Burdock / Gobo
[Greater Burdock, Beggar's Buttons; Gobo (Japan); Ueong (Korea); Bardana, Garduna (Portugal); Arctium lappa]
This plant, native from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the British Isles to Japan, can grow to over 9 feet tall, with a tap root extending more than a yard into the ground. Burdock is usually grown in raised beds of soft soil because harvesting the roots would otherwise be very difficult.
While burdock was once a significant food item over much of Europe, it is no longer so much used there, but is very much used in East Asia, particularly Japan, Taiwan and Korea. It is also still used in Portugal, Italy, and Brazil. In Japan very young roots are cooked pickled and dyed orange for use in sushi bars, for what is called "Carrot Roll" here in California. Young leaves and stems are also edible.
More on Daisy Family - Roots, Seeds
Buying: These are very common in the Asian markets here in Southern California. Most markets cut them in segments and sell them shrink wrapped on a foam tray, but some do sell them full length. The photo specimens were from 168 market on Valley Blvd. in Alhambra.
The small orange pickled variety (Yamagobo) can be easily found in markets serving a Korean or Japanese community. Around here that means Korean, the Japanese having been rather thoroughly assimilated. Ingredients: Burdock, water, amino acid, salt, sorbitol, malic acid, citric acid, FD&C Yellow #6, potassium sorbate - made in Commerce, California. These were about 7-1/2 inches long and 0.4 inch diameter.
Cooking: Gobo roots contain significant iron, so will quickly become a gray color after cooking. As with other iron rich roots, such as Jerusalem Artichokes, adding Citric Acid (1/4 t per quart of water) or Lemon Juice (1 Tablespoon per quart of water) for the last 5 minutes of simmering prevents this. Gobo root is considered particularly harmonious with pork, and often accompanies pork in miso soups. It can also be deep fried similarly to potato chips.
Young flower stalks can be harvested before the flowers appear, and used as a cooked vegetable, having a flavor similar to the related artichoke.
Roots, foliage and seeds are are traditionally use as medicinals for a wide range of ailments. They are currently under fairly intense study, and some of these usages, including against inflammation and cancer cells. Burdock is used in a number of shampoos and other hair care products.