So I'm trying to grow my own.
Seeds were not easy to find. Fortunately Kitazawa Seed Company, an Oakland-based company that specializes in vegetable varieties that are popular in Asia (e.g., many types of eggplants, special varieties of radish, various greens) carries several types of burdock and my favorite nursery (Berkeley Horticultural Garden) was happy to place a special order. Kitazawa is an old company (by California standards), founded in San Jose in 1917. During WWII, the company closed down while the Japanese-American Kitazawa family was imprisoned in a relocation camps. After the war, they restarted the business and today sell approximately 250 seed varieties, which can be ordered on-line and found in some retail shops. In Berkeley I have seen their seeds at Berkeley Bowl and Berkeley Horticultural Nursery.
So far, the plants seem to be doing well, putting out new leaves and looking healthy.
"A Backup Voice"
Burdock isn't one of those superstar vegetable that tastes so much better when grown at home. Instead, it's subtle. Elizabeth Schneider's "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" has this background and a great description of its role:
Although the plant is naturalized throughout Europe and North America, it is probably Asian in origin, and it stakes its culinary claim in Japan." Used in European medical mixtures in Middle Ages or earlier. Seed company at the end of the 19th century, Vilmorin-Andrieux "The roots, which grow from 1 ft. to 16 inches long, are boiled and served up in various ways....If eaten when young, as it is by the Japanese, although it cannot be termed delicious, it is certainly not a bad vegetable."If the vegetable grows successfully, I'll have a post about how to use the vegetable in a few months.
Despite minimal international enthusiasm, I'd still say that the curious cylindrical yardstick has undeniable charm, if considered as a backup voice — not a lead singer.
Image of Lappa vulgaris from Wikimedia Commons, from a book from 1892.
Random link from the archive: Ubuntu: a well-reviewed vegetarian restaurant in Napa, California