Burdock root is the root of the burdock plant, in the genus Arctium. Generally, burdock root is harvested from Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa, although other species of burdock may be used as well. In addition to the young roots, the leaves of some burdock species are also edible, and they may be used in salads and other dishes. Burdock has also traditionally been used medicinally, especially as a purifying agent.
The burdock plant is in the thistle family, and produces flowers and burrs which strongly resemble thistles as they mature. The plant has green leaves which hug the ground before shooting up tall stalks of leaves and small purple flowers. The flowers develop into burrs which are notorious for sticking to clothing and fur with immense tenacity. This trait has led to the wide distribution of burdock all around the world.
Although burdock can be found growing in the wild in many nations, it is native to Asia, where burdock is very popular in the cuisine of many nations. Outside of Asia, burdock is a less popular food, although it can be found cropping up in recipes now and again. The flavor of young burdock is reminiscent of artichokes, leading to their inclusion in quiche, sautes, and similar dishes. Older burdock roots can be very bitter, and their consumption should be avoided.
When selecting burdock root in the store, consumers should look for specimens which are around one inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter, as these will be most tender and flavorful, as well as less bitter. The roots have a brownish-red outer layer and gray to white flesh, and they do not need to be peeled before eating although they should be washed and gently scoured. Most people slice burdock into thin circular pieces, although it can also be julienne cut. A long, slow simmering is one of the best ways to cook burdock, as it brings out the flavor while keeping the roots soft and tender.
Several forms of burdock root are available commercially. An oil extracted from the root is intended for use on the hair, and can be quite beneficial when regularly applied.. Ground burdock root is also dried and packaged as a dietary supplement, and the fresh roots can be purchased for eating. The root vegetable can be stored under refrigeration for up to one week until used, or it can be dried and kept much longer.