Although the Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) has a quite extensive range both in Norway and most of Europe in general, it seems absent in the area I grew up. Because of that I have never tasted this wild root before. In the upper temperate/subarctic zones, such big, edible roots are only found on a very few species. It’s easily recognised by it’s large leaves.
The plant is biennial. I dug up two roots, one was obviously from last year and one seemed like it had grown from a seed this spring. This rather big one, held by my 3 year old daughter is probably on it’s second year. It was quite hard to dig up, dispite nice loamy soil because of a large number of rocks.
The way I do it with such roots is that I skin off the outer layer, I know a lot of people scrape them and wash them, but I don’t think it’s worth the hassle. And with a few species, like Cow Parsley the bitter taste is found in the outer layer and removing it will make it good (but bland) with only one cooking instead of several. Whether this is also true of burdock I can not tell, since I haven’t tried anything else than removing the outer shell.
Young roots seems quite pleasant to eat raw and has a nice texture not unlike bamboo shoots. The older root was almost like wood and I fried it in a little oil first and then cooked it in soy for a short while. This made achieve the bamboo shoot texture and it became rather good eating. I added it to some ready made pastasauce.
The plant is medicinal (blood purifying and a number of other things) and should not be eaten in excess. Pregnant women, not at all.
The cooking pit is a simple, but effective way of cooking large pieces of meat or vegetables. Compared to cooking directly on the fire, this method requires less attention from the cook as you can be off working on something completely else while dinner is made.
Dig a hole in the ground.
There are essentially two different ways of utilizing such a pit. Either you light a fire in the pit lined with rocks and remove the coals before cooking or you dump preheated rocks in the pit before putting the food on top. In either case, put some hot rocks ontop of the food also. The purpose of the heated rocks is that they slowly release heat, making this function like an oven. Cover it well to keep the heat in. A piece of birch bark and sand on top will work. This time I didn’t bother with that though, since the piece of meat was rather small and cooking then quick.
After a couple of hours, depending on how long you want it to cook, remove the cover and take out the food. Yummy!
I have yet to try cooking burdock roots, but I hear it’s delicious. Next time I might take some roots back home with me to give it a try. Where I come from burdock is virtually nonexistant. I have seen it once I believe, but it doesn’t grow there anymore. So when I found a few plants here in Trondheim I decided to gather a bunch of seed heads to cultivate it back home.
The seed heads are spikey and will attach to clothes and fur, which is their spreading strategy. The seeds will drop out while you walk, potentially dispersing them over a wide area. Instead of burying the whole seed heads, I decided on separating them. I found that rubbing a whole bunch of seed heads between my palms would make them stick together and release the majority of the seeds after some pulling and crushing. The chaffes would lock together so I put them together, I think this might be the new in kettle brushing… hehe. Plenty of seeds here, according to pfaf.org, they are best sown in situ in the autumn, but I’ll see if I plant them in December, if there isn’t frost in the ground that is.
If you ever choose to venture into mountains of Telemark, know this: There are virtually no easily accessible plant foods. Here are a few notable ones in the lower valleys, which can be gathered in reasonable quality and tastes good. I don’t have many photos here I’m afraid.
Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
Learn to identify the rosettes. It grows on poor soil, sometimes in large quantities. The roots are often of a good size and they taste almost like potato. Eat only young roots. The ones that has grown a stem are usually woody. The stems and leaves are supposedly edible too, though I have not tested this out for myself.
Caraway (Carum carvi)
Grows mostly on the pastures and fields of the lower valleys. They can be hard to spot later in the season, but in the spring they are amongst the most prominent plants on the fields. Look for bushy rosettes. Be careful not to pick some of the dangerous species in this family. The roots are rather big and fairly spicy in taste. The seeds have a very distinct, spicy taste and are often used in traditional Norwegian cheese. I personally find the flavour and aroma of the seeds a little too pungent.
Orpine (Sedum telephium)
Grows underneath mountains on often quite thin and rocky soils. The roots are of quite good size and taste almost like potato. The leaves are supposedly edible too, though I haven’t tested this. The picture below is of a plant that is almost withered.
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Like Ray Mears do in his Wild Food DVD, I prefer cooking directly in the fire, opposite of using a cooking wessel. The simplicity of it appeals to me, and I also feel that the taste is enhanced compared to using a pot. Pottery doesn’t transport very well since it is so prone to breakage and birch bark kettles are a mess to clean and needs to be watched very carefully not to burst be destroyed by the flames. And using stones is too bothersome for everyday use I feel. Cooked water is rarely necessary anyways.
The main danger of this method is that the food is scorched. If you have a big or slow cooked piece you can not cook it directly on big, hot coals as it will burn on the outside before it’s cooked on the inside. Put it at the side and sweep some ash and coals over it. The roots of for example Alpine Bistort or Cattails are excellent cooked this way. Smaller fish can be cooked directly on the large coals, as you are likely only to scorch the skin before it’s cooked. The fish on the photo was about 1kg big, which is about maximum for this way of cooking. If any bigger it must be suspended, on a stick, like in this article.
A variation on this method is to cook on a hot rock either on the side of the fire or directly on top of a large flat one. For food that doesn’t stay well together like roe from fish or if you don’t want all that ash sticking to your food, this is better. If you cook it ontop of a flat rock like on the photo, it will also slow cook, suitable for medium sized pieces of meat. I didn’t have it, but if you have some fat to lubricate your rock with, you essentially have a frying pan. 😀
Some words on the fish intestines cooking on this picture. There is liver, roe, semen (don’t know what fish semen is called) and heart. On lean autumn fish I usually don’t eat anything except these and the head (cheeks and brains). The rest can be discarded, dried or thrown to the dogs. Eating only lean fish will kill you (proteine poisoning), while these parts contain a lot of juicy fat. Ummm… The male fish often remains quite fatty throughout the season, they you can eat as a tasty belly filler.