Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diggin' Roots: Burdock, Yellow Dock, Dandelion, Sassafrass

I've been digging roots, as many as I can find. And here's a confession of a beginning forager: It simply didn't occur to me to mark plants whose roots I wanted to dig. See, you are supposed to dig the roots after the plants have died down; however, when the plants have died down, I can no longer find the plants! Isn't this the dumbest thing? Why didn't I think to mark exactly where those evening primroses were? Or the jerusalem artichokes? Jeez. Well, next year.

What you see top left is a first year burdock, the basal rosette. It is the first year roots you want. The plant is a biennial and will grow again next year, sending up a large flower stalk. These plants get HUGE. Here's a picture of a second year plant.

He's a big guy, ain't he? Anyway, I've been spending hours here and there digging roots. It is not like picking up a head of lettuce at the store. Foraging is work, good hard work, enough to lessen my guilt for not taking up Shy Wolf's exercise routine. :) And after you get your roots home, then it is another hours of time cleaning the roots and chopping them up. That, of course, is when my back spasms and goldenrod oil is called for.

I find the burdock all over the place. There's some in the garden, some at a neighbor's house when I went over to bring him some garlic syrup and elderberry extract (first cold/flu of the season), and some by a roadside. They are handsome, virile plants--I tend to think of them in masculine terms, apparently.

The first year roots are both edible and medicinal. Burdock is a capital blood-purifier, containing lots of minerals and trace minerals. It is a good and gentle detoxifier, and will strengthen the body. Check out its nutritional value here, and be sure and scroll down the page.

Prodigal Gardens has a nice section on burdock, complete with recipes. I want to eat some of what I gathered and save the rest for an extract. I've already eaten a couple of the root slices and found them tasty, if a bit woody.

I've already discussed yellow dock and dandelion, so I won't get into them here. Besides eating the greens, the dandelion roots can also be eaten (yellow dock roots are too bitter), but I think I'll be using these as teas and extracts. It is easy to tell the yellow dock root from the dandelion--the yellow dock roots are intensely yellow, and dandelion roots are whitish and sweeter. I picked them both at the same time, but had no trouble telling which roots were which.

There's a veritable host of little sassafrass saplings to the side of our garden, so I tried digging up a bunch of them. Digging tree roots is a lot harder than the other plants mentioned here. Yowsa. I guess I'd better start getting in better shape to dig these fellas. I did get three good size roots, though, and shaved off the bark to use for sassafrass tea. The shaved roots went into a pot with about a quart and a half of water, boiled for 10 minutes. The tea became a bright, handsome red and smelled terrific. I know that the FDA has banned safrole, the essential ingredient in sassafrass root and bark, reporting that it can cause liver damage and perhaps cause cancer. Well, maybe so, but a few cups of delicious sassafrass tea probably won't hurt.

Besides, I tend not to believe the FDA, since I don't think it is a good idea to trust an agency that has lied to me before on many things. The FDA likes pharmaceuticals (as in, they know where the money is), and I like plants and herbs. Both pharmaceuticals and plants can kill you and make you sick, but except for the rare poisonous plants, plants and herbs are far better for you than the chemical stews of Big Pharma. Just my 2 cents worth.

I also took the sassafrass leaves to dry. Dried and powered, they can be used to thicken stews and gumbos, and probably used for tea as well.




Survival Chick said...

I love your blog! Honestly you have got me so interested in looking at weeds! :) Or what I thought were weeds!

Thanks for the sound advice...

Patricia said...

I'm glad, Chick. I'm glad you're looking. Many of these weeds are very good eating, btw. We've been eating them for a year now. I've got lots of frozen lambsquarters and I'm saving it for when I get a real jones for it this winter. Get yourself a book and head outdoors and there is at least a salad if not more.

Survival Chick said...

Going to do it! I'll let you know what book I purchased and you can tell me if I wasted my money or not ;)

Patricia said...

My advice is to get at least two books--one with good photos--the Peterson's Guide to Medicinal and Edible Plants (Central Region) is great unless you are on one of the coasts. AND get a good book that goes in more detail on how to prepare, medicinal uses, food uses, etc. With the way the world looks these days, these books would be an excellent investment. Good luck!

Susie said...

I have a ton of lambsquarters and will cook some like I do spinach, use in soups and freeze it now that I see from your site that I can. Blanching required first or no?

Thank you,

silysavg said...

I'm with you with regard to sassafras tea. It's a really great 'occasional'.
Very nice blog
Anyway, I noticed you spell it '...frass'. ?

Debra Brooks said...

I came apon your blog today and saw what you said about the sassafras. The main reason the FDA banned it was because they used a very high concentrate on some lab rats and they were given it for a few weeks straight mind you, before they were poisoned by it. The Michael J fox foundation has been looking into it as a suppressant of parkinson's disease (the shakes) and that's what I have known it for .I am 48 yrs old and have been doing home herbalism since I was a kid in Ne. Pa. I learned from my foster grandma of 102 yrs old. :) I have grown up drinking the root tea, never had a single problem with it. I use the whole root the only thing I ever scraped off it was dirt. it's the bark root outside as well as the root itself that stops the shakes, just 2 cups first day and only a cup a day needed to suppress the shakes. You see I have a very rare form of M.S. I too have the shakes and bad nerves muscle problems, I moved to Ca. 20 yrs ago , well a bit over, but now that I am back, I again drink the tea and I am doing so much better than I have been. Did you know the first tooth brushes were made from sassafras root and birch root?, They would fray the root and brush the gums to stop gum disease, while they cleansed the teeth?. A poultice of the tree bark and leaves helps fever and swelling, especially due to open wounds and cuts. The root was also used as a cloth dye and air fresher. It truly is a miracle tree. :) Sorry I just felt I had to share my little story and info.

Debra Brooks said...

Oh I forgot to add that all the root beer you buy now adays is fake, sorry to say since the ban. Real root beer was made from sassafras root and birch root with a touch of maple sugar and some people added honey to it. I hope you read up on it. It's a wonderful drink, way better than any store bought. :)