I’ve grown burdock on the balcony this year, the favourite wild winter food of goldfinches (stillits) and greenfinches (grønnfink). I can then watch them feeding from my desk :)
Sitting at my desk this morning I noticed the winter’s first goldfinch (stillits) sitting having a scratch in a tree in the garden (first video)….and the rest of the flock of more than 10 birds were feeding on burdock (borre) in the garden. The first ever large flocks of goldfinches started overwintering in my area in my garden in 2003 and have been a regular feature ever since, attracted to seed of burdock which I’ve been growing as vegetables in the garden for many years! Nowadays this bird has established itself in the lowlands around the Trondheimsfjord! This is another reason why winter is the most beautiful time of year here, despite the loss of direct sunshine for several weeks!
On burdock / borre (Arctium spp):
I was keen to visit a Korean supermarket when I was in Vancouver and some Koreans I met in Victoria on a walk recommended H Mart, a chain of supermarkets specialising in Asian food and particularly Korean. The “H” in “H Mart” stands for Han Ah Reum, a Korean phrase meaning “one arm full of groceries”!
I was hoping to find Korean Aster (chwinamul or Aster scaber), but I couldn’t find it… However, there were a few other interesting perennial vegetables!
One of my favourite multi-purpose vegetables and one of my first unusual vegetables that I grew in my garden in the 80s was burdock or borre, more specifically various Japanese cultivars of Arctium lappa, hardly used in Europe and North America apart from a few foragers, even though it’s a common wild plant and hardy. Although it is best known as a root vegetable, there are varieties bred for their leaf petioles and the flower stems are really delicious! If you add to this that the seeds are foraged by various birds like goldfinches and greenfinches in winter in addition to being impressive photogenic plants which tolerated shady conditions, no permaculture garden should be without them!
In the album below are pictures I’ve taken over the years, in my garden, in botanical gardens and in the wild. There follows links to various blog posts about burdock!
Burdock in Japan
Burdock and goldfinches
Greenfinches on burdock
Cardboard and fiberboards from Burdock and about its cultivation
An interesting barlotto (burlotto?)
Perennial Greens June 2015 (including burdock flower stems)
Flower stem sweet and sour
Burdock Flower Stalk Curry
Edinburgh’s Burry Man
This album was first published on FB in June 2012, now “regurgitated” here:
“What for dinner? “Burdock flower stalk, nettle and the onion that nods curry” sounds interesting, so why not. So it was to be… I had completely missed this amazing vegetable and this experiment was prompted by foraging author Leda Meredith waxing eloquent about it a few days ago, so thanks to her. How did I miss it? Well, Cornucopia II doesn’t mention this part being eaten, just the leaf stalks – I’d tried them and they were fiddly to peel and bitter. The flower stalks were easy to prepare and once peeled had an excellent sweet crunchy taste with no bitterness.”
A small number of goldfinches spend their winter holiday in the lowlands around Trondheimsfjord, a very good choice I would say! I’ve never seen them in summer here . I heard the characteristic twittering flight call this morning for the first time this winter and then saw 4 of them this afternoon on burdock (borre) seed heads next to my outhouse (see the two videos below). Goldfinches have long and thin bills allowing them to extract seeds from burdock, other thistles, sunflowers and teasel /kardeborre (Dipsacus), although they have never shown any interest in the teasel I’ve grown for them.
You can read how my growing burdock as a vegetable attracted them to my garden , at that time a rare bird in this area:
The map below shows the concentration of sightings of flocks of goldfinches in Malvik in my garden and elsewhere nearby from Malvik to Midtsandan, on the southern shores of the fjord (only flocks of more than 20 birds are plotted).
Documentation of yet another amazing day during last week’s Perennialen III in Hardanger!! Pictures taken on a fantastic 6-7 hour round trip from Eirik Lillebøe Wiken and Hege Iren Aasdal Wiken’s house to their shieling (støl or seter in Norwegian). We took our time botanising on the way up, passing through different types of forest on the way up, from alder (or), ash (ask), planted spruce (gran), lime (lind), elm (alm), hazel (hassel), aspen (osp) and birch (bjørk) at the highest levels. Lower down, old apple trees witnessed that these steep slopes had at one time been worked for fruit production, no easy matter….
Eirik and Hege are planning to rejuvenate and replant some of this area and have planted a multispecies forest garden above and below the house, probably one of the most dramatic forest gardens in the world (more later).
Ostrich Fern (strutseving)
Ants on pine tree
Aspen (osp) and the fjord
Young blackcap (munk)
I’ve grown burdock in my garden, originally mainly as a root vegetable, since the 80s when Japanese varieties such as Takinogawa Long and Watanabe Early began to appear in vegetable seed catalogues in the UK. In japan, it’s an important root crop that is available in all supermarkets both as fresh roots and in various processed products (also fermented):
The Goldfinches (stillits) are back. They are winter visitors here and, as far as I know, it isn’t known where these birds breed, perhaps in the Baltic states /Finland, moving westwards to overwinter in our warmer weather!
These beautiful birds started appearing in my garden some 15 years ago as I grew and saved seed of vegetable burdock (borre) or Arctium lappa, their main food here in winter. At that time my garden was the best place to see them and I had several visits from bird photographers and birdwatchers to see them. It must be a bad year for burdock (there’s not much in my garden) as they’ve gone straight for the bird feeder, something that doesn’t usually happen until later in the winter.