In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.

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Burdock Adventures, Week Ending 6/2/2019

Common burdock (Arctium minus) regularly infiltrates lawns and fields in central MD. I first noticed burdock in our yard last year, and once I knew what to look for I saw it everywhere.

This year, we cleared out an area in our yard choked with weeds and overrun by poison ivy and honeysuckle. In the midst of this mess, I uncovered several second year burdock plants. I carefully marked them with flags so they wouldn’t “accidentally” get mowed with the other weeds.

Since burdock is a biennial, these burdock plants were already large and have since grown even bigger. They would make nice show pieces in an edible landscape, if they weren’t randomly located in our front lawn! In late spring, the second year roots are too big and tough to harvest for food. Plus, with the size of these plants I can’t fathom how big the roots must be. When we harvested first year plants for roots last year, we invested a lot of effort for the amount of food we got out of it.

First Year Burdock Roots

First Year Burdock Roots

(I apparently never posted about eating burdock roots, oops? Rest assured, the julienned roots nicely complemented the other flavors in a stir fry.)

Like other biennials, second year burdock sends out flowering stalks. Before they flower, the immature stalks can be harvested and many sources said they were the best part of foraging burdock – no digging required! Timing is everything; as you wait, the stalks get bigger, but as they grow they become more tough and bitter.

Second Year Burdock Patch

Second Year Burdock Patch

Apparently, when you topple the flowering stalk, the burdock plant sends up a new one to try producing flowers and seed. I’ve read that one plant can produce as many as three harvests of immature stalks. Sounds like a great food source to me!

Each flowering stalk had several side-shoots as well. I wasn’t sure if they were worth collecting too, so I harvested everything to be sure. Since this little experiment – just a few days ago! – I read that if a burdock stalk has laterals, it is already past its prime. Oops again?

Burdock leaves allegedly have medicinal properties, but I know even less about foraged medicine than I do about foraged food! I just composted the leaves I cut from the stalks.

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Harvested Burdock Stalks

Honestly, I struggled to efficiently and quickly peel the stalks. I used a paring knife and kept working until I only had the smooth insides. The fibrous outer portion seemed to take forever to clean away.

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

A cross section of a large burdock stalk

The smaller stalks from the side shoots were easier to peel, but had a much smaller core for the amount of effort required to get to it.

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

A cross section of a small burdock stalk

I eventually gave up on peeling these smaller pieces.

Also, the burdock ended up staining my hands slightly brown. None of the resources I’d researched on burdock mentioned this side effect. Not as bad as black walnut, mind you, but still noticeable. You can just see the stain on my fingers in the pictures above.

At long last, we had a side-dish-worth of burdock stalks. It didn’t add up to much!

Finally... Peeled Burdock Stalks

Finally… Peeled Burdock Stalks

I microwave-steamed the stalks with two tablespoons of water for six minutes, stirring partway through. I dressed the stalks with butter and salt. The flavor was OK, but nothing remarkable. Certainly not worth all the attention they garner as a wild food. One book I read compared the flavor to cardoons, but I have never eaten a cardoon – I actually had to research what a cardoon even is – so I cannot offer an opinion there.

One of my kids bravely nibbled a bite, and claimed it tasted like artichoke hearts. And so it did! In this family, steamed artichokes are enjoyed with mayonnaise – hey, don’t judge! – and indeed we all enjoyed the burdock stalks a lot more after dipping them in mayo.

The real question is: would I do it again? I only harvested what I thought we would eat, so several stalks linger in my yard. Plus, the three plants who sacrificed their stalks ought to produce new ones as well. Maybe I will try slightly younger stalks next time… stay tuned!

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The Gardener’s Dilemma, Week Ending 3/31/2019

I’m late kicking off my garden this year. It’s been cold, the wind still blustery across my yard, and I don’t want to be outside. Plus I tried using “green mulch” last year, and frost bitten Austrian peas languish across beds and into the walkways. But company is coming, so I must get the garden and the yard to the point where they look presentable, even if they aren’t entirely productive.

But see… there’s these weeds.

Edible weeds.

And the weeds are growing now, when it’s still too cold for, well, almost anything accept weeds.

Best yet: they are growing without any work on my part.

But … they are weeds. They are thrive where they do not belong. And I need to remove them so I can grow the “real” food.

Chickweed (Stellaria media), my go-to replacement for salad lettuce in late winter:

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor), aka wild pansies, with their fragrant, edible flowers:

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) with its tart flavors providing a counterpart to the more stolid flavorsĀ  of other greens:

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

Miniature greens with the unflattering name of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta):

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), an unassuming green for general cooking purposes:

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Dead nettle’s frilly cousin, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), also a green of generic utility:

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Common burdock (Arctium minus), whose roots will make a lovely addition to a stir fry when the ground has thawed enough to dig it up:

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Field garlic (Allium vineale), the skinny, pungent relative of our domestic garlic and onions:

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

What I don’t have: peas, turnips, kale, lettuce, spinach, or any of the other spring crops we’re “supposed” to grow this time of year.

Maybe next week I’ll start gardening. Maybe.

P.S. – I did not include photos of wintercress (aka yellow rocket, Barbarea vulgaris) in this post, because the majority of my household considers it inedible. Boo.

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Weekly Weed Roundup, April 29

Just kidding! I would never use Roundup on my weeds. As I learn more about “weeds”, I am increasingly amazed that anyone would rather have a pretty green grass lawn instead of the natural bounty that surrounds us when the land is left to its own devices.

This week, broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) has become very prominent in my yard. For some reason, this is the only plantain variety around my house. The narrow leaf or ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is very common in the mid-Atlantic… just not at my house.

Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf Plantain

While plantain leaves are edible, I find them unpleasant and stringy when they get much larger than shown in this picture. (Hopefully the grass leaves give you some idea of scale – the whole plant is only about five inches across right now.) The leaves can also be made into tea, and are rumored to help with seasonal allergies. If my allergies act up this spring, I’ll try it and share the results with you. (All three of you!)

I recently identified a burdock (Arctium minus) in a overgrown area of my yard. Normally, I struggle to distinguish between burdock and various other large-leaved plants such curly dock (Rumex crispus). But the pale green woolly undersides of the leaves help indicate this is, indeed, burdock.

Greater Burdock


Greater Burdock - Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock – Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock leaves, roots, and young flower stalks are edible. You can even buy burdock seeds in some boutique garden catalogs. I decided to let this one hang around so I could photograph the flower stalk if this is a second-year plant. (Like many plants which are productive this early in spring, burdock is a biennial; it flowers in its second year of life.)

Speaking of wild things you can also grow in your garden… It was challenging to photograph this little guy among last year’s dead grass, but there is no doubt that this is a wild carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). If they are growing now, in the wild, then conditions are ripe to plant the D. carota sativa in your garden as well.

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne's Lace

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace

This carrot is still too small to bother eating, of course, but the roots are edible as long as you harvest before the plants form the white flowery umbrellas most people think of when they hear “Queen Anne’s Lace.” (Carrots are also biennials, like burdock.) The hairy leaves and stem provide one way to know this is “just” a carrot and not its toxic relative, poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

I have been working in the garden, as well as foraging. Any day the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll find me outside! I was weeding one bed, when I realized – as I was pulling teensy seedlings up, roots and all – that the “weeds” were in fact the choicest possible species: lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album).


Lamb's Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s quarter features sparkly – almost fairy-like – leaves at this early stage. Based on the reading I have done to date, they appear to be one of the healthiest greens a person can eat, and they have a long edible season as well. (Unlike dandelions or wild lettuce, for instance, which get more bitter as the summer sun and heat intensifies.) Needless to say, I left the rest of the seedlings be! They are welcome to grow here … until I get hungry later!