The common name we are familiar with today, the English ‘bur’, originated from the French bourre, meaning ‘woolly’. Grieve attributes the French bourre to the Latin burre, or ‘lock of wool’ frequently found entangled with the plant where sheep have grazed.
Burdock might be a form of beurre or butter, which comes from a farm custom of wrapping butter in the large leaves to keep it cool. While the plant’s resemblance to docks, literally seen as a ‘dock with burs’, led to its name bur-dock.
Arctium lappa and Arctium minus
Greater burdock grows up to 1-2 m bearing large, heart-shaped, dull green leaves with fine hairs. The flowers are globe-shaped and thistle-like, becoming bur-like seed heads.
Lesser burdock grows up to 1-1.5 m tall with longer heart-shaped, dark green leaves and prickly flowers varying from pink to lavender in colour.
Scrubs, woodlands, roadsides, fields and wastelands.
Parts Used For Food
Largely the roots, but also the leaves and stalk.
Summer to autumn.
Roots can be eaten cooked as a boiled or fried vegetable. It is more common in Asian cooking in Japan and China. The leaves and stalk can also be used as a wild edible salad vegetable.REF
Contains vitamin C as one of its most valued nutrients.REF
Traditional Medicine Uses
Primarily used as a blood purifier and as a herbal remedy for skin diseases and infections.REF
The large heart-shaped leaves were used as masks by actors in Ancient Greece. The prickly burs helped to inspire the invention of velcro.
May cause contact dermatitis in some. The plant is best avoided in pregnancy due to oestrogenic effects. Burdock may also interfere with some medications.REF
About The Author
Robin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Britain and Ireland.
. . .