Thursday, September 17, 2009

Under the Burdock

As I've learned more about foraging, I've come to appreciate the potential for harvesting food from the wild almost all year round.

I've mostly appreciated the spring foraging the most, with the fresh chickweed and nettle and lambs' quarters greens reviving my palate after a winter of preserved foods, but last year I started exploring fall foraging.

This year, thanks to the bounty at the Farm, I'm taking it a step further -- with a shovel.

I mentioned earlier that there's a weedy patch on the Farm where the old garden used to be, south of the Old House. A couple of decades ago, that garden space was filled with maple and oak seedlings that then grew tall and spindly.

In last year's cleaning up -- and earlier this year as well -- many of those trees were cut down since they had grown too close together. After that, well, Nature took over and filled in the gaps with first succession plants we usually think of as weeds.

Enter my friend burdock. Sure, burdock gets a bad rep for its second-year development of round burrs that latch onto your clothing (or your dog's fur) and won't let go. (Fun fact: the hooks that make burdock so persistently clingy inspired the development of Velcro. So why not think of the burrs as free Velcro?)

In its first year of growth, though, burdock stores a great deal of vitamins and minerals in its sturdy taproot: iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C. According to Herbal Rituals, a lovely little herbal book, burdock's properties increase immune system health and energy as well as provide balance of one's sugar levels.

Let's just say it has hidden depths, in more ways than one. Digging up burdock is an arduous task that requires concentration, strength, and persistence thanks to the firm grasp the root has on its little patch of dirt. For each root I unearthed, I had to dig down slowly, wiggling around the root before popping up only a small portion of it.

I brought home a bag full of slender roots, and instead of tending to them right away as I ought to have done, I had to wait until this evening to wash off the caked mud and get busy.

Since most of the roots were pencil-thin, I had to lay them on the cutting mat to run a vegetable peeler over them. Then I discovered that they quickly turned gray when exposed to the air, so I started throwing the peeled roots into a bowl of water before chopping them.

Once peeled, I cut them into chunks and tossed them into a small jar, covering them with vodka for a tincture. I had hoped to be able to dry some of the roots, but I hadn't dug enough for anything else.

I'll be eager to try this once it's done. Just one nibble of the root gave me a taste of something clean and refreshingly earthy, so I think it will have the positive effects I read about.

And then we'll be havin' some fun!

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