Japanese restaurants are very popular in America, even though half the time we have no idea what those ingredients are in our sushi rolls. Shiso, wakame, wasabi: the culinary chemistry is exquisite, but what plants do these come from? If you ever had sushi with what appeared to be pickled carrots, you were actually eating burdock root, which the Japanese call gobo. On the British Isles burdock root was historically fermented with dandelion root to make a dark beer. To this day, you can buy a non-alcoholic version of Dandelion and Burdock in British grocery stores – 'tall dark and drinksome' is the slogan of one of the popular brands. It tastes like root beer.
|noodles with pickled burdock||dried burdock root|
If you live anywhere in a temperate climate, you have seen burdock. If it's not in your yard, you've undoubtedly passed it in the car, growing at the edge of a farmer's field or in a ditch on the side of the road. You may know it as one of those insidious plants that leaves burrs (hence the name) stuck in your clothing or your pets' fur.
In 1941, George de Mestral was very irritated with those burrs as he and his dog walked in the Swiss Alps. Back at home he studied the burrs under a microscope, seeking to understand the mechanism that made them so sticky. A few years later he presented his findings to the world: a synthetic version of the seed heads of the burdock plant, which he named Velcro.