The Burdock Recipe

Can be used for personal use only. No commercial use allowed.

(This was sent to me via email on January 11, 2013)

Burdock always reminds me of my grandmother. It grows rampantly in the muggy New York state summer equipped with sticky burrs that wreck havoc on sneakers, especially when it dries out in the fall. I never liked burdock much at all, especially when it would get in your hair.

When I was a kid I used to spend lots of time with my grandmother in the secluded little town of Mohawk, NY. She used to live on Green St. in a chubby, tan colored house that had a giant hilly yard surrounded by woods, that led to the old towpath on the Mohawk River. In her backyard she had lots of unkempt burdock bushes that used to get all over our shoes. I loved being at her house, where I could smell all of the wonderful things she would cook. Aside from Burdock, which smelled like burning peanuts and vinegar when Grandma cooked it, her house was a delicious safe haven filled with love. This was the opposite from living with the chain smoking drunk and the miserable pushover, that were my parents.

Grandma and her house were both old and cold in the winter but I loved to stay there regardless. On my school Christmas break of 1981, when I was in third grade, I stayed at Grandma’s house the whole two weeks. I was eight and she was eighty-eight and we both thought that was the neatest thing.

Grandma used to let me go up into her spacious attic by myself to play around with the things that were stored there. She would be waiting for me to come downstairs and show her what exciting object I had found. This was ceremoniously greeted by a story associated with the trinket I brought her. I loved hearing Grandma’s voice get so excited when she would be reminded of my Grandpa, who passed away in the winter of 1979.

When I went up into the attic, I typically perused through Grandpa’s things so I could learn more about him since he was no longer alive to share his life with me. The second day I was there I uncharacteristically plowed through a bunch of old junk that was Grandma’s. It was mostly sewing related but I had found an old metal box that was beat up but sturdy. I didn’t even open it, I just brought it downstairs because the box itself looked like it was strong and important. It was heavy for me but I managed to get it down the old wooden steps.

I got it to the top of the stairs and called to grandma. The suspense was killing me so I couldn’t wait for her to get there and I opened it up. To my disappointment, inside was just a bunch of old sewing stuff like needles, thimbles and spools of thread. There was another plastic box inside that I picked up, noticing that it was cracked. When I opened it up it was filled with buttons that I impulsively dumped into the bigger box. As the buttons flew everywhere when I was emptying out the broken green container, I noticed something fall out. I picked it up and realized it was a fragile old index card. When I tuned over the yellowed parchment, I realized it was a recipe card that must have been buried underneath the mound of lost buttons.

Burdock root-hal hefner

I was baffled by what I just read. For an eight year old girl, I was pretty versed in monster movies and actually had several books on vampires, ghosts and werewolves. My cousins were all boys on my Dad’s side, and I would always watch scary movies with them. I liked that stuff so I took a book out of the library when I was in second grade, about werewolves. I knew that lycanthropy was what they called people who could turn into wolves. Why would my grandmother, a devout Catholic, church going woman, have a nonsensical recipe such as this in her attic? There had to be a good explanation I thought, so I sought her out for the answer. However with perfect timing, Grandma had just waddled up the stairs to see what I had in my hand.

She realized what it was and took it from my hand. After she read it, she hugged me tightly and kissed me while thanking me repeatedly. She was so pleased that I had found something so dear to her, she thought she had lost years ago. She decided right then and there that I was in need of a cup of hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows as my reward. I had no idea why she was so happy over something so silly but I was definitely not going to argue about my special treat.

Grandma poured me a hot cup of instant cocoa, filled it with marshmallows, then topped it off with a big candy cane plucked from the Christmas tree. We sat down on the couch and she put her hand on my leg to tell me the story of her grandfather, Giuseppe, a shoemaker in Italy who came to America in the late 1880’s. Grandma’s wrinkled face grew serious as she warned me of the circumstances surrounding the story that she was about to tell me. She gripped my hand tightly and swore on her soul that this was a true story and nothing but a true story.

When Giuseppe was a young man in Italy courting her grandmother, he claimed that he was chased by a Werewolf. The Werewolf viciously pursued him up a flight of stairs but my great, great grandfather was nimble enough to escape the attack. When he reached the safety of my great, great grandmother Theresa’s house, he realized he had been bitten on the heel.

Theresa knew a woman who many went to as the town healer, so she ran down the road to her house. Together they quickly cooked up a recipe that consisted of burdock and rosemary for Giuseppe ’s wound. They needed to move fast before the venom reached his heart and turned Giuseppe into a Werewolf. After three torturous days of my Grandfather fighting with his inner beast, the healing power of this recipe finally won and saved him from becoming a creature of the night. My grandmother said that Giuseppe would freely talk about his brush with the werewolf and often showed everyone the scar on his heel, that clearly looked like an animal bite. A big animal bite.

Theresa took a copy of the recipe that would go on to became something of a family treasure for how it saved Giuseppe. From my great, great grandmother it was handed down to each generation until my grandmother had lost it years ago.

By the 1940’s, the original paper the recipe was written on was deteriorating, so my grandmother copied it onto an index card, this very index card. In the late 60’s my grandmother’s house was flooded and she lost a bunch of things in the flood. She was devastated when she realized in the aftermath, that she could not find the recipe. For almost twenty years she had thought that she lost the recipe card and in turn a piece of her history that could never be replaced. However on this chilly December day in 1981, I reunited grandma with the past.

Grandma has been dead a long time now and the recipe currently resides in a safe, in my bedroom. I have never had to make this concoction to my delight and I hope I never do. I’ve never seen a werewolf with my own eyes but I do believe they once existed and maybe still do. I often think still to this day that I could have almost been born as a Werewolf. However humourous that may be, I will never look at that stinky, prickly old burdock the same way again.

Submitted by: Johanna Raymond

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One response to “The Burdock Recipe”

  1. T says:

    Hi Johanna,

    This is so much fun I love it. I hope you do not mind me copying down the recipe and making a fun vintage image using it. I assume you dont mind since you printed it. But how much fun is this story and recipe. Love it thanks!

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