Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Burdock (Arctium spp.) denotes a group of non-native thistles found throughout the Hudson Valley and now in flower.  Here is a picture of this familiar plant from the North-South Lake DEC campground in the Catskills.  It's easy to identify from the large leaves and sticky burrs.

The flowers, in the center of the burrs, were being actively visited by ants and bees.

My kids and their cousins had a good time picking burrs and throwing them at each other!

Since it's so common and unmistakable, burdock is a good plant to know in a survival situation.  The burdock taproot can be dug up, cleaned, and boiled for use as a vegetable.  Burdock root is actually popular in Japan where it's called gobo and used in a number of traditional dishes.  In England, fermented dandelion and burdock roots have been made into a drink since 1265 (I want to try this sometime).

As with most edible wild plants, burdock also has had medicinal uses.  Oil extracted from burdock roots, called "bur oil" in Europe, has been used as a scalp treatment to help fight hair loss.  Burdock leaves (immature leaves are also reputed to be edible) have been made into poultices for burns.

Look closely at the burrs next time you see a burdock plant.  See the little hooks? 

The story goes that in the 1940s, Swiss engineer and inventor George de Mestral was out hunting with his dog when they encountered some burdock (dogs running through burdock come back covered with burrs).

You or I would have just bitched about this plant and cursed the stupid dog but de Metral was curious - he examined the burrs under a microscope and saw hundreds of little hooks which would catch on loops of fiber and animal hairs.  Then he invented Velcro, spent years perfecting the process, and made millions.  That's the difference between successful inventors and people like us!

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