Arctium lappa

Family: Asteraceae

Countries: Africa, Asia, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, England, Europe, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mediterranean, Middle East, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Sicily, Slovenia, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, Wales

Arctium lappa can be found growing wild across Europe, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean, as well as other locations around the world.  In the UK, Arctium lappa is more commonly known as Greater Burdock, but I’m sure that this plant has a range of common names, as it’s a native plant of so many countries.

This is an edible and medicinal plant that is grown or foraged for food and medicine.  Arctium lappa roots and this plant’s young stems, flowering stems and immature flower buds are all edible; the roots have a sweet taste, white the stems have something akin to globe artichokes in their flavour.  Arctium lappa roots are used in a variety of dishes, they flavour a drink known as ‘Dandelion and Burdock’, and are used in Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean dishes.

If you’d like to grow Arctium lappa, choose a sunny or partially shaded, sheltered site.  Arctium lappa will be happy to grow in any moist but well-drained soil.  The best time to sow Arctium lappa seeds is from August to March.  This plant is best grown by sowing the seeds directly where you want them to grow and flower; this is beneficial for the gardener, too – as it saves time and resources in potting plants on.  If you have any problems germinating Arctium lappa seeds, try soaking the seeds in luke-warm water for a few hours, prior to sowing.

An incredibly handsome plant, Arctium lappa produces gorgeous heart-shaped leaves that attain vast sizes, and thistle-like, spiky buds that open to reveal rich purple coloured inflorescences.  As well as looking very attractive, Arctium lappa flowers attract a range of bee and butterfly species, who are drawn to the clusters of nectar-rich flowers.  As the flowers fade, they retain the same shape of the flower buds, forming brown seed heads surrounded by spikes.  Each spike forms a miniature hook that enables the seed heads to easily attach themselves to the fur of any animals that brush past the plant.  Accordingly, animals transport the plant’s seed heads, allowing Arctium lappa seeds to be sown far from the mother plant – thereby extending the plant’s range.

Arctium lappa is a biennial plant that establishes itself, forming roots and leaves in its first year of growth.  Plants bloom, set seed and die in their second year.  Naturally, these plants attain their maximum height in their later stages of growth, when they form spreading plants that reach anywhere from around 1m (3.3ft) tall, all the way up to around 2m (6.6ft) tall.

In some countries, Arctium lappa has become an invasive plant and something of a nuisance.  If you want to stop this plant from self-seeding, deadhead the flowers promptly as the flowers fade, before seed heads form.

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