Burdock Stalks: A Common Food that All See and Most Don’t Know It’s Food

Not many plants evenly vaguely resembles burdock. Originally from Asia, Arctium species have really big leaves and unique looking bur like seeds. There are three species in Maine that are all edible and have few differences before flowering. The most common is Arctium Minus.

Burdocks are biennal plants. That means they have a two year life span. During their first year of life the plants will have a rosette of leaves and in their second year of life they will grow a central branching stem with smaller leaves growing up along the stem. There will be a stalk for the flowers and its later Velcro-like burred seeds.

The first year and second year plants have delicious roots that can be gathered. That can be in the fall for the first year plants or in the early spring for the second year plants. However, at this time of year I am gathering the immature flower stalks from the second year plants.

I have found them in sunny and shady places in and at the edges of forests that have ample light in many types of soil.

The leaves are huge. See the quarter below. They are hairy underneath, almost like a velvet feel to the touch.

The leaves have a central vein with alternating secondary veins.

I gathered these an hour south of my home in mid-June. A week later I gathered them five minutes from my home. In central Maine, things come later than farther south so sometime in late Spring is a good general guideline when looking for these.

I cut the flower stalks that hadn’t flowered near the base of the plant. I then cut the leaves branches (technically called petioles) off the stalk.

I made sure to gather from only 30 percent of the plants to ensure sustainable harvest.

I waited to arrive home before peeling the stalks so the stalks wouldn’t oxidize and turn brown during the car trip home.

I then peeled the stalks with a knife.

Raw, they taste too bitter but when cooked they taste great so I have been cooking the stalks that I gather.

I pickled this harvest in a cast iron pot with a caning rack inside.

To pickle this, I put the raw stalks into a pint jar and added 2 tablespoons of salt, 1/3 cup of vinegar, a clove of garlic and filled the pint jars with water to just below the lip below the lid and screwed on lids. I then put the cans into a bathing canning cooker and boiled for 10 minutes. I didn’t bother about using long term and sterile canning techniques as these will be refrigerated and eaten in a few months. The USDA has recommended safe canning and sterilization techniques on their website that can be followed for non-refrigeration and longer term storage.

I cooled the pickled stalks to room temperature and put them in the refrigerator for a day. After a day in the fridge, I started using them in side dishes or as part of a main dish.

For a recent meal, I put a portion of pickled burdock stalks for the meal in a bowl. I mixed in a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil, and a minced clove of garlic. The burdock stalks had a sour taste already from the addition of vinegar in the canning process.

I have read that they taste like artichokes which to my taste they do have somewhat of an artichoke heart taste with a firmer texture. I say somewhat because they have their own unique taste.

I ate the burdock stalks by mixing them with with rice. This way is so simple and delicious.

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