There are many varieties of burdock, among them greater burdock (Arctium lappa), wood burdock (Arctium nemorosum), and woolly burdock (Arctium tomentosum). Did you know that underneath the spiky outer layer of burdock is one of the best wild vegetables to be found in Finland?
The roots and young stems of burdock are edible. Burdock is a biennial plant, and its roots must be gathered for use between the first and second growing seasons. The roots can be washed, chopped and cooked in the same way as potatoes. A particular delicacy is the inner part of the stems of the flowers that grow in the second year. These can be eaten either raw or cooked. Sadly, this growth season is very short.
Something to try
Carefully peel second-year burdock stems. Boil them in water containing sea salt and lemon juice for about five minutes, until the stems are ripe. Serve with melted butter, and enjoy!
Gathering the plants
The roots: Dig up burdock roots before the plant comes into bloom, either in the autumn after the first summer or in the following spring before the plant begins to flower stems. When burdock begins to bloom, the root becomes too woody and bitter to eat. If the plant goes to seed again, then it is already dying and not even the roots should be used.
The flower stems: The stems of burdock should be harvested in the spring before the plant comes into bloom. This time is unfortunately very short, only lasting about a week. Break the flower stems off at the ground level before they have grown taller than the leaf mass. Or if they have already become taller than this, then they should be harvested before they have formed visible flower buds at the latest. If you try to gather the stems any later than this, they will be far too hard to chew. A good way to test whether the stems are fit to eat is to cut them with a sharp knife: if the blade does not go through easily, even several hours of cooking will not make them possible to chew.
Other interesting facts
Greater burdock (also called edible burdock or, more colourfully, beggar’s buttons or sticky Willie) has been bred in Asia to yield a nutritious plant that is prepared and cooked similarly to black salsify. In Japanese cooking in particular, the greater burdock roots, called gobo, are a commonly used ingredient. If you like the taste of burdock, you’ll be happy to know that it grows well in vegetable gardens. Unlike the wild variety, the roots of cultivated burdock are straighter, making it easier to harvest and prepare them.