fish and some salad.


350g (or 2 x 20cm pieces) Burdock root

1 large carrot

3 eggs

flour to taste

salt and pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

handful of pine nuts (I used wild Monterey Pine)

Groundnut or sunflower oil

Clove of garlic

  1. Clean and scrape the burdock roots. Grate on a large grater together with the carrot. There will be a core which is too tough, throw this in the compost!
  2. Put in a bowl and beat the eggs in. Mix. Add 2 tblsp flour, pine nuts, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Chop and fry the garlic in the oil.
  4. Squish the mixture into patties the size of a small burger.
  5. Pat both sides with flour.
  6. Heat the oil then fry the patties til crispy and brown, flipping over once. This takes roughly 10 minutes.
  7. Pat dry with paper towel, then serve warm with sour cream or yoghurt. I made a salad with tinned mackerel in tomato sauce and cucumber cut up small.
  8. Enjoy! Burdock root helps you eliminate toxins from your body, too – great for that post Xmas hangover.

So my son’s verdict? “It’s ok.” he admits, and eats half of one Latke before going back to his frankfurters. One thing I would say is make sure you scrub those roots well, otherwise you get some crunchy soil in there too…but that’s good for you too, isn’t it. 😉

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