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Growing or Foraging Edible Burdock Plants (Annoying Burs, Powerful Antioxidants)

Updated on November 12, 2017
Casey White profile image

Dorothy McKenney is a former newspaper reporter-turned researcher. Her husband, Mike, is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

Burdock plants can be annoying, delicious, medicinal...
Burdock plants can be annoying, delicious, medicinal...
...and beautiful.
...and beautiful. | Source

The Many Uses of Burdock (Arctium Lappa)

If you have been plagued by acne, eczema or psoriasis, you have probably tried "everything in the book" to get rid of those painful (and embarrassing) conditions, so foraging for, or growing your own burdock plants may not be out of the question for you. This plant has been used as a skin remedy for many years and can be used alone or mixed with other herbs in an effort to balance out the strong cleansing action it provides.

The leaves, root, stem and seed of the plant are all edible and considered delicious by many people around the world who use and prepare the plant in many different ways so in this article, you will learn to identify the plant when foraging, and how to start growing your own. The plant is biennial, which it means it has a two-year life cycle.

Dried burdock plant fruit contains the seeds that are edible, or can be used for the next crop of plants.  If you have to start by buying seeds, there are many different types available.
Dried burdock plant fruit contains the seeds that are edible, or can be used for the next crop of plants. If you have to start by buying seeds, there are many different types available. | Source

Growing Burdock From Seed

Burdock plants grow better in full sun, but partial shade (if that's all you have) should be fine. You can sow burdock seeds in your garden as early as the ground can easily be worked. You will need to cover the seeds with 1/2" to 3/4" of seed starting mix (I like Miracle Gro Seed Starting Potting Mix), then tamp and water only lightly if the soil is dry. Burdock seeds will germinate quickly, usually within seven days.

Once the seedlings have grown a few inches or so, thin them out and plant them a few feet apart. When plants are young, you will need to weed frequently and keep the soil moist, but you only need to fertilize with a general purpose fertilizer about once a month. Remember, these are plants that grow very well out in the wild without any special care, so they are pretty well self-sufficient once they get established.

If you want your burdock roots to grow long, make sure the soil in which you plant them is free of rocks.

Burdock Roots

Burdock roots can grow several feet long, so it is important that you dig around the root when harvesting.  The roots have compounds -  arctiin and luteolin - that are believed to be beneficial in the fight against cancer.
Burdock roots can grow several feet long, so it is important that you dig around the root when harvesting. The roots have compounds - arctiin and luteolin - that are believed to be beneficial in the fight against cancer. | Source

Harvesting Burdock Root

If you are planning on harvesting burdock root, be prepared for a somewhat tedious, time-consuming task. A burdock's taproot often grows to be several feet in length, and because it tends to snap easily, you will need to dig around the root (gently) to loosen and remove the soil. When foraging, it's a good idea to only harvest the number of roots you need because of the need to excavate a rather large hole. When you are done with your harvest, fill in the hole and return the area to the same condition in which you found it.

After harvesting the burdock root, scrub it well in order to remove the dirt, and peel the dark, almost black root with a carrot peeler, which will expose the white flesh of the root.

Note: Burdock roots contain approximately 2.5% protein, 0.14% fat, 14.5% carbohydrate, 1.17% ash, according to emergencyoutdoors.com. The antioxidant activity is considerably stronger in a burdock plant than in common vegetables and fruits.

According to MotherEarthLiving.com, foragers find the wild roots (of a burdock plant) nutty, sweet, and tender if gathered before the flower stalks appear in the plant's second year.

Edible Stems of Burdock Plants

The stems of the burdock plant can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked.  This is a tender stalk, which can be identified by its lack of a hole in the center.  If there is a hole, the stalk is likely to be tougher.
The stems of the burdock plant can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked. This is a tender stalk, which can be identified by its lack of a hole in the center. If there is a hole, the stalk is likely to be tougher. | Source
Peeling a burdock stem reveals a tasty vegetable, but when it comes to this plant, smaller is better (easier to harvest and tastier).
Peeling a burdock stem reveals a tasty vegetable, but when it comes to this plant, smaller is better (easier to harvest and tastier). | Source

Some people use the young stalks of a burdock plant in an Italian dish called carduni, according to The Self Sufficient HomeAcre, an interesting homesteading website where the recipe can be found.

The burdock plant grows to a height of about three to four feet. It has purple flowers that bloom between the months of June and October and wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on top and lighter (whitish) on the bottom.
The burdock plant grows to a height of about three to four feet. It has purple flowers that bloom between the months of June and October and wavy, heart-shaped leaves that are green on top and lighter (whitish) on the bottom.

Identifying Burdock Plants

In the early stages of development, the plant has large oblong, waxy cotyledons (embryonic first leaves) and long-petiolated triangular leaves. The stems have dark (maroon to black stem lesions) and of course, the burdock plant's fruit is easily identifiable (see photographs). The fruit, collected when they are fully ripe, are brown and grey in color, wrinkled and about 1/16 of an inch in diameter.

The fruit is an elliptic to egg-shaped, two-chambered bur that can be up to about an inch and a half long. It is covered with hooked prickled. Each of the burs has two seeds inside, one that will grow during the first year and the other that grows a year later. Projectings from the tip of the bur are two prickles which are longer and wider than the other prickles.

Some people tend to confuse this plant with giant ragweed, but the cotyledons of the burdock plant are longer and more linear than those of the ragwood.

The burdock growing areas are in green on this map.
The burdock growing areas are in green on this map.

Velcro Invention Inspired by Burdock Burs

The annoying burs from a burdock plant were the inspiration for the inventor of Velcro, George de Mestral. While hunting in Switzerland in the 1940's, this Swiss engineer wondered how the cockle-burs remained attached to his pants and the fur of his dog and began developing the phenomenal fabric in 1948. Velcro was patented in 1955.

We can thank these aggravating burs that we have all picked off our clothing and our pets for being the inspiration for the invention of velcro,
We can thank these aggravating burs that we have all picked off our clothing and our pets for being the inspiration for the invention of velcro, | Source
Source

The Many Names Associated With Burdock Plants

The various parts of a common burdock plant (one of four species of the plant that have been introduced to North America) have many names - some with different spellings, including:

  • Fructus arctii extract
  • Great burdock achene
  • Arctium majus
  • Bardana
  • Bardanae radix
  • Fructus arctii
  • Gobo
  • Love leaves
  • Achene arctium majus
  • Bardanae radix
  • Burr Seed
  • Bardanae folium
  • Burrseed
  • Beggar's Buttons
  • Cockle Burr, Cocklebur, Cockleburr
  • Clot Bur, Clotburr, Clot-bur
  • Cockle Buttons, Cockle-Button
  • Grass Burdock
  • Great burdock, greater burdock
  • Hardock
  • Greater Burdock
  • Hareburr
  • Happy-major
  • Lappa
  • Lopuh
  • Lappa Minor
  • Loppy-major
  • Niu Bang Zi
  • Personata
  • Philanthropium
  • Repeinik
  • Thorny Burr
  • Turkey Burrseed
  • Turkey-Bur

A prepared recipe for kinpira gobo, a popular dish in Japan prepared with the root of a burdock plant and other ingredients.
A prepared recipe for kinpira gobo, a popular dish in Japan prepared with the root of a burdock plant and other ingredients. | Source

Cautionary Advice

A word of caution: If you are diabetic, you should consult your physician before eating burdock in any form as it could interfere with medication. Pregnant women should also stay away from eating burdock, as it can injure the fetus, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center's website.

Pickled Burdock

Pickled burdock is very popular in Japan.
Pickled burdock is very popular in Japan. | Source

Burdock Popular in Japan

The Japanese consider the burdock plant to be an important cooking ingredient. One popular Japanese dish is Kinpira Gogo (Spicy Burdock Root and Carrot Stir-Fry), and you can access the recipe by clicking here.

Pickled burdock (gobo), available in packages in Japanese markets, is often served with sushi. Burdock is also used in makizuski (Japanese sushi rolls with various fillings), another popular Asian dish.

Edible Burdock Leaves

The burdock leaves are large on the lower branches and smaller on the upper, and the plant gets its name from the word dock (referring to its large leaves).  Burdock leaves have a bitter taste, but can be steamed or stir-fried in small amounts.
The burdock leaves are large on the lower branches and smaller on the upper, and the plant gets its name from the word dock (referring to its large leaves). Burdock leaves have a bitter taste, but can be steamed or stir-fried in small amounts. | Source

Medicinal Uses for Burdock

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there have been few studies about the medicinal effects of burdock, but people use burdock in various ways to do the following things and more:

  • Increase urine flow
  • Kill germs
  • Reduce fever
  • Purify blood
  • Treat colds
  • Treat cancer
  • Control anorexia nervosa
  • Ease gastrointestinal problems
  • Ease joint pain
  • Relieve gout
  • Cure bladder infections
  • Aid in complications of syphilis
  • Clear skin conditions
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Ease arteriosclerosis
  • Cure liver disease
  • Increase sex drive

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful images! Thank you for enlightening me on the growing of burdock.

    • Casey White profile image
      Author

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 4 months ago from United States

      Thank you as well.

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 4 months ago from USA

      What an interesting article! When I looked at the first photo, I thought it was a Canadian thistle! The leaves resemble rhubarb, also. For years I have had a hobby with herbal remedies, but never knew about Burdock root. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

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