Dirty Roots (Burdock and Dandelion)
by A.J. Ahlberg-Venezia
“Kraut is picked, Wurzel dug out…”
“Dip your wings in mead, and your
feathers in melted honey
bring mead on your wing
and bear honey on your cape
to be ointment for the sick
to pour on the injuries”
The Kalevala (considered to be the national epic poem
of Finland) contains several references to mead and magical
ointments. In the above “Resurrection” rune
song, Lemminkäinen’s mother rakes up her son’s
innards and assorted body parts from the bottom of the
River of Tuonela. By the side of the river, she knits,
weaves, and sews his entrails and sinews together, making
her son physically whole--but not yet alive. It is her
ritual chanting and the application of mead-enriched magical
ointments to her son’s body which restore the divine
spark of life to Lemminkäinen. This beautiful rune
song describes a mother’s love for her child and
healing in wholeness, compassion, and simple ceremony—the
Wise Woman tradition. This essay invites you to think
about herbs as food, rather than medicine. It provides
a recipe for an alcoholic herbal beverage which uses an
easily gathered herb (Kraut) growing just outside your
door. By request, a recipe for burdock root (Wurzel) is
Taraxacum officinale is a member of the Dandelion Subfamily
of the Asteraceae (Aster Family). The name Dandelion is
widely accepted to be a derivative of the Latin Dens leonis
or dent de lion (lion’s tooth), referring to the
jagged, toothy leaves. The word officinale refers to her
historical use as a medical remedy, especially as a bitter
tonic. Her deep root (which can reach three feet in length)
draws minerals up within reach of shallow-rooting plants,
so dandelion is very helpful to her green sisters. To
us, she offers vitamins A, B, and E and more. Just two
fresh-picked leaves give a day’s supply of C (which
Weed calls the “bend over” vitamin--bend over,
pick, and munch two fresh leaves for your daily C). She
is also rich in phosphorus and magnesium. Dandelion, like
burdock, is one of the most esteemed herbs in healing.
Dandelion is reviled by lawn manicurists since eradication
is impossible; any fragment of remaining root will send
up a new plant. Therefore, an alliance with dandelion
might be a realistic alternative to constant warfare.
Not that any of you wild readers would engage in dandelion
warfare; but you may wish to suggest this to your neighbors
or relatives engaged in search-and-destroy dandelion missions.
Most of the dandelion’s family members are somewhat
diuretic and dandelion markedly so. Unlike pill diuretics
which leach potassium from your body, dandelion supplies
potassium while acting as a diuretic. She also gives the
gift of iron, so for monthly water retention, try a cup
or two of dandelion leaf tea daily prior to onset of bleeding.
As a cholagogue and hepatic, she increases bile secretions
in the gall bladder and liver. Her leaves can be chopped
and cooked like any greens or added to soups and salads.
The “dandelion” leaves sold in whole foods
stores are often leaves of her sister Chichorium intybus
(chicory), but no matter. Chicory leaves, in the words
of the Heroic Galen, are also a “friend to the liver”.
However, wild dandelion leaves are closer to you than
the market, so harvesting is usually no problem. The Pennsylvania
Dutch customarily served dandelion greens on Maundy Thursday.
Regular consumption of dandelion leaves will reportedly
improve tooth enamel (likely due to dandelion’s
high calcium content).
Dandelion blossoms add a hot, sunny flavor to salads.
If you’re reluctant to eat the blossoms, try the
following Dandelion Cordial recipe. Silverman suggests
serving this on ice with a slice of lemon, or mixed with
hot water and honey to soothe coughs. To make Dandelion
Cordial, harvest 2 to 3 cups dandelion blossoms, 2/3 cup
sugar, rind of ½ organic lemon, 1 quart vodka.
Cut off green bottoms of unwashed blossoms. Mix all ingredients
and put in a jar, capping and storing in a dark place.
Shake daily to dissolve sugar. After two weeks, strain
through filter paper and store in a bottle with a tight
For a nourishing soup, mince a few garlic cloves and chop
an onion along with raw (not parboiled) burdock, carrots,
potatoes, and parsnips (about 6 cups total). Add about
a cup of chopped dandelion leaf and dried kelp (seaweed
expands, so cut into small pieces). Cover with several
inches of water in stock pot and bring to a boil, then
simmer till vegetables are tender, adding more water as
needed. Add salt and pepper if you like. I add nettle
infusion to the serving bowl for a really rich soup. Nettles
are high in protein, so her infusion only keeps about
two days. Store the cold infusion separately and add to
the soup being served. See Healing Wise for this and other
soup recipes. Breast Cancer? Breast Health also contains
delicious immune boosting soup recipes that are often
part of lunch served at the Wise Woman Center. Once you’ve
tasted them, you’ll want to make them yourself.
Arctium Lappa (burdock) also belongs to the Asteraceae
but is classed with the Artichoke Tribe by Elpel. My green
ally has always been stinging nettle. After securing my
alliance, I strayed with burdock (feeling somewhat guilty,
I might add) and began drinking the hot infusion in place
of my morning coffee (the alkaloid caffeine is a monkey
on my back). Bring dried root (three teaspoons per cup
of water or more to your taste) and water to boil in a
covered pan; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least
twenty minutes. You can strain the roots and use them
a second time. As I got to know burdock, I discovered
that like stinging nettle, burdock has a long association
with Donar (Thorr), the Thunder God. Donnerbesom, donnerdistel,
and donnerflug are just three names found in Grimm. This
is quite fitting, for burdock is a large, handsome, and
robust plant, easily recognized by her bristled purple
flower heads and broad, ruffled leaves.
Burdock is called Gledda Wortzel by the Pennsylvania Dutch—a
corruption of the German Klette Wurzel. Classical writers
referred to burdock as Prosopium (masked), as her leaves
served as face masks in Greek drama. Burdock also appears
as “Lappa root” in later texts. Arctium is
believed to be a corruption of the Greek arctos (bear),
and lappa (to sieze). Lappa may also be a derivative of
the Celtic llap (hand). Grieve notes that the English
folkname Herrif may be a corruption the Anglo-Saxon words
hœg (hedge) and reafian (to sieze). These words all
refer to the grasping action of the burrs. Continental
farm women wrapped butter in burdock leaves when bringing
their ware to market, hence the folk-name beurre-dock
or butter-dock (dock, in general, simply refers to a broad
leaf). The Romans brought burdock across the Continent
in their travels. American colonists, bringing the herb
and lore to the New World, tied burdock leaves over the
womb to prevent miscarriage or a prolapsed uterus.
Burdock leaves were also tied (with their points facing
out) around the wrists and ankles of feverish folk, in
accordance with the belief that the fever would be drawn
to the extremities and out through the leaf points. Burdock
is known as a womb ally by American Indians and midwives,
for the deep-rooted, steady support that this herb gives.
Burdock is one of the herbs in the anti-cancer (and much
bastardized) Essiac formula. The Essiac formula has been
so adulterated that a friend of mine was told that one
of the main ingredients of Essiac is a Chinese herb! Consult
Breast Cancer? Breast Health! for Wessiac—the Wise
Woman version of Essiac—instead.
Most of us know burdock from picking burrs off our clothes
and animals; in fact, burdock was the inspiration for
Velcro. Burdock prefers nitrogen-rich soils and is easily
found along roadsides and in meadows. Burdock is often
referred to as an alterative or blood cleanser; she strengthens
the kidneys and liver. She also is known as a "cooler",
of both inflammatory conditions (i.e., conditions ending
in –itis, such as bursitis and arthritis as well
as chronic allergies and herpes outbreaks) and pugnacious
personalities (see Healing Wise for an extensive discussion
of burdock). Topically, the grated fresh root can be applied
externally to arthritic joints while the infusion is drunk
freely. Anglo-Saxon leechers used burdock leaves for this
purpose. Note that a leecher in the context of the Anglo-Saxons
meant a healer, not the Heroic application of leeches.
The Anglo-Saxon word leac meant to heal; and leechers
certainly influenced Continental Europe. In the words
of Towler, "Saxons, Angles and Jutes brought with
them a system of medical practice based on their wide
knowledge of herbs and superstitious beliefs in incantations
and charms". Migrations of people, of course, always
result in the introduction of new plants, by accident
If you plan to wildcraft, use only the first year root
(she’s a biennial) and harvest in the Fall when
the ground is very cold. If burdock is flowering, she
is a second year plant, and her root will be inedible
and unsuitable for medicine. Alcohol extracts medicine
from plants but destroys the vitamins and minerals. Since
burdock is a nourishing tonic and good for your gut, consumption
of both root and infusion is preferable to tincture for
treating chronic conditions. By supporting the liver (often
described as the seat of primitive emotions), burdock
heals all skin blemishes; dandruff, eczema and psoriasis.
Those conditions are signs that the liver is stressed.
When I mentioned this point to a friend, she remarked
that when her husband got (and stayed) sober, his severe
dandruff gradually went away, although she did not connect
the two events at the time. In my experience, emotions
held in the body are released with an alliance with burdock
together with body work such as deep tissue massage. This
is particularly true if you are someone who supports others
emotionally or financially or tend to hold emotions inside.
Deep tissue work can often release deep memory or emotion
held in the body. Let burdock support you!
Fresh burdock root is called Gobo in Asian markets; use
as a root vegetable but do parboil first. Burdock’s
large, thick taproot is sehr Thorian, and my husband has
noticed that I fondle the roots too much while making
my selection at the local whole foods market, as I ponder
anew why this herb must have been dedicated to big-hammer
swinging Thor. My heavy-lidded Thorian reverie is always
interrupted when my husband whispers into my ear, “Don’t
play with your food, dear…people are looking”.
At any rate, here is my recipe adapted from “Summer
Flush Supper”, one of the recipes found in Healing
Wise. Goat cheese is luscious and fitting for this dish,
but a mild grated cow cheese like jack can suffice. This
is not difficult to prepare, but it requires a few separate
steps. You can parboil and refrigerate burdock the day
before serving in order to save time. The amounts given
are approximate, as are the steps.
Seed oils (including flaxseed oil, sometimes referred
to as “cancer in a can”) contribute to a chronic
inflammatory condition, which is a stressor for the immune
system, so fruit oils are healthier. It’s best to
cook with imported Italian olive oil packed in large metal
containers, as oil sold in glass bottles is rancid. Avocado
oil is also a fruit oil but is cost prohibitive for cooking.
To learn more—much more—about inflammatory
conditions and their effect on the immune system and relation
to cancer, come to the Cancer Prevention workshop on October
24. You will learn invaluable and empowering (and the
very latest) information about cancer prevention and the
supporting cast of herbs.
Amy’s Thorian Casserole (modified Summer
3-4 burdock roots (depending on size)
1 lb. fresh mushrooms
2 cups wild rice
1 cup goat cheese
minced garlic to taste
olive oil and sherry
Prepare burdock: scrub, don’t peel, under running
water and cut into matchstick sized pieces. Soak in cold
water with a splash of vinegar (to retain burdock’s
color while cooking) for about 15 minutes. Drain and boil
the root in water for about 20 minutes and strain. You
can save the cooking water which leaches vitamins and
minerals from the root. I add two handfuls of bitchy nettles
to the strained cooking water, cover the pot, and steep
overnight for a very rich cold infusion (drink within
two days). Boil the burdock for another 15 minutes in
fresh water, and drain again. Cook rice in separate pan,
adding bullion if you like, and set aside (wild rice takes
three parts water to one part grain and needs about fifty
minutes cooking time). Saute the garlic over very low
heat in a small pan and set aside if you tend to burn
it; or add later to onions and mushrooms. In a larger
skillet, sauté mushrooms and onion, adding oil
in small amounts as needed. Add a splash of sherry. Tilt
the pan as the mushrooms cook, checking for and removing
excess fluid. Mushrooms should be moist but not soggy.
Add garlic, burdock and rice to the pan, folding gently
and adding salt and pepper if you like. When contents
are warmed, spoon into a casserole dish, and top with
cheese. Cover and heat in a low-medium oven until cheese
is melted. This can also be made the day before in its
entirety and refrigerated.
Remember that our ancestors got their root down and regularly
used the common weeds as potherbs, often depending on
them entirely for sustenance. Our local newspaper carried
a series on the Irish Potato Famine and noted that in
parts of Ireland, folks survived by eating nothing but
cooked nettles! If you hesitate to try new things, try
eating weeds in small amounts at first: tiny bits of seaweed
in tuna salad; violet leaves in tossed salads, and parboiled
burdock in a stir fry. Or ask a friend to prepare these
dishes for you. In this way, you will begin to think of
herbs as a part of the main dish rather than just the
seasoning for it. May the words and recipes in this essay
move you to try, in the words of Weed, the “deep
down dirty roots.” Guten Appetit!
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Wild Plants. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books.
Bosley, K. (1989). The Kalevala. Oxford: Oxford University
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Elpel, T. (1996). Botany in a Day, 4th Ed. Pony: Hops
Grieve, M. (1971). A Modern Herbal. Vol. I. New York:
Griggs. B. (1994). Green Witch Herbal. Rochester: Healing
Hoffmann, D. (1990). New Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury:
Element Books Limited.
Leavitt, J. (1986). Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America
1750-1950. New York: Oxford University Press.
Schultes, R. (1983). Medicines from the Earth. San Francisco:
Harper & Row.
Silverman, M. (1977). A City Herbal. New York: Ash Tree
Soule, D. (1996). Roots of Healing: A Woman’s Book
of Herbs. New York: Carol
Tatum, B. (1976). Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide.
New York: Workman
Towler, J. & Bramall, D. (1986). Midwives in History
and Society. Dover: Croom Helm.
Weed, S. (1989). Healing Wise. New York: Ash Tree Publishing.
Wertz, D. & Wertz, R. (1989). Lying-In: A History
of Childbirth in America. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wheelwright, E. (1974). Medicinal Plants and Their History.
New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Ahlberg-Venezia, M.A. is a völva passionately
spinning spirit into academentia. Her quantitative research
on Blood Mysteries among pan-Pagan women has been presented
at the Eastern Psychological Association and other conferences.
Amy is a live-out apprentice of Susun Weed and studies
lay midwifery with Jeannine Parvati Baker. A gentle intactivist
and spiritual counselor, Amy works to support women declining
into the dark side of in/fertility through ritual. Amy
is a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
and has inspired bleeding in sensual beauty among women
of all ages as a result of her many talks. Her articles
on Germanic socioethnobotany have appeared in Idunna:
A Journal of Northern Tradition.