Gobo root is the Japanese name for the root of the greater burdock (Arctium lappa) plant. Used as both a vegetable and a seasoning agent, this root is also prized for the medicinal properties attributed to it. Originating from the Siberian region of Northern Asia and in use as a vegetable in Europe during the Middle Ages, it is particularly popular in Japanese cuisine and Chinese herbal medicine.
Of the entire burdock, or gobo, plant, the long taproot is the edible portion that is valued for its culinary and medicinal attributes. Because it can attain a length of 3 to 4 feet (0.9 - 1.2 m) and has a tapering width of 1 inch (2.54 cm), it is usually dug by hand to avoid damaging the root. The above ground portion of the plant produces pinkish purple flowers that eventually turn to burrs, which will ultimately distribute the plant’s seeds.
The white flesh of the gobo root is crisp and sweet, with an earthy undertone. When cooked, the flavor is similar to that of an artichoke. The root is eaten cooked in a number of different ways. Cut into thin slivers or chips, it is often simmered with grains to add flavor. It can be shredded and used in stir-fries and soups. The root can be boiled, roasted, stewed, braised, or baked. It is popularly pickled in rice wine vinegar and used as a component of sushi. In Japan, it's made into a chiplike snack food.
The gobo root has a somewhat coarsely textured dark brown skin. If the skin is thin, it can be well scrubbed and left on the root, but otherwise, it should be peeled off. The white flesh of the root itself will oxidize and darken on exposure to air. When sliced, shredded, or chopped, it should be soaked in a bit of cold water with a small amount of salt or lemon juice added to prevent it from turning brown and to remove any bitterness in the root.
Burdock root may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and it should not be washed until just before it's used. It can be wrapped in wet paper towels, stored in a resealable plastic bag, and kept refrigerated. The wet paper towels can be refreshed as needed.
Gobo root is traditionally valued for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It is highly esteemed as a blood detoxifier, a diuretic, and a topical remedy for maladies of the skin, including psoriasis and acne. In Chinese herbal medicine, it is used in concert with other herbs to allay the discomfort of sore throats and colds.
Medicinally, the prepared root is available in several forms, including capsules, tinctures, and teas. It may also be dried and steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes. This liquid is strained and drunk as tea or it may be used to prepare a poultice that can be wrapped around the affected area of skin.
Individuals who experience ragweed allergies or who are sensitive to pollen from certain flowers, such as daisies or chrysanthemums, may be allergic to gobo. Pregnant women should avoid taking it in medicinal concentrations.