Burdock (Articum spp.) illustrates the concept of cultural relativism. The plant itself is ubiquitous here in Berlin and elsewhere in the world, but it is only considered a prized vegetable and cultivated as such in Asia. In Japan the young taproots of the plant are readily available in supermarkets and health foodstores, and the vegetable makes regular appereances in soups and stir-fries. Its status as a health food achieved brief international noteriety with the success of the macrobiotic diet which advocates its consumption. Burdock is a biennual plant, so the occasional observer may miss the first year basal rosette although the large leaves with white hairy undersides are not difficult to spot. By the second year of its life Burdock grows tall and dons the characteristic burrs that will stubbornly stick to almost anything.
The simple physical appereance of the plant does not indicate its illustrious history. In medieval Germany burdock was used to treat cancerous tumors and in earlier times a combination of Burdock and wine was used to treat leprosy. Furthermore, Burdock was used for a variety of dermatologic conditions including baldness, scrapes and burns. The taproot of the first year growth is considered best for consumption but as it grows deep into the ground it won’t give itself up without a fight. We recommend caution when gathering Burdock as the inexperienced forager can easily mistake it for Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), a plant true to its common name. The peeled taproot of Burdock can be quickly boiled and enjoyed on its own for its mild and pleasant flavor, or in combination with any other dish that strikes the fancy of the cook.