Bountiful Burdock (Includes a Show Stopping Burdock Soup Recipe)
The deep rootedness of burdock offers tremendous gifts.
Ten years ago, I was eager to date my would-be husband and was anxious that it might never happen. Until burdock showed up in a dream.
Burdock, or Arctium lappa, is notorious for its massive taproot that is nearly impossible to dig up. This giant biennial weed can be taller and broader than adult humans and when it goes to seed in its second year these seed heads, or burrs, stick to anything and everything, hitching rides to greener pastures (much to the horror of people trying to extract these burrs from pets, livestock, or their own hair).
When burdock arrived in my dream, it was glowing. I walked up to this luminescent plant and received its wordless message – there was nothing to fear, the relationship between me and my one-day husband was like this burdock. Tenacious and deeply rooted.
For so many of us, rootedness is exactly what we need. There is something gentle and powerful about burdock's healing gifts. The food-like nature of burdock makes it incredibly safe to use and appropriate for most people.
The root is the plant part that is most often used and this is the perfect time to dig it up – after a frost but before the ground freezes. Because burdock is a biennial – a plant that lives for two years - you want to harvest the first year root in the fall. This means that the classic burdock plant most people love to hate – the one covered in burrs – is dead or nearly there. The first year plants do not have a flower stalk. They are just a rosette of basal leaves. Being tucked against the ground they are fairly inconspicuous compared to the second year plant. Fortunately, you can usually find first year burdock near second year burdock.
Burdock has two related and primary actions – bitter and alterative. Unlike gentian or dandelion root, two very bitter herbs, burdock has a mild bitterness, it's flavor moderated by the incredible sweetness offered by its thick starchy root. It has a pronounced effect on the liver and is particularly effective for helping to clear skin conditions like acne or eczema.
It is quite a challenge to get someone to drink a cup of dandelion root tea, but much more tempting to drink a burdock cardamom decoction with its sweet and spicy overtones. Burdock is also a versatile food and can be used much like a carrot. It is a signature pot herb. In Japan, they call this root gobo and slice it and sauté it with other vegetables. Burdock soup or stew is quite delightful as well.
Alterative is an old timey word that means “blood cleanser”. Alteratives tend to have a non-toxic tonic effect on the whole body, often supporting the healthy function of organs of excretion, such as the kidney, liver, and lymphatic system.
Burdock is also rich in inulin, a dietary fiber that is classified as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are food for gut flora and healthy gut flora are associated with numerous health benefits. Dandelion root and Jerusalem artichokes also have inulin.
2 tablespoons organic palm oil from an ethical source (Tropical Traditions is a good company)
burdock root – either fresh and chopped or 5 tablespoons of dried cut and sifted
½ onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
salt and black pepper to taste
1.5 medium potatoes, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
If using dried burdock, cover with water to rehydrate. The longer the better.
Sauté ginger in palm oil, add onion. Sauté until the onion starts to get soft. Mince garlic and let stand for 10 minutes (makes it more medicinal). Add spoonfuls of re-hydrated dried burdock or fresh burdock to the sauté pan and stir. In a few minutes, stir in minced garlic. One minute after you add the garlic, add the water that was re-hydrating burdock or add new water.
Add sweet potato, potatoes, carrots, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer until sweet potato is soft and the burdock is tender.
Add fresh or dried nettles, dandelion leaf, and/or turmeric to taste. A suggestion would be 2 tablespoons of dried nettle leaf and 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder.
1 part burdock
1 part ashwagandha
cardamom to taste
This herbal blend combines a Western herbal tonic (burdock) with an Ayurvedic/Indian tonic (ashwagandha). To make, use 1 teaspoon of herbal blend to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 45 minutes. Drink 2 to 4 cups a day.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of the North Star Monthly.