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While the young leaves and stems are edible when prepared like spinach and asparagus, the most desired part of the plant is the long slender root. When very young, the roots can be gathered, peeled, and eaten raw like radishes (add a little salt). The mature root should be peeled, scalded, and then cooked any way desired.
The flavor of burdock varies with conditions, but is similar to the taste of Jerusalem artichokes, scorzonera, or parsnips. It is sweetly pungent and agreeable. The texture is crisp when raw. Wild American burdock is very bitter and must be cooked in a manner to remove the bitterness.
Culpepper gives the following uses for the Burdock:
'The Burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying, wherby good for old ulcers and sores.... The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking in the sinews or arteries give much ease: a juice of the leaves or rather the roots themselves given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents- the root beaten with a little salt and laid on the place suddenly easeth the pain thereof, and helpeth those that are bit by a mad dog:... the seed being drunk in wine 40 days together doth wonderfully help the sciatica: the leaves bruised with the white of an egg and applied to any place burnt with fire, taketh out the fire, gives sudden ease and heals it up afterwards.... The root may be preserved with sugar for consumption, stone and the lax. The seed is much commended to break the stone, and is often used with other seeds and things for that purpose.'
It was regarded as a valuable remedy for stone in the Middle Ages, and called Bardona. As a rule, the recipes for stone contained some seeds or 'fruits' of a 'stony' character, as gromel seed, ivy berries, and nearly always saxifrage, i.e. 'stone-breaker.' Even date-stones had to be pounded and taken; the idea being that what is naturally 'stony' would cure it; that 'like cures like' (Henslow).
Though growing in its wild state hardly any animal except the ass will browse on this plant, the stalks, cut before the flower is open and stripped of their rind, form a delicate vegetable when boiled, similar in flavour to Asparagus, and also make a pleasant salad, eaten raw with oil and vinegar. Formerly they were sometimes candied with sugar, as Angelica is now. They are slightly laxative, but perfectly wholesome.