Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa, click for a larger image
Click any photo for a larger image
Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa, click for a larger image
Photos above ©2012-
Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa, click for a larger image, photo licensed for reuse
Photo ©2008 - Christian Fischer

Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa
Family - Compositae (formerly Asteraceae)
Also known as - Edible Burdock, Beggar's Buttons

Greater Burdock is a biennial plant cultivated in gardens for its root which is used as a vegetable.  It is found in the wild as an invasive weed of high-nitrogen soils growing to as much as 8ft (2.4M).  It has large, downy, alternating, cordate leaves with wavy margins that have a long petiole and is pubescent on the underside.  The hermaphroditic purple thistle like flowers are grouped in globular capitula, united in clusters and appear from July to September.  Although hermaphroditic the flowers are also pollinated by bees and butterflies.  It is native to Europe, the Middle East, India, China and Japan, usually found in rough soils and disturbed areas, scrub, woodlands and along roadside verges.  Each capitula is surrounded by an involucre made out of many bracts, each curving to form a hook, where they can then be transported to new sites on clothing or the fur of animals.  The fruits are long compressed achenes with short pappuses.  They grow from a fleshy tap-root that can be up to 0.9M (3ft) deep.

In Japan the Burdock gives its name to a particular construction technique, burdock piling, where large stones are fitted together over a mound of earth, with the remaining cracks being filled in with pebbles called "Chestnut Stones" because of their small size.  No mortar was used in the building of these walls, which allowed the individual stones to move slightly during earthquakes.  The leaves of Greater Burdock provide food for the caterpillars of some lepidoptera, such as the Thistle Ermine Moth - Myelois circumvoluta.

Burdock has been cited as the inspiration for George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, who whilst out walking his dog in the 1940's, became curious about the Burdock seeds that had become attached to his clothes and the dog.  Using a microscope he examined the seeds and realised that there might be a commercial product there, the result of his studies was the invention of various products made by Velcro.

FBCP do not advise or recommend that Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa is eaten or used as a herbal remedy.   Greater Burdock was used during the Middle Ages as a vegetable, but is now rarely used except in the far east, particularly Japan where it is called 'gobo'.  Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear.  The taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related.  The root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking.  Greater Burdock has been used medicinally, a tincture was made of its roots and used to treat treat skin diseases such as pustules, acne and boils.  The leaves are also thought to have anti-bacterial properties.

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