Drive past the willow tree, deeper into the valley. There is a tiny bridge where one valley meets the other and the landscape opens like a story. Pull over here.
Retrieve the shovel from the trunk, and chuckle about what the hunters must think. Feel your old leather boots creak with pleasure as they step from asphalt to the crackling stalks of the field.
Your eyes are alert, combing the dead landscape for a sign. You find it: dead stalks standing tall. You walk to them and kick around until you see the first-year leaves, splayed out among the autumn debris. You follow the leaves to the ground with your fingers. And you begin to dig.
Wet earth and hard breathing and cold fingers against the ancient wooden handle.
Deep hole. You plunge your fingers into the wall of earth. Scrape the soil away. Grasp the root.
Your fingers snake under its deepest reaches, and you tug. You feel wisdom running through it like blood. Wiggle. Heave. A little snap. And you hold it in your hand. A sacred earthy obelisk.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) root is one of the most nourishing foods on the planet. It has lots of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron, manganese, and magnesium. It also contains inulin, which is a prebiotic beneficial to digestion. Perhaps its most wonderful quality is its deep nourishment of the liver. It is because of this that burdock clears the skin and nourishes the blood. It’s also enormously tasty.
The first time I tasted Linda Conroy’s Burdock Pickles, I awakened to a new world. Deep nourishment. Relationship with these sacred plants. Joyfully engaging my body. But I was a bit intimidated. Burdock sounded hard to harvest. And pickling? I can’t do that!
But I could. My first time out, just before the ground froze, I harvested a large amount of burdock in a little over an hour. Certainly enough to nourish myself and my loved ones. I had the blessings of the beautiful valley I grew up playing in. Here is what I was taught, and what I now have the experience to share with you:
How to harvest Burdock Roots:
- Identify the first year plants. Burdock is biannual; it stores large amounts of energy and nutrition in its taproot, which it uses to shoot upwards in its second year of growth. The first year plants look like large leaves coming out of the ground. The second year plants are stalks with spiky seeds. They often grow next to one another.
- Harvest in autumn, when the concentration of nutrients is highest.
- Dig a deep hole next to the root. When you are deep enough, pull the root into the hole. You may not be able to get to the entire root.
- Fill in the hole, trying to leave everything as you found it. This is a joke when harvesting burdock, as digging a deep hole disrupts the earth, but do make an effort to reduce that disruption as much as possible.
I use Linda Conroy’s Pickled Burdock recipe. It’s simple and healthy, and easy to do. I like to add fresh ginger and turmeric root to her recipe. I recommend letting it sit for about a week for the flavors to merge.
And remember to open to what this beautiful plant has to say. I feel so honored to be nourishing myself with this wise root. Standing in the mud in the center of all those burdock stalks was like a way of worshipping the divine.
By Nicholas Tippins