If you’ve ever walked through the edges of the woods, walking through tall leafy plants, then looked at your clothes and saw sticky burrs stuck to them, you can bet you’ve just walked through some burdock. Burdock is a tall plant, it can grow up to 4 feet, and it has purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Those sticky burrs were the inspiration for Velcro and you’ll know why if you have them on you.
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Burdock is indefinitely edible, that can be eaten both the plant and the root. One of my favorite soft drinks as a kid was “dandelion and burdock”. The drink was a frightful brown color, but it tasted fantastic. One of those multi-use plants, Burdock is eaten both as a meal and used as a medicine.
Burdock uses as food and medicine range hundreds of years back. Europeans, for example, used the plant as a herbal remedy which we will discuss later, using original texts. The factory was used by the Chinese and Indians for a variety of ailments including colds and flu. Local North American Indians would use the herb to treat rheumatism and it was used by Shaker families for gout, syphilis, and leprosy.
There are other uses also for the plant. The Chinese used burdock to deal with skin problems including acne and eczema. There was also a contentious event in 50s America involving a burdock. A psychiatrist named Harry Hoxsey had invented a variety of drugs for cancer. The therapies used secret formulae and also included herbs and wild flowers. Hoxsey had a lawsuit filed against him by the FDA because his cancer therapies, one of which included burdock root, had not been thoroughly labeled. Ironically, work into the use of burdock as a therapy for cancer has continued since then. There’s some interesting further reading here at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Some Old Times Advise on the Use of Burdock
I’m a strong fan of lost wisdom. Just because wisdom comes from the past, that doesn’t mean to say it’s still not useful. A lot of our modern medicines were derived from our ancestors’ cumulative experience. Perhaps the most common was aspirin, which was used by ancient Egyptians, who used it for aches and pains, in its naturally occurring form of salicin contained in willow bark.
A quick search at ‘New Dispensatory,’ a 1765 book of herbal recipes, finds a variety of uses for arctium or bardanae majoris, the common names back in the day for burdock. This identifies the burdock (originally translated) as:
“The seeds have a bitterish, subacrid taste. They are recommended as very efficacious diuretics…”
The chapter goes on to describe the taste of burdock root, as
“The roots taste sweetish, with a sight austerity and bitterishness: they are esteemed aperient, diuretic and sudorific”
1. From the New Dispensatory 1765: Decoction of Burdock
Burdock roots, two ounces;
Vitriolated tartar, one dram;
Water, three pints.
Boil the water with the roots, so long that the liquor, when strained, may amount only to a quart; to which add the vitriolated tartar.
This decoction is drank to the quantity of one pint per day, as a mild aperient, diuretic and sweetener, for scorbutic and rheumatic complaints.”
For a modern take on the above recipe, substitute ‘vitriolated tartar’ for ‘cream of tartar’ and 1 dram is around 1/8 of a fluid ounce. I’d dissolve a couple of teaspoons of cream of tartar in a small amount of water to get your ‘vitriolated tartar’.
2. Burdock Coffee for Dysentery
The seeds of burdock can be ground and infused like coffee. ‘Burdock Coffee’ is good for dysentery. Here are other five home-made remedies for diarrhea.
3. Decoction of Burdock
You can also create a decoction of Burdock to be used similarly as Burdock Coffee. Decoction’s of burdock are used to treat rheumatism and gout.
To create a decoction you should follow these steps:
- Mash up burdock root
- Boil the mash in water for about 10 minutes
- Drink the resultant liquid the dosage being 2 fluid ounces 3-4 times per day
Notes: Sudorific means to cause sweating.
Diuretic makes you pass urine.
Edible Burdock: Some Burdock Recipes for Eating and Drinking
Burdock, the root in particular, is a good ingredient for all kinds of dishes. It’s the young burdock which tastes the best though. For burdock recipes, you are best using a first year plant, as after this the burdock is less palatable.
1. Burdock Root Stir-Fry
Burdock root forms the basis of this quick and easy recipe:
- A handful of burdock roots
- Handful of other root vegetable such as carrot or parsnip
- Onion or shallot
- Spinach leaves
- Salt, or spices, such as cayenne pepper, or if available soy sauce
- Finely chopped meat or prawns (optional)
- Take your burdock root. Top and tail and peel it as you would a carrot.
- Thinly slice the burdock root and any other root you’re using, length ways.
- Slice all other ingredients thinly, including any meats
- Add some oil or other grease to a shallow pan
- Heat the oil until it is very hot and spread around the pan
- Place all ingredients in the pan and cook really quickly, the trick to good stir-fry is a hot and fast cooking method
You can add a scrambled egg to the stir-fry too, once served
2. Burdock Fries
The Burdock is perfectly cooked in the oven as fries. Top, tail and peel the burdock root. Then slice into fries and put the oil and salt in the oven and cook at 450 F for about 15 minutes.
3. Burdock Mash
Top, tail and peel the burdock root. Take some potatoes and prepare them for boiling. Cut the burdock root up as finely as you can. Roast the root of the burdock, and boil the potatoes. Mash the two with butter and/or milk, and some parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
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4. And finally, Dandelion and Burdock ‘Pop’ (D&B)
A favorite of mine. Nothing reminds me of my childhood, as this delicious soft drink. This drink is something like a root beer and a little like a sarsaparilla. This is an ancient beverage in England, dating back to the 13th century. I imagine that the D&B version was anything like my childhood drink. The recipe here is a more modern, sweet version but if you prefer, you can leave out the sweetness or substitute honey with sugar.
- Dandelion root – several roots, ground up
- Burdock root – 2 large roots, ground up
- Vanilla – either pod (1/2) or essence (1 tsp)
- pinch of cinnamon or all spice
- 1 lemon or lime
- 300g sugar
- 1 pint of water
- Make sure the roots are clean.
- Chop the roots up as finely as you can and place them in a pan with the water.
- Add the vanilla pod/essence, cinnamon and lemon juice to the pan
- Boil for about 20 minutes.
- Strain the liquid, removing the roots into a container
- While still warm, add the sugar and stir till dissolved
- You will now have a cordial to dilute to taste
Serve with soda or still water!