The weekend before last, I travelled to Kansas to witness one of my dearest friends marrying her incredible fiancé. It was beautiful; they were perfect! It was also a wonderful weekend for me catching up with great friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years (more on that in a later post).
In conversation with one of those friends we got to talking about some of his latest incredibly exciting projects and he introduced me to his wild food recipe Burdock Root Sautéed in Duck Fat. The gorgeous food photography alone tells me this is delicious, and I can’t wait to try it!
However, beside the recipe, the point of this post is that this conversation took me tripping off down a memory lane I hadn’t visited for a long time. The simple mention of burdock conjured the unique taste of Dandelion and Burdock, a drink that has been consumed in the UK since the middle ages (originally as mead, but in my experience as a soda). It is a drink I loved as a kid. I can smell and taste it in my mind, and I am instantly transported to sunny days running with my mates in the abundant woods and fields that surrounded the fairly new and burgeoning council estate where I grew up.
The Taste of Childhood
There are many tastes and smells that would take me back. After all, it’s a scientific fact that smells can unlock lost emotional memories (see this post for a layman’s read on why that is). Olfaction and taste are the oldest of the senses in terms of evolution, and the higher olfactory functions for H. sapiens are fascinating, so while you’re here take a look at some research on the subject here, and here, that will explain what I am on about in scientific terms.
My point is though, that there are some smells and tastes that have triggered specific forgotten (or at least not thought about) memories and emotions for me so consistently that I am now acutely aware of them, and the memory of that smell or taste triggers other associated memories for me (the brain is an astonishing organ, is it not?).
Dandelion and Burdock is one of those tastes/smells for me. One minute into the conversation, I was away in a happy nostalgic haze and a stream of consciousness got me thinking of other triggers for me:
Honeysuckle and Lavender, perfumes sending me to my Nanna’s little garden with the brick walled patio, where we set up the hose to play in the water; and a sloping plot overflowing with roses, carnations, dahlias, sweet peas, masses of veggies and blooms that were delicious and fragrant. It was just a tiny piece of English cottage beauty in the backyard of a terraced house in Peckham, South East London.
Parma violet sweets delivering me to a soggy (imagine that) Sunday morning watching Pipkins on the telly with my aggravating little brother (Sorry Col).
Grape bubblegum pops me to a roller rink in Toronto where 12 year old me is on the family holiday of a lifetime, and feeling rather cool in her knee socks, shorts and tie front top (12 going on 18 in my mind, lol).
My childhood was a very happy one. We didn’t have money, but I didn’t know it. I was lucky to grow up in a time and environment that gave me access to town and country alike, and all that has to offer, in a time when you could rely on your neighbors (and the world generally), and let your kids go out all day unaccompanied, and have them live to grow up and write this nonsense in a blog.
The Pain Amidst the Pleasure
Coming back around to the burdock and the reason for this reverie, the same conversation also brought to mind the Dock Leaf, and so back to wild plants…
The broad-leaved dock is another holdover from my childhood. It grows near stinging nettles and the story is that the leaves can be used to soothe the sting of the nettles. I was ALWAYS covered in bloody stinging nettle rash as a kid and I’d be there rubbing on the dock leaves as quickly as possible, and I’d be sure that the itch and burn was distinctly reduced. It is a traditional cure for nettle sting; however, scientifically, it apparently makes no sense, so is said to be a placebo in effect (sad news).
Dock leaves as a traditional remedy for nettle sting goes way back in British history. A metaphor used by Chaucer in his poem Troilus and Criseyde from the 1380’s reads “Netle in, dokke out,” the words even then being “taken from a charm for curing the sting of a nettle, repeated whilst the patient rubs in the juice from a dock leaf.”
That Dock is Still an Interesting Fella
Rumex obtusifolius is the broad leaved dock’s fancy name; and it has a whole host of other names (Common Dock, Round Leaf Dock, Butter Dock, Bitter Dock are just a few I have found). It is considered an “injurious” weed, and can be poisonous (consumed in large quantities). Its on the UK Weeds Act 1959 (yes it’s a thing) requiring landowners/occupiers to prevent the spread of said injurious weeds (good luck with that it is pervasive, and has a long tap root).
Despite all this, the plant is edible and is still used (along with other docks in the Rumex and Sorrel family such as curly dock, patience dock, and bistort) in recipes today. It is one of 50 Wild edible plants featured in Dina Falconi’s Foraging and Feasting, and those interested in wild and rare cooking still use it today. See here a recipe for Dock Dandelion and Nettle Spring Puddings from the Galloway Wild Foods Blog and Wild Food Girl’s many recipes using Dock (if, like me, you live at high altitude in Colorado Wild Food Girl’s blog is for you; The Botanical Arts Press blog is quite nice too).
I say still used because Docks plants are common in UK plant lore and have been used in remedies and balms for centuries. Take a look at this cool blog post that details some of this plant lore. Dock roots and leaves have been noted in the herbal remedies in many Early Modern recipe books, which leads me to mention another of my interests:
One of my Senior seminars when I took my English Lit degree was in Women and Medicine in Early Modern Literature taught by the fabulous and inimitable Rebecca Laroche. She literally wrote the book on Medical Authority and Englishwomen’s Herbal Texts, 1550-1650 and she is on the steering committee for Early Modern Recipes Online Collective EMROC whose work I have been following closely despite my side step into History as a discipline.
If you have found my ramblings about Dock leaves even faintly interesting you should hop over and look at the Recipes Project Blog and check out the #transcribathon happening on October 7th when transcribers around the world will use the Folger Shakespeare Library’s online transcription platform to “collaboratively produce a searchable transcription of Rebeckah Winche’s recipe book in twelve hours.” You can even join in!
OK. this was more rambling and convoluted than I ever intended it to be. As I haven’t been posting the chance that anyone will read it is slim, but I have had so much fun just putting it together.
LASTLY (but very not leastly – yes I know it’s not a word!) If you didn’t already click the link earlier in the post to find the Burdock Root Sautéed in Duck Fat Recipe (Remember the recipe?) You should do that now and visit Klint’s new blog, Klint Janulis: Stone Age Student; follow him on twitter, and Facebook find his awesome show 10000 BC on Channel 5 . I knew I’d get to the point eventually!
Just to be clear Burdock is not in the Rumex family, by the way. It was literally the name that got me thinking about Dock, that and the trip down memory lane!
Thanks for making it to the end of this strange old post!