• The Wild Foodie

Burdock, the versatile Wild Food!

Updated: May 2, 2019

The Burdock is a very common wild food plant found across the UK and again like lots of edible Wild Plants is considered a weed. The Burdock is found all over the UK and likes grassland, woodland, hedgerows and wastelands that are relatively untouched by human hand so that it can complete its two year lifecycle. The Burdock can get quite large during is two years and sometimes hits nearly 2 metres in height.     

As with many common plants – especially those that are found throughout the world the Burdock has many names including; Beggar’s Buttons, Great Bur, Fox Coat and Gypsy Rhubarb. Indeed most people cannot tell the difference between the different species of Burdock and the names for of the actual species such as Great Burdock and Lesser Burdock are regularly mixed up. This does not matter though as all species of the Burdock are edible and provide excellent eating.

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Knowing when to eat the plant is to understand its life cycle. This is simple and when you think about it obvious, so here is my rough guide to the Biennial lifecycle (2 year life cycle) of the Burdock.

In early spring and in its first-year the plant grows extraordinary leaves which are huge and very similar in appearance to Rhubarb leaves. The leaves have wavy edges and whitish fur on the underside. These leaves are the factory of the plant and start to grow in Early Spring ready for a year of photosynthesis and in turn storage for its sometimes huge root. The leaves are perfectly edible during this period however they are best in Spring when they are at their most tender. The stems are also quite edible and available all of the growing season. The stalks or stems can and should be peeled and then treated like Asparagus and steamed.

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Burdock Year 2 Identification guide
Burdock Year 2

After the first years growing season and due to those huge green factories that the plant produced during the summer the root will be in prime condition – you can take them from summer onwards (then they are big enough). To find these roots in the Autumn / Winter you need to have marked them during the summer with a brightly coloured ribbon or marker because the roots are at their ultimate after the first frost when all of the green foliage is gone. My granddad used to mark the Horseradish plants in the same way! Prepare yourself for some digging though, the roots get deep!

The plant during its second year invests its whole store of energy into producing flowers and seed (the burrs), its last act before the plant dies. If you missed the first year’s growth you can still pick the tender young leaves again the Spring but soon enough the root is inedible, tough and tasteless and the plants life cycle starts again through the seeds.

The plant is highly nutritious and used throughout the world especially in Asia where it is prized for its health benefits.

The Burdock roots and leaves can create a huge range of Wild Food Recipes all of which are incredibly tasty! Aside of the leaves inclusion into salads and the stems as a side similar to Asparagus the roots can be used in teas or infusions, treated like parsnips and roasted or made into crisps for a healthy snack. There is so much that this common weed can provide so I will write the many recipes down as I gather it and let you know what great Wild Burdock Recipes you can create!

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