Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Burdock
Nature Bulletin No. 117   May 24, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

Burdock is a common weed found growing along railroad rights of way, along roadsides, in vacant lots, in farmyards and pastures. Around abandoned farm buildings, or their former locations, will be found big patches of burdock. Birds know this and, whenever a deep snow or an ice storm makes food scarce, pheasants seek these patches to peck at the clusters of brown burs and eat the seeds.

The plant was brought here from Europe long ago. Being a biennial with big tough roots that go deep into the soil, it is hard to kill. In early spring it sends up two large broad rough leaves on sturdy stalks. In summer the flower stalk grows and branches like a young tree. There may be from 10 to 30 or more branches, each with 15 to 40 composite flowers, singly and in clusters. Each flower, in shades of lavender or pink, is about 3/8 inch in diameter and surrounded by a sticky mass of gummy spines.

The mature flower becomes a brown bur, brisling with spines. Each spine is tipped with a very sharp tiny hook which catches and clings to clothing and to the hair or fur of animals. A dog's coat, sheep' s wool, and the tails of horses and cattle frequently become matted with these burs. Thus the plant spreads its seeds.

Each bur is tightly packed with 30 to 40 tough elongated seeds. We found one flower stalk 9 feet tall, 1 1/2 inches thick at the base, with 35 branches, 1055 burs and at least 31,650 seeds. Even if a burdock is mowed down in late summer it will grow a short flower stalk with a few flowers before winter comes, as if the plant were determined to produce seed. No wonder it is so prolific.

If people would eat more burdock we might get rid of some of it. A cultivated variety is grown for food in Japan. In Europe it is eaten in various ways and here you may see people of Italian descent gathering burdock. The young leaves and the pith of young stems are eaten raw with bread or in salad; the pith is sometimes candied. The pith of young stems and the starchy roots of first-year plants can be fried in batter or used to thicken soup if every shred of the tough bitter bad- smelling rind is peeled off and the pith boiled in two or more waters.

Burdock eaters compare it to celery and artichoke.

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