Burdock (Arctium spp.) is one of my favourite plants. It is both a satisfying edible and effective medicinal. Though it looks like rhubarb from a distance, burdock is hairy and has green stalks. It is a biennial plant, meaning that it flowers every second year. The flowering stalks bear clusters of beautiful bright pink flowers that seem to explode out of a green globe, which is covered in hook-tipped spines.
Though the stems and stalks are edible, my favourite part of this plant is the roots. Burdock roots are known for their “blood purifying” or cleansing properties, and help to eliminate toxins from the body. They are also very nourishing. These properties can be detected with just a few sips of the root “tea”, which tends to turn a beautiful bluish green when left to steep overnight. The cooked roots are also a great addition to stir fry, soups, or just on their own.
When gathering in the fall, harvest only the first year roots. Second year plants use the energy and nutrients stored in the roots for reproduction and tend to get tough or mushy. In the spring, any plants are fair game, as long as no seed stalks are apparent. The roots may be a foot or more long, depending on soil conditions, so use a long, narrow spade to avoid breaking them off half way down.
Large, thick patches of burdock are cool places to hang out – literally! Just duck down below the leaves and you’ll feel like you’re in another world!