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What is Gobo Root?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

This vegetable is a good source of fiber and potassium and is low in sodium and calories. A 0.75-cup (85 g) serving has about 60 calories and no fat.

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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon150759 — On Feb 08, 2011

I eat gobo all the time. But what nutritional value are we talking about? The article says it has fiber and potassium. I can get that eating bananas and bran.

By anon139529 — On Jan 04, 2011

I love gobo. It tastes especially good in a Japanese dish called Kinpira Gobo, to which carrots and sesame seeds can be added. It is even more fantastic, knowing it is good for you! Thank you for your post on gobo, wiseGEEK!

By Charlie89 — On Oct 28, 2010

One thing that's really important to remember with gobo root is to soak it before you cook it. If not, you'll get a really sour, bitter flavor in your food.

Also, when cooking with gobo's, you can kind of fine tune the flavor by how you use the gobo. For instance, if you just add it in whole, like you would a stick of cinnamon, then you'll have a slightly milder flavor.

If you want a stronger flavor, then you can crush the root or use it in slices -- though gobo can be overwhelming if you're not used to is, so you might want to stick with a milder version to begin with.

By naturesgurl3 — On Oct 28, 2010

Gobo root really is a fantastic supplement. It has so many benefits, and it's really rare for people to have side effects from it, so it is suitable for almost everyone (pregnant women aside, of course).

In addition to being a diuretic, gobo poultices can be made to ease joint pain, and when drunk in tea form, gobo can help the body to fight off infection.

And on top of all of that, gobo is chock full of antioxidants, so it is really good for fighting free radicals and aging.

It's a shame that this wonderful herb isn't more commonly served as food in the West -- and a lot of times it can be hard to get a good gobo vitamin, so you have to shell out for a customized gobo blend.

However, I can tell you that its totally worth it -- I love the effects of using gobo, not to mention the yummy taste! I would recommend anybody to try it at least once -- though do remember to talk to your doctor before trying any supplements, since they can interact in unexpected ways.


By pleats — On Oct 28, 2010

Very interesting article -- I've seen those custom gobo supplements for sale at my vitamin store, but I never knew what they were for.

I wonder, though, if people who are allergic to gobo as a medicine still eat it as a food. Do you think that something about cooking it could remove the allergy potential, or is it kind of an all around thing?

I would be really curious to see how people dealt with that, since it seems like gobo is pretty commonly used in food, at least according to this article.

Do you have any idea?

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