Name: burdock, gobo, Arctium lappa.
Height: 60cm in first year to over 120 cm in second year.
Climate: prefers cold temperate or warm temperate; sub-tropical and tropical as a winter crop.
Soil: deep, rich, well-drained soil.
Position: open sunny position or part shade.
Flowering and fruiting: purple or white flowers ripening to spiky burr-like seed pods.
Feeding: generally, doesn’t need feeding but can be boosted with general purpose organic fertiliser in spring.
Watering: keep soil moist but not wet.
Burdock plants produce long, fleshy taproots a bit like parsnips but thinner. The plant looks a bit like celery with thick stalks and large triangular leaves. Tall flower stalks with thistle-like purple flowers appear in the second year. Each flower has a bristly green burr – when it ripens, it sticks on clothing and animals’ fur. These burrs were the inspiration for Velcro!
Burdock is grown as an ornamental, culinary and medicinal herb. The young leaves are used in salads or cooked, and the roots and flower spikes are used in a range of cuisines as pickles or steamed, baked or boiled. Some cultures collect the seeds, sprout them and eat them like bean sprouts. Various parts of the plant have been used for centuries to treat all manner of ailments and it is highly valued as a medicinal herb.
Burdock root can also be used as a tea – it’s believed to have purifying and detoxing qualities.
Water your burdock to keep the soil moist but not wet, particularly during dry periods. These plants will happily grow without any feeding, but you can give them a boost with a good quality general purpose organic fertiliser in spring and summer.
Not much will bother these robust plants, however snails and slugs find the stems and leaves tasty, so protect them with snail bait or try coffee grounds sprinkled around the base of the plant. Nematodes can also be a problem – these microscopic long thin worms burrow into the roots causing tumor-like growths. The plant won’t be able to take up water and nutrients, so the first sign is often rapid wilting. Remove any infected plants and burn them or solarize them by sealing them in a plastic bag and leaving it in the sun. Mustard is a natural soil fumigant, so plant mustard seed where your burdock was removed and as it grows it’ll naturally fumigate and protect the soil.
Burdock can be easily grown from seed in cooler areas in spring, and in warmer climates in autumn.
Tarragon: vigorous, easy to grow annual herb with a mild aniseed flavour
Marjoram: related to oregano, but with a milder, sweeter flavour; an essential kitchen herb.
Marigold: the cheerful annuals with yellow or orange flowers are said to repel nematodes and other garden pests.
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