Wildcraft Wednesday: Burdock- Bitter is Better!
Have you ever taken a wonderful, refreshing hike on a brisk Autumn day... only to come home and find your clothes are covered in little sticky burrs? While burdock may have an annoying habit of sending its progeny off on adventures on the hair and clothing of mammal passersby, its a small price to pay to spread the seeds of such a medicinally beneficial plant-- and those burrs might just be its way of asking for attention!
Although burdock has only been studied by modern medicine for the passed few decades, these studies have already concluded that burdock acts as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body, and WebMD suggests that consumption of burdock root is valuable in the diet of diabetics: "Early research suggests that eating batter prepared from dried burdock root together with butter, water, salt, artificial sweetener, and ginger extract prevents a spike in blood after eating in people with diabetes." Studies are still being done to scientifically prove burdock's other traditional uses, such as as its value as an anti-tumor agent and an antipyretic (fever-reducing) herb. And, in agreement with traditional use, modern medicine discourages medical use of burdock for pregnant women, although it is not considered unsafe for consumption as food.
However, this is not new news to the Japanese, who have been using and cultivating burdock for thousands of years for their medicinal properties, as well as for food! If you've ever heard of "gobo" in Asian cuisine, that's burdock root, and it's an unexpected addition to many dishes; the root is pickled, roasted and tossed into soup, made into flour and added into pancakes, and even used as a coffee substitute due to their bitter flavor. In fact, in so many recipes where there is a call for a root vegetable, such as carrots or radishes, you can substitute with antioxidant-rich burdock root, regardless of the cuisine you are cooking.
Medicinally, burdock root's most famous function is as a "blood purifier" due to its ability to absorb toxins and improve liver function. (It's important to note that this toxin-absorbing quality is why it's important to harvest burdock in the forest or in yards where there are no harmful chemicals being used on or around the plant, and to avoid harvesting near roads/industrial areas!) It purifies the body in other ways, as well, helping the body to eliminate waste, including retained water. Taken as a tea or a decoction, it has also had a great deal of success in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, and gout.
Most of these benefits come from its function as a "bitter" herb. Therefore, the best time to harvest burdock root for medicine is in the early Autumn, when the plant is at its most bitter, but before it goes to seed. However, when picking for food, the herbalist Margaret Grieve suggests picking it in July, when its rosettes of leaves are still green and the flavor is at its sweetest. Either way, 1st-year plants are your best choice! And regardless of when you'd like to harvest, you'll need a sturdy shovel and a hose ready! Burdock root grows wide and deep. Naturally, the younger the plant is, the easier it will be to dig it up. However, even young roots can sometimes grow to be up to two inches thick, and after its first year or two in the ground, it can easily exceed two feet long. You're going to need to expect to dig pretty hard and to hose off a lot of mud!
Still, the rewards will be worth the effort! Once you've harvested your burdock root, you can store it by slicing it up like a carrot, drying it, and storing it in a mason jar; or, you could pickle it, Japanese-style; or, you can grab some turmeric and ginger and make a delicious syrup!
1 tsp finely chopped burdock root
1 tsp finely chopped turmeric root
1 tsp finely chopped ginger root 1 tbsp of cardamom powder 1/3 tsp cooking sherry 2 cup local honey 1 cups water
Allow your herbs to boil in a pot with water and cooking sherry for about half an hour. After straining out the plant matter, add your honey to the mixture and bring back to a boil. Stir until well incorporated and syrupy, then let cool. Store the cooled mixture in a mason jar and keep out of the light.
You can take this syrup as a tonic; mix a tablespoon of it into a glass of rum over ice for a tasty, spiced treat; or enjoy it as honey in mild teas, like chamomile, or spicy chai teas, where the additional spice will be well received. Enjoy!