The Japanese grow burdock, a very hardy monster weed— Arctium lappa, a member of the thistle family—for its sweet, edible, strange-tasting root and young shoots. Pretentious and curious people in this country have tried growing burdock root. It passes in elegant company as "beggars' buttons," "gobo," or "takinogawa," and some in Japan believe it helps virility

Country dwellers know burdock best as "cocklebur," the weed with the Velcro seeds, those incredibly clinging burrs that can virtually ruin a sheep's fleece and that are so tough to pick out of any soft fabric you wore on a stroll through them. I'm inclined to think that growing the stuff should be a jailable offense—or at least a sue-able one. But people do grow it, and I have to perform my duty here; I won't censor information. (At least they're not poisonous.) So here goes. But if you do plant them, be warned: You've taken on a moral responsibility not to let them turn weedy, get away from you, and infest the county. planting: Seeds are available from Kitazawa, Nichols, and Seeds of Change. Plant for control and for easy harvesting. Japanese farmers plant burdock in a specially contrived growing box that sits on the ground, isolated from all other garden dirt, full of loose, rich, easy-digging soil. Plant in spring. Allow plenty of space because burdock is a big plant with huge leaves that will shade any nearby plants. Plant in any kind of soil. For the best roots, don't overwater, because you want the roots to probe downward in search of water. It grows slowly, so be patient; wait until fall to harvest. harvesting: Dig, don't pull. Burdock is most easily harvested from soft, loose soil. Left overlong, burdock can get a root even 2 or 3 feet long. It's best harvested at about 18 inches and when still skinny, although the root can get very thick. But thinner roots will actually be more edible than the thicker ones, which tend to be tougher. Also, you need to get out all of the root, or the plant will come back from the remaining root whether or not you want it to. preparing: Prepare burdock roots by scraping their outer surface using a dull knife until you can see the white flesh inside. Older, tougher roots will have to be peeled. As you work with burdock roots, your fingers will discolor as if you were husking walnuts. Put the scraped roots into acidic water (lemon juice or vinegar mixed with water) as soon as you've cleaned them. Burdock root is fibrous; pounding before you cook it softens and improves it. It is never eaten raw. Cut in strips or slices. recipe Ideas: Pound, slice, and add to a sukiyaki recipe. Or slice and cook in a little liquid with slivers of chicken, slices of mushroom, chopped onions, and herbs. Or stir-fry strips with crushed garlic and soy sauce. Or saute sliced burdock with thin strips of beef and soy sauce. Or make a soup of burdock slices, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and a meat chunk. Or make as tempura. Or saute with Asian veggies and seaweed. Or substitute for carrot in any recipe that calls for cooked carrot.

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