Burdock: Plant profile
Burdock, Greater Burdock, Common Burdock, Lesser Burdock, Gobo, Lappa, Beggar’s Buttons, Thorny Burr, Happy Major, Cockle Buttons, Harebur, Bardana, Clotbur
Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) and Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus)
Native to most of Europe and very common in Britain and Ireland. Naturalized almost worldwide.
Where to find Burdock
Thrives in scrubland, wasteland, roadside verges, alongside footpaths and farmland edges, often in compacted and stony soil.
When to find Burdock
Root late summer to late autumn
How to identify Burdock
Biennial plant. In the first year, the plant grows as a rosette, then the second year produces flowering stems. The leaves are quite large, heart-shaped and dull green, with fine hairs. The flowers are globe-shaped and prickly, purple in colour. The seedheads are rough prickly husks. The taproot is very long and fleshy.
There are two different species of Burdock growing in the British Isles, with subtle differences. Burdocks are also closely related to thistles and have similar flowers, but the leaves are quite different.
However, first-year growth Burdock resembles Butterbur (Petasites hybridus), which contains small amounts of damaging alkaloids, and Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), which is very poisonous.
All about Burdock
In its first year, Burdock grows as a basal rosette of leaves that stays close to the ground before producing flowering stems in the second year, which eventually become the seed heads.
These seed heads catch up on animal fur and on our clothing, to spread seeds easily. That’s why they are often seen growing along pathways and unkempt land.
There are actually two Burdock species growing in the British Isles: Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) and Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus), both edible and widespread.
Medicinal properties of Burdock
Burdock root is quite nutritious featuring high levels of potassium and is a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus and protein. Furthermore, the high content of inulin helps to lower blood sugar, which comes in handy for diabetics. (But may cause wind as well!)
The bitter components of burdock root stimulate the digestive tract, including the liver, pancreas and gallbladder by increasing the secretion of bile and promoting better absorption of fats and oils.
The Dandelion & Burdock drink was originally a cough medicine made of these two roots and sugar. Though still available in the shops. most of the bottles (if not all!) that are sold today, are made with artificial flavourings and an excessive amount of sweeteners.
Culinary uses and recipes with Burdock
Leaves and stalks are technically edible, but are incredibly bitter and need some blanching. However, it’s the roots that are of high interest to the forager.
Popular in Japan, where it’s called Gobo, the taproot is widely cultivated and prized as a vegetable. It has a flavour in between sweet chestnut and parsnip and works very well in stir fries, braises, and soups.
Wild roots that are particularly large tend to be more fibrous and are more suitable for grating. Alternatively, chop finely to make the texture less noticeable before adding it to soups and stews.
Safe foraging of Burdock
There are no major contraindications, May cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Avoid during pregnancy due to oestrogenic effects. Burdock may also interfere with certain medications.
Ecological importance of Burdock
The taproots help to break up compacted soil and restore minerals and nutrients.