Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Foraging Burdock Roots

Roots of our labour
Burdock Arctium lappa, Arctium minus

When the cold starts to hit and autumn is on the cusp of winter I go in search of burdock roots. Long tap roots that help detox the body. After all, it's roots time of year isn't it. Wild burdock roots are a good addition to the potatoes and nourishing root veg that are in season.

Here I share;

  • How to identify burdocks
  • Why harvest them
  • Where burdocks grow
  • When to harvest them
  • Which parts are edible
  • How to harvest them
  • How to use burdock roots

If you'd like some burdock recipe ideas, do also take a look at my 3 simple recipes for burdock roots.

Pile of freshly dug up burdock roots

How to identify burdock

There are about ten different types of burdock across the world, though only two types are widely cultivated. Here in the UK there are 4 types of burdock, all share a few distinct features.

underside of a burdock leave

Burdock has large, broad leaves and purple flowers with a furry, pale underside. The plant grows between 20 cm and over 1 metre tall and can grow up to 2 metres tall in the shade.

Burdock is a biennial (has a 2 year life cycle) and only flowers in the second year, then disperses its seeds/fruits and dies.

Oh those seeds! Softly and persistently they cling to clothing, hair and fur and often travel far before de-entanglement is naturally or forcefully attempted. A burdock badge is often an unwanted accessory.

Flowering burdock

All burdocks as the name suggests have burs. The burs of burdock look like thistles, but instead of being covered with spikes they are covered in tiny hooks. These hooks give burdock the nickname 'velcro plant', as apparently it inspired the creation of velcro.

Greater burdock (Arctium lappa) and Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus) are the main two burdocks growing in the UK. Lesser burdock is the most common.

Where do burdocks grow?

Burdock is native to Europe and Asia though has naturalised in many places across the world including North America.

They love stony, nitrogen-rich ground and can be found in waysides, woods, waste ground and the edge of fields.

Freshly growing burdock leaves

Why eat burdock roots

Burdock has long been considered a valuable food and medicinal plant. Renowned as a superb cleanser for the skin (applied externally to eczema, acne, rashes, dermatitis and psoriasis) and kidneys. Studies also show it has antibiotic, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Burdock is also a vital ingredient in the traditional dandelion and burdock drink. Which, it turns out, variations of, have been made in the British isles for hundreds of years. 

The roots have a mild, earthy nutty flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked and can be dried. The roots are a slow releasing carbohydrate; great for countering blood sugar dips and ideal for diabetics. It is also a sources of calcium, potassium and protein.

Freshly dug up burdock roots

Which parts are edible?

The roots, leaves and young stems are all edible. However the leaves are incredibly bitter. The best tasting part is by far the roots.

When and how to harvest the roots?

The roots are best dug up in autumn and winter. This ensures the energy and goodness is stored in the roots and not feeding the rest of the plant.

First you'll need to find the plant (see above). You'll need to find burdock that hasn't flowered yet (doesn't have burs). Burdock that hasn't flowered will live another year, and the roots won't now be decomposing underground!

Digging a hole to dig up burdock roots

Burdock roots are long tap roots that require a fair amount of effort to dig up; think sleeves pulled up and a good spade. The tip of wild roots is rarely reached, though not to worry, you’ll have plenty to use.

How to use burdock roots

Burdock roots can be grated raw into salads or into homemade veggie burgers. Can be simmered or roasted with other root veg. In a previous blog I've shared three simple recipes for burdock roots. It can also be simmered to flavour soft drinks or beer.

Cleaning up burdock roots

Burdock is one of the plants I teach on my foraging courses and bespoke foraging experiences.

**Please note you need permission from the land owner to dig up roots here in the UK.**

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