Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Burdock: Another one of my favorite unusual things. Of course, it is quite common in Japan, where I discovered it. My favorite way of making it is "kinpira gobo", which is slivered burdock and carrots stir fried and slightly simmered in sesame oil, mirin (sweet rice wine), and soy sauce, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. My Hokkaido Japanese family used to get quite a laugh when I would mistakenly describe the dish as cut up ningen and gobo (cut up people and burdock) instead of cut up ninjin and gobo (carrots and burdock).

Some folklore about kinpira gobo is that the dish is named for Kinpira Sakata who was superhuman . At that time, everything which was strong was called Kinpira. People who wish to be strong like Kinpira eat Kinpira-gobo! Actually, Sakata Kinpira is the name of a fictitious character in a "joruri" play (puppet drama) that gained popularity in the Edo period, who was depicted as a very strong man. Thus, the word kinpira was used to describe something strong.

I grew to love this dish so much, that I smuggled a couple roots home after my stay in Hiroshima as a high school student! Much to my surprise, my mother said she was quite familiar with the root, as her grandmother Coates who was quite an herbalist, dug up these roots in her native Kentucky to use in various herbal healing remedies.

I soon discovered that there is a lot of work involved in using fresh burdock. The roots are thin, and you have to scrape off all the outer coating, and then, the roots turn dark quite quickly! Keeping them soaking in cool water is the answer to that. However, I've found a much better answer these days. There are frozen packages of cut up burdock and carrots in the freezer of most local Japanese supermarkets! (My closest one is Nijiya). You just thaw quickly by taking the desired amount out of the bag and rinsing in a colander under running water! They are nice and evenly cut, and it makes the preparation a snap!

Going back to my Great-grandmother Emily Coates, naturally I begged my mother for more information about her healing remedies! Apparently, she was quite well-known for it, and when conventional doctors would give up and pronounce they could do no more (death or amputation expected) the local doctors would actually refer their patients to her! She saved many a life and limb from amputation according to my mother. On the other side of the family, earlier this month I heard from my Uncle Pat (Heath - I have 2 uncle Pat's, both born on St. Patrick's Day!), that my Grandmother Dorothy's family had an amazing healing salve called "sticking salve" that was composed of herbs, and just the last little bit in the family saved his leg from gangrene! Everyone is interested in the recipe for that one!

Of course I looked into the healing properties of burdock. I found a good, brief synopsis at Whole Health MD: "Burdock has traditionally been used for a wide variety of conditions, including chronic skin ailments, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and cancer prevention. Animal studies indicate that burdock possesses strong hypoglycemic (sugar-lowering) properties, which give burdock theoretical clinical potential for blood sugar control. Burdock has also been used as a diuretic, a mild laxative, and a digestive aid."

On top of being very tasty, it's nice to know it's such a healthful food!

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