Cultivated burdock (Arctium lappa) looks a lot like the wild introduced weed that grows throughout the U.S., common burdock (Arctium minus), but is only slightly comparable to it as a vegetable.
The cultivated form is also known as gobo (Japanese), ngau pong (Chinese), harlock, edible goberon, bourholm, eddick, beggar’s buttons, cockly and hurr-burrs.
The plant is mainly grown for its use as a root vegetable, and its seeds are used in folk remedies in Asia and Europe. The burrs on the plant are credited with inspiring Swiss inventor George de Mestral to invent Velcro.
It is an ingredient of the popular soft drink in Great Britain called “Dandelion and Burdock.”
It is an herbaceous perennial, native of Eurasia, and grows 2-9 feet in a variety of sun conditions.
The young leaves and stems are edible when prepared like spinach and asparagus, but the most desired part of the plant is the long slender root. When very young the roots can be gathered, peeled and eaten raw like radishes. The mature root should be peeled, scalded and then cooked.
The flavor of burdock varies with conditions, but is similar to the taste of Jerusalem artichokes, scorzonera or parsnips. Some describe it as sweetly pungent and the texture is crisp when raw.
(Wild American burdock is very bitter and must be cooked to remove the bitterness.)
The seed is used in some folk remedies and herbal concoctions to treat ailments of the gastrointestinal tract and for many skin and scalp problems, sores and infections. In China seeds are used for common colds and cough.
The plant may grow to 8 feet and has many small purple flowers that quickly form burrs if allowed to go to seed.
The roots can grow as long as 4 feet, but most commonly reach 24 inches. They are slender like a carrot or parsnip, and are brown outside with white flesh.
Market potential is considered moderate to high for root and seed, moderate to low for leaves. Can be sold to herbal medicinal market and as vegetable. In vitro, burdock shows mild antimicrobial activity.
Burdock is started from seed and prefers a well drained soil rich in humus. Waterlogging is to be avoided, as it causes root rot.
Light and scarification enhance germination.
The plant prefers temperatures in the 68 degrees F to 77 degrees F range. Tops will die down at temperatures below 37 degrees F, but root will remain fine and can even survive temperatures below freezing.
Can be sown directly in the field in the spring or fall in warmer areas, spaced 18 inches apart. Thin seedlings to stand 6 inches apart in the row. Prepare the soil deeply to allow long roots to form.
Pick off flowers to prevent formation of burrs.
Young shoots and leaves are gathered in spring. Harvesting of roots occur July through December.
For fall plantings the seedlings are allowed to overwinter and growth resumes in the early spring for harvests in May and June.
Fall planting dates are critical, as the larger (greater than one-eighth inch) overwinter roots will bolt.
Sakata Seed of Fort Myers, FL at (813) 939-0093.
Burdock is a good source of fiber, and also of B vitamins.