Burdock, burdock, burdock, what a wonderful plant you are, and yet I feel with all sincerity that I owe you a rather large apology.
When years ago I read of your impressive size and flavour, of your abundance and ease to find, I sought you out, I found you without trouble all around, and dug up your roots. But in those early days of clamouring and clumsy wild food enthusiasm I was lazy and impatient, lacking in discrimination, and unaware of your full potential. Digging in stoney ground I only ever harvested an inch or two of your root, and most of that was more base of stem with all its debris of leaf die off rather than tender root.
Even worse, I would find you in your second year of life, just putting forth central flowering stems, dig up that couple of inches of root, find it all woody and lacking in tender substance, and toss you dismissively on the ground.
So let me thank you for allowing me a second, third, fourth, fifth and many more chances to get to know you, to make such an impressive suit from your huge and attractive leaves, to become a burdock man, and after years of friendship, have the opportunity to sing your praises to all who care to listen.
A suit of Burdock
Fun to make, and even more enjoyable to wear, or just carry, is a suit of burdock. The picture was taken at an event I was involved in a couple of years ago at Myatts Field near Brixton in London.
I’m not exactly shy, but nor am I in any way loud and ebullient. That, coupled with the fact that I travelled with my suit on a hanger as I went to the place via the London underground – a place of strangers furiously avoiding eye contact by plugging into i-pads, handheld computer games, ebook readers or the traditional head burying newspaper – made it so incredibly surprising how engaged people became.
From young kids, rebellious looking teenagers, smart looking business people, big muscular black men covered in gold chains to old and frail people, men and women, all sincerely wanted to know: “Was that a leaf suit I was carrying?” “Where are you going?” “What are you doing?” Never before nor since have I spoken to so many interested and smiling people on the London underground. Whether as catalysts for delightful and unexpected conversational encounters, through their calming presence that can help facilitate deep reflection, or through directly ingesting their vitality, plants are powerfully connecting: connecting to self, to others, to the earth.
Speaking of connection, indeed connecting so well it’s hard to disconnect them, brings me on to talk of the fascinating burs of burdock, and my second favourite burdock inspired suit: one made entirely from the green burs. Don’t I look fantastic ……..itchtastic!
Alas, it’s not me. Although I’d love to have the honour to be the famous Edinburg burry man, I’m not sure how you apply for the job, but am sure that I must be qualified (Actually I’m not as I wasn’t born in Queensferry. Damn!)
Held on the second Friday in August, the burry man’s day begins at 6am, as the 2-3 hour task of making the suit begins. As Richard Mabey describes it in his Flora Britanica:
“At 9am the Burry Man emerges into Queensferry High Street, carrying two staves bedecked with flowers. He walks slowly and awkwardly with his arms outstretched sideways, carrying the two staves, and two attendants, one on each side, help him to keep his balance by also holding on to the staves. Led by a boy ringing a bell, the Burry Man and his supporters begin their nine-hour perambulation of South Queensferry.
The first stop is traditionally outside the Provost’s house, where the Burry Man receives a drink of whisky through a straw.
Occasional offerings like this must keep him going throughout the day. At about 6 p.m., the Burry Man returns to the Town Hall, exhausted by his efforts and usually somewhat inebriated by his intake of neat whisky. Although it occurs only once a year, the task of being Burry Man is extremely demanding, requiring stamina, a strong bladder, an indifference to the discomfort caused by the more penetrative burs, and a conviction that this ancient custom should not die out.”
To read more about this fascinating custom follow the link by clicking here: