Burdock without flower stalk. (Photo by Lauren Berg, as are the others) The leaves are pretty much too bitter and fuzzy (remember to check the whiter, fuzzier underside of the leaves when you are getting to know this plant) to be food. The leaf, stalks can be used as a vegetable (especially if you are a good cook- otherwise they are not too impressive). The most important for both food and medicine is the roots, which are significantly sized taproots.
Here is the Slow Food cook slicing the roots with the pencil-shaving technique, which I recommend for stir-frying. For longer cooking, such as stew, the roots can be cut into chunks.
Thinly sliced burdock root goes well with other vegetables, seasoned with sesame oil and shoyu. Here it is being prepared with other fresh, wild foods: oyster mushrooms, cattail shoots, and greens,
Burdock is a wonderful wild edible. It is probably known by more as a medicinal herb, used to cleanse the blood and lymph and to strengthen overall vitality and the digestive system. In macrobiotic cooking it is highly valued for its medicinal qualities.
Since it is also the bearer of the infamous burs that latch on to hair and clothing, it is not loved by farmers, gardeners, landowners, parents, and pet owners. This is a positive for foragers- in my experience if you ask a farmer if you can dig up some burdock they are very happy to get some help and may even offer a spading fork (a favorite tool of mine in general, and especially for digging burdock roots). It requires some experience to learn which stages of growth are preferred and which size roots are best.
Since herbalists consider burdock to be a primarily a cleansing herb, it took several years before I began to attribute my high energy levels in springtime in part to burdock. Now I am convinced that this weedy root also contains definite "chi tonic" properties, helping to build up and regulate vital energy.
Since this medicine is mild and safe enough to be a food, it is sometimes overlooked in favor for more "medicinal" quality plants. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised time and time again at how profound and effective of a medicine burdock really is.
One again, with burdock, we learn that some things that are at first undesirable or unwanted (such as a plant with strong taproots and burs) can actually be quite a blessing (such as a plant that strengthens the body and cleanses disease).