If you’ve ever gone hiking and found yourself or your dog covered in little round sticky, sharp flowers, chances are you’ve encountered burdock.
Named for the thorny, prickly burrs that grow on this biennial plant and stick to anything that touches it, burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. It is found abundantly throughout North America, growing along river banks, roadsides, vacant lots and fields. However, this highly nutritious, detoxifying root vegetable that is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine and used widely in Asian cultures, is not very commonly eaten here in the US.
My acupuncturist often encourages me to incorporate more burdock into my diet because it is cleansing for the liver and is an excellent digestive aid. It isn’t always available at the grocery store, but when I do find it, I’m thrilled. I really enjoy its earthy, delicately sweet flavor and hearty, crisp, chewy texture.
Burdock detoxifies the liver to help it remove toxins from the bloodstream, produce bile to digest fats and metabolize hormones. It is useful in treating skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis and dryness, treating colds and reducing fever, alleviating joint pain and gout symptoms, and stimulating digestion, soothing the digestive tract and relieving constipation. People consume burdock as a diuretic, to treat bladder infections, and some even use it to increase sex drive. It has also been shown to reduce tumor growth and is believed to decrease the risk of developing cancer.
Resembling an odd, oblong, thin sweet potato, or yucca root, burdock is a relative of the artichoke, part of the thistle family. It is high in fiber and potassium, contains a good amount of vitamin C and E, as well as trace minerals like iron, manganese and magnesium.
Burdock can be enjoyed as a tea, added to salads or stir fries, pickled, or prepared in my favorite recipe, known as Kinpira Gobo, a traditional condiment in Japan, valued for its health properties. Before preparing burdock root, the stems should be scrubbed and peeled to remove the tough, bitter rind to reveal the off white flesh below.
2 Tablespoons untoasted sesame oil
2 burdock root (about 12 inches each), scrubbed, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons tamari
2 Tablespoons mirin
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish
1. As you cut the burdock, put the pieces immediately into acidulated water to prevent oxidizing. Drain and pat dry.
2. Add sesame oil and burdock to a large pan and saute over medium heat until it releases a strong smell. Stir continuously to evenly coat with oil and prevent burning.
3. Add ginger, garlic, onions and carrot, mixing together and cook for two minutes longer. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Season with a pinch of salt, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, adding more water if necessary.
4. Uncover, season with tamari and mirin and simmer, shaking the pan, until liquid absorbs. Do not stir or it will make the burdock sticky. Garnish with sesame seeds. Serve in small portions as a condiment or side dish.
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