How to Identify Edible Burdock

Written by wendy weissner
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How to Identify Edible Burdock
Dried and pressed burdock leaves and seed pods. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

By examining the shape and number of leaves, arrangement of seed pods and size of the plant, you can identify edible burdock. In the United States, great burdock (Arctium lappa) and common burdock (Arctium minus) grow as far north as Canada and as far south as North Carolina. Additionally, burdock has been wild crafted throughout Europe. This biennial plant flowers in its second year and the leaves, stalk and roots can be harvested in the fall of the first year. Useful in cooking as well as medicinal preparations, burdock aids in purifying the blood, increasing urination and stimulating bile secretion.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Field guide containing pictures of burdock
  • Measuring tape

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  1. 1

    Examine the shape of the leaves. Burdock leaves are large in the first year of growth and are similar to rhubarb leaves.

  2. 2

    Examine the seed pods if the plant is in bloom (July through October, depending on location). Burdock seed pods are reddish-purple with thistlelike flowers that are arranged in a loose raceme. They have burrs that will easily stick to clothing.

  3. 3

    Examine the stalk. Great burdock will have a solid stalk that looks celery-like with grooves. Common burdock will have hollow leaf stems that are not furrowed. Also, common burdock's flowers will not have stalks, or the stalks will be very short.

  4. 4

    Measure the height of the plant and the size of the flowers, if present. Great burdock will grow to about 2 to 9 feet tall, while common burdock grows to about 2 to 5 feet. Great burdock's thistlelike flowers will grow to 1 to 1.5 inches across, while common burdock's flowers reach about 0.75 inches across.

Tips and warnings

  • The plant is similar in appearance to rhubarb and care should be taken when identifying because rhubarb leaves are poisonous.

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