A soup made with burdock

There are a lot of perennial vegetables I work hard to get my hands on, coax into growing, beat the weeds off. While I’m sure it will pay off once all this gets established, there is far more virtue in figuring out how to use the perennial vegetables that are weeds themselves.

Burdock is a prime example. I planted a few “Takinogawa” burdock raised from seed in the willow garden a few years ago. In a shady corner, seldom weeded, it thrives, seeding with abandon.

I noticed as I walked by today a bunch of little burdock leaves unfurling and figured these would be prime candidates for tasting. So I grabbed a shovel, shoved it in the ground by each plant and just lifted enough to let me break the clump in half to get at the deep root. Root out, I sank the clump back down without turning.

Most of these are second year plants, some first year plants that sprouted late last summer. Largest diameter I dug was half an inch.

Back at the house I searched for recipes and found this website. She described them as hearty and crisp; there was one recipe that sauted the juliened roots with vinegar and sugar; I thought soup.

She mentioned peeling the roots, which I thought would leave me with nothing, but found a light scrape with a paring knife was suffucient as the skin is pretty thin. I put the peeled roots in water to keep them from discoloring.

To julienne, I cut the larger ones in half, then laid them on the flat side to finely slice. The smaller ones I just made a single cut down the middle.

I sautéd the roots in lard (from our animals; see Earth movers) until they began browning at the tips. I did them in two batches to keep from crowding. I did the same with some tiny perennial leeks from the food forest and added those to the burdock.

I tasted one of the burdock french fries and found it a bit stringy and downright bland. I expected a strong bitter flavor though, so considered this a bonus.

I threw the roots back into the pan with some beef stock (thick stuff cooked more than 72 hours) and threw a raw “Ishikura” onion on top to wilt.

I added some black pepper and vinegar, and that was that. And that was very, very good.

I’ll probably omit a lot of the formalities in future preparation, but it’s definitely something I will prapare again. With the wildly prolific supply, that can be again, and again.


  1. That sounds delicious. Periodically I think about trying to get burdock started somewhere in my yard but so far I haven’t done it, largely because it offends my sensibilities to think about having to do soil prep for it and keep it watered. It’s a weed and should grow like one, but in New Mexico it’s a rare thing, found mostly in the northern part of the state alongside streams. But there is an area in the weed patch where I will be putting in a mulberry and will have to keep the soil moist for a year or two, and that might be the place to finally put in some burdock seeds. I will have to go back and double-check, but it seems to me that master forager Sam Thayer wrote about using the stalks when they come up in the second year, and thought they were a choice part of the plant. I’ll have to reread that.
    I have read your “Earth Movers” post about four times, and I love it every time. The images of the sows building their nests and the boar digging ponds are wonderful, and the thought of swales emerging behind a determined pig is delightful. I love my urban garden, but I do wish that I could keep pigs.


    1. I have heard the same about burdock needing to stay moist to grow. In that case I have a pretty good spot.

      I have also noted many dry places it grows though. It might be you can get away with some pretty dry conditions later in its life if the seeds have moisture. When I introduced the burdock to the willow garden they were transplants I had grown indoors.

      I’ve heard a similar review of the shoots from Stephen Barstow in “Around the World in 80 Plants”. I plan on testing that this year too. There are plenty of plants left for it.

      I so appreciate hearing you enjoy that post. I think somehow someday you’ll figure put how to have a pig experience. We have actually raised pigs in cooperation with another family that owned land in the country before us. We divided the costs of feed and since my Dad is a fairly skilled butcher we handled that part including curing and smoking in exchange for their handling the earlier feeding and moving the pen.


      1. I’m going to try the burdock and see how it goes. I’m very lazy about winter watering, but maybe it will survive that while dormant.
        Incidentally, in the discussion about germinating Turkish rocket I said that mine came up with no winter chill, but I now have to say that only half of them did. I know that for a fact, because the other half came up this spring. So I am going to have quite a thick stand, which is a nice surprise.
        I wasn’t familiar with “Around the World in 80 Plants,” but ordered it as soon as you mentioned it.
        Your former pig-growing arrangement got me thinking. There is a great farmer south of me who has a small pig operation, and maybe he would feed to my specs for the last month before butchering. That way I would avoid the problem that my husband worries about, which is that any pig raised by me would probably die of old age, after a long and unproductive life. I am very fond of pigs. But I am also very fond of pork, so I think I could get over it.


        1. So I’m not totally mistaken about their preference for stratification!With undeveloped species especially there is a lot of variance in the circumstances needed for germination. I grew an annual herb, Cardiospermum halicacabum, on a large scale last year for an herb company and had several months between the first and last sprouters. Thanks so much for telling me.

          I wrote a post about finding the seeds mentioned in the book here:

          A review was written about it here:

          I really enjoyed the book myself as Stephen is a cutting edge collector and genuine user of perennial vegetables. I’m sure you will like it.

          Let me know how the pig arrangement works out if you do it. I’m sure you’ll figure out something clever.


    1. I have all expectation that in your hands that rabid weed will be absurdly delicious. So here’s hoping it keeps up the good luck streak. Thanks for letting me know.


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