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What Is The Difference Between Rhubarb and Burdock?

Rhubarb and Burdock’s origins can be traced back to ancient Asia and Europe.

They have been used for years as herbal medicine and in various dishes, although they are sometimes considered weeds in the Western world. 

They may appear the same because they have similar-looking big leaves, but they are very different. Looking closer at their appearance, they also tend to be different.

Therefore, what is the difference between rhubarb and burdock?

1. Appearance

The burdock plant can grow up to 5 feet tall at maturity, while rhubarb is harvested when its stalks are 12 to 18 inches long. 

To identify a rhubarb, you would have to look closely at its leaves; the leaves of a rhubarb are larger, curly, and smooth compared to those of a Burdock with hairy undersides. 

The leaf stems of a rhubarb are red, while the burdock’s is maroon. The leaf stems of a burdock are hollow compared to that of a rhubarb; in addition, the stems of a burdock are rough, while those of a rhubarb are smooth in texture.

2. Uses

Rhubarb and Burdock roots are used for medicinal purposes
Rhubarb and Burdock roots are used for medicinal purposes. Images: Canva/marilyna and wealthylady

Their roots have been used for years for herbal medicine, especially as a diaphoretic and diuretic.

Burdock plant has mainly been used for skin ailments, while rhubarb has been widely used for digestion and the reduction of inflammation. 

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According to Science Direct, rhubarb has been used as a laxative over the years because it empties the intestines and cleanses the bowels thoroughly.

3. Edibility

Both burdock and wild rhubarb are edible and can be used as ingredients in various dishes.

However, burdock is considered safer to eat because the rhubarb leaves are toxic as they contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is considered poisonous. 

The difference between rhubarb and burdock in taste is that burdock has a bit of a bitter vegetable taste or, like carrots, depending on the time of its life cycle that it is harvested. The rhubarb has a rich tart flavor to it. 

Rhubarb is very nutritious, and though it is technically a vegetable, it is often treated as a fruit.

Rhubarb can be used to make various desserts, jams, ice cream sauces, pies, and stews, while burdock can be used to make pie, tea, salads, and pickles and can be cooked, baked, steamed, or boiled. 

4. Planting

It would be best to plant rhubarb in areas below four degrees Celsius in the winter and below twenty-four degrees Celsius in the summer. 

You should also grow it in well-drained soil mixed with plenty of compost, under the sun, with some partial shade. Because it grows big and wide, ensure it has enough space in an open place. 

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On the other hand, burdock is a winter crop that may prefer cold or warm temperate regions; you should plant it in spring. It should be grown in moist but well-drained soils to avoid getting the soil wet and regularly watered. 

5. Growth

Rhubarb grows up to 10 years while burdock grows for 2 years
Rhubarb grows up to 10 years while burdock grows for 2 years. Images: Canva/asunbeam and micheleviard

In terms of growth, what is the difference between rhubarb and burdock?

Rhubarb can grow for almost ten years or more with nearly no pests disturbing it. It is easy to grow but may need a dormancy period to thrive.

Once established, it requires little to no maintenance. Maybe the occasional removal of flower stems and leaves that have faded. You should also divide the clumps when they become overcrowded.

Water rhubarb regularly until it is well rooted. However, note that this plant can propagate rapidly and become hard to remove.

Burdock is biennial, meaning it has a two-year life cycle. It can be grown from seeds in spring and autumn, which are cool and warm climates.

Snails and slugs attack burdock leaves and stems, and nematodes attack their roots, which can cause wilting.

6. Harvesting

Note that burdock has different nutritional values during various stages of its life cycle. It is most nutritious in its first year. 

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In the second year and last stage, its energy is focused on reproducing flowers and seeds; therefore, its root has no nutrients left. In fact, it is hard, fibrous, and inedible. 

The burdock roots are harvested when they are large enough to eat. Use a garden fork to lift them from the soil, as pulling by the leaves is likely to break the roots. If burdock takes over your garden, use these techniques to eliminate it.

On the other hand, rhubarb regrows after harvesting, and its stalks are twisted and pulled rather than cut with a knife, which can cause the cut piece to wither.