Exploring Burdock Root

I first encountered burdock when my husband brought home this pretty looking box of burdock root tea:

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I instantly fell in love with those little purple spiky flowers that I had frequently seen growing wild but had no idea they were edible. Finding out a common weed is edible is like discovering that the water flowing from your tap is actually passion fruit juice (Not like that has ever happened, but seriously, how awesome would that be?!). I truly love discovering new things that I can eat; a gift from nature! So I was blown away to find at a farmer’s market in Amherst a Korean man selling burdock roots- the actual brown, rooty-looking, well, roots. He had a cookbook open to a page that described how one would prepare the root, but quickly dismissed it with a wave of his hand when he saw me trying to read the recipe. “No need to peel, just slice thinly and sautee”, he said. I was intrigued! Having no idea what this would taste like, I immediately bought a bunch and went over to my friend’s fantastic kitchen to cook it. As the farmer recommended, I didn’t peel it, just tried to scrub  as much dirt off of it as possible. This was harder said than done, and the thin roots were so difficult to slice into long thin strips (a bit thinner than matchsticks) that it took 3 of us way too long to get through the chopping stage. This is a pretty representative picture of how thin these little buggers were…Image

Surprisingly, although perhaps not so much in hindsight, it had a very strong earthy scent. For some strange reason, maybe wishful thinking?, I thought the scent might diminish when cooked. I sauteed it in a wok for what seemed like a really long time, perhaps half an hour, and it finally began to be slightly translucent and wilted. My friend, who is Chinese, recognized the scent from her childhood and seasoned it spectacularly with a spicy sauce ( I think she included things like sesame oil, white rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili flakes, but I don’t remember exactly). The resulting dish was very unique and quite delicious. But, I thought it would be nice to keep experimenting with the cooking.

So to my happy surprise, the local co-op the other day had some big thick burdock roots, kind of like this:

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I bought a bunch and decided to peel them, thinking that this might help diminish the strong woody flavor that had emerged in my previous attempt at cooking burdock. I peeled and cut them into thin slivers, sauteed them for about half an hour, then added a sliced onion, four chopped large cloves of garlic, and a dried chili pepper. After that was done cooking, I added the ginger people’s peanut sauce, about half a cup of blanched peanuts, and some cilantro. It was so good!! Still earthy but less so than the first time. However, after reading some recipes, it appears the Japanese first boil the burdock root slivers in water with a splash of soy sauce- I imagine this helps soften the slivers. Next time I will boil them prior to sauteeing. The guy at the co-op says he juices the roots; I can’t even imagine what that tastes like, but now I am itching to buy myself a juicer!!

 

Here’s what my dish looked like:

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Health Benefits of Burdock Root

Turns out that not only are these babies delicious, they are very healthy for you too. Here’s what I found from http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/burdock-root.html:

  • Burdock roots, young shoots, peeled stalks, and dried seeds contain numerous compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties.
  • The root is very low in calories; provide about 72 calories per 100 g. Burdock is a good source of non-starch polysaccharides such as inulin, glucoside-lappin, mucilage, etc., that help act as a laxative. Additionally, inulin acts as prebiotic and helps reduce blood-sugar level, weight and cholesterol levels in the blood.
  • Burdock root is especially containing good amounts of electrolyte potassium (308 mg or 6.5% of daily-required levels per 100 g root) and low in sodium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
  • This herb root contains small quantities of many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, vitamin-E, and vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health. Both vitamin C and E are powerful natural antioxidants help the human body stave off infections, cancer and neurologic conditions.
  • Furthermore, it also contains some valuable minerals such as iron, manganese, magnesium; and small amounts of zinc, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus.

Medicinal uses

  • Just like its fellow Asterceae family member dandelion, almost all the parts of burdock herb too found a place in various traditional as well modern medicines.
  • Burdock has been used in many folk remedies as one of the best blood purifiers. It contains certain diuretic principles, which help expel toxic products from the blood through urine.
  • The herb is employed in the treatment of skin problems such as eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, skin dryness…etc. The plant parts have been used as an herbal remedy for liver and gall bladder complaints.
  • Effusion of burdock seeds has been used for throat and chest ailments.

In sum, this plant is awesome! Even some important hospitals are promoting the use of burdock for its cancer-fighting properties:

University of Maryland Medical Center:

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/burdock

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/burdock

NYU Langone Medical Center:

http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21622

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