When I was a kid there was a ravine near grandma’s house that had a hidden treasure: raspberries. No one told me about the surrounding burrs. My cousins thought it was hilarious that I came back covered in burrs instead of carrying a bucket of raspberries. And, yes, yes, I think we all know they were the inspiration for Velcro.
Despite the plant’s annoying stickiness, the roots of Burdock (Arctium spp.) plants have many health benefits. And they taste not so bad.
What prompted me to eat them? Researching the human microbiome.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BURDOCK ROOT
Like other root veggies, burdock root is a source of vitamins and minerals – I won’t go into the details because my main focus here is on the high inulin content of burdock root. The inulin is the reason I’ve developed a fascination with burdock root. My recent obsession with the human microbiome led me to discover the health benefits of inulin and other dietary fiber.
The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes living in and on the human body. Millions of dollars are being invested in gut microbiome research and it is THE hot topic in medical research because its being linked to many conditions including multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, autism, IBS, auto-immune conditions, …and the list goes on.
Researching the microbiome has motivated me to take probiotics, eat fermented foods, and increase the amount of prebiotics in my diet. Inulin and resistant starch are classified as prebiotics.
“Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth and/or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate for them…A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prebiotic_%28nutrition%29)
Besides inulin, other types of prebiotics include: resistant starch, fructooligosaccharide (FOS) and lactulose. These can be found in foods such as unripe bananas, uncooked oats, legumes, beans, cooked and cooled potatoes, and chicory root.
Prebiotics nourish bacteria in the colon. Why would you want to nourish bacteria in the colon? Certain bacteria that live in the colon, such as bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria, have beneficial effects on human health, including immune system function and digestive function. For example, studies are showing a link between increased inulin consumption and calcium absorption.
“In humans, there is increasing evidence that the colon can absorb nutritionally significant amounts of calcium, and this process may be susceptible to dietary manipulation by fermentable substrates, especially inulin-type fructans. Inulin-type fructans can modulate calcium absorption because they are resistant to hydrolysis by mammalian enzymes and are fermented in the large intestine to produce short-chain fatty acids, which in turn reduce luminal pH and modify calcium speciation, and hence solubility, or exert a direct effect on the mucosal transport pathway. Quite a few intervention studies showed an improvement of calcium absorption in adolescents or young adults by inulin-type fructans. In the same way, a positive effect has been reported in older women.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17951497)
To sum it up, inulin has the potential to:
– improve colon health
– increase mineral absorption
– improve immune system function
– reduce inflammatory bowel disorders
– improve digestion
That’s a pretty impressive bio for a prickly weed.
Other natural sources of inulin:
- Globe artichoke
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Wild yam
HOW TO HARVEST BURDOCK ROOT
Burdock produces a long tap root that looks kind of like daikon or a big dandelion root. Burdock is a biennial – meaning it lives for two years. In the first year it establishes roots and leaves. Make sure you are digging up first year roots. These are larger, more tender, and less fibrous than second year roots. In the second year it flowers and goes to seed (those prickly burrs are its seeds). In the first year it is putting more energy into producing roots and the roots are larger. In the second year the roots get less attention and are shriveled up and more woody.
Below: A young burdock plant growing by the foundation of my house. No flowers or burrs indicate it is a first year plant.
The second year plant below has smaller leaves and produced purple flowers and burrs. The first year plant has larger leaves and larger tap roots.
HOW TO COOK BURDOCK ROOT
Dig it up. (Dig deep or you’ll end up cutting off half the tap root.) Cut off the leaves. Wash and scrub it well. Cut off the top of the root until the more fibrous parts are removed. Peel it like a carrot.
Fry it up with some butter (or vegan margarine) or roast it like any other roasted root vegetables in some oil and spices of choice.
Tip for cooking burdock root: cut the pieces very small. I cut the slices the same thickness as the carrots but burdock root is somewhat fibrous and is easier to eat when the pieces are about 1/4 inch. If you fry them up in a pan, slice them thin.
Tastes like…..hmmmmm? It doesn’t really have much of a significant taste to me. A little bit like a potato. It takes on the flavor of the spices. The texture is slightly fibrous and it turns a greyish color when roasted.
Are you ready to eat some crazy roots?
microbiome lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAF-AblJpfM