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Arctium lappa, commonly called greater burdock, gobō,edible burdock, lappa, or beggar's buttons, is a biennial plant of the Arctium (burdock) genus in the Asteraceae family, cultivated in gardens for its root used as a vegetable. It is an invasive weed of high-nitrogen soils.
The flowers are purple and grouped in globular capitula, united in clusters. They appear in mid-summer, from July to September. The capitula are surrounded by an involucre made out of many bracts, each curving to form a hook, allowing them to be carried long distances on the fur of animals. The fruits are achenes; they are long, compressed, with short pappuses. The fleshy tap-root can grow up to 3 feet (0.91 m) deep.
Distribution and ecology
This species is native to the temperate regions of the old world, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and from the British Isles through Russia, and the Middle East to China and Japan, including India.
It is naturalized almost everywhere and is usually found in disturbed areas, especially in soil rich in nitrogen. It is commonly cultivated in Japan where it gives its name to a particular construction technique, burdock piling.
It prefers a fresh, worked soil, rich in humus, and should be positioned in full sunlight. Burdock is very reactive to nitrogen fertilizer. Propagation is achieved through sowing the seeds midsummer. The harvest occurs three to four months after the seeding until late autumn, when the roots become too fibrous.
Greater burdock was used during the Middle Ages as a vegetable, but now it is rarely used, with the exception of Japan where it is called gobō (牛蒡 or ゴボウ), Taiwan (牛蒡), Korea where it is called ueong (우엉), Italy, Brazil and Portugal, where it is known as bardana or "garduna". Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about 1 meter long and 2 cm across.
Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear. The taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related.
In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. The root contains a fair amount of gobō dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low calorie. It contains polyphenols that causes darkened surface and muddy harshness by formation of tannin-iron complexes. Those polyphenols are caffeoylquinic acid derivatives.
The root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes. The harshness shows excellent harmonization with pork in miso soup (tonjiru) and takikomi gohan (a Japanese-style pilaf).
A popular Japanese dish is kinpira gobō, julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil. Another is burdock makizushi (rolled sushi filled with pickled burdock root; the burdock root is often artificially colored orange to resemble a carrot). In Kyoto, gobō can also be found as a snack food similar to potato chips. The root is eaten cooked and the young sprout can be eaten just like asparagus. Gobo is also used in tempura.
Use in traditional medicine
Dried burdock roots (Bardanae radix) contain mucilage, sulfurous acetylene compounds, polyacetylenes and bitter guaianolide-type constituents. They are used in Western folk medicine as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and a blood purifying agent. Anecdotal reports from the 19th century suggest that this medicinal plant has also been used by the Ojibwa tribe, and today, in form of an ingredient in Essiac tea for the alternative treatment of some cancers. As an oily macerate, it is a component of natural cosmetics, shampoos and hair care products. Other plant parts are used to prevent baldness and to treat rheumatoid arthritis, skin infections, acne, boils, bites, eczema, herpes, impetigo, rashes, ringworm, sore throat, sciatica, poison ivy/oak, as a tonic and mild laxative, among other uses. The seeds of greater burdock are employed in traditional Chinese medicine particularly for skin conditions and in cold/flu formulas, under the name niubangzi (Script error; some dictionaries list the Chinese as just 牛蒡 niúbàng.)
Seeds contain arctigenin, which has shown nootropic effects in mice. Arctiin and its aglycone, arctigenin has shown potent in vitro antiviral activities against influenza A virus in mice. Arctiin is transformed into a number of estrogenic metabolites by human intestinal bacteria. Arctigenin has demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity in vitro. The seeds have shown some anticancer activity in vitro.