As an introduction to two soon to be published blog posts concerning visits to two nature reserves in Japan during the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum) in early spring 2016, here is a short around the world with edible Erythroniums review, with an album of pictures of various species and varieties that I’ve grown here in Malvik together with pictures taken in various botanical gardens!
Known in English variously as trout or fawn lilies (on account of the spotted leaves) and dog’s tooth violets (not related to violets, the bulbs resembling dog’s teeth), there are some 25 species found in North America and Eurasia…
There are a number of species in North America, several, if not all of which were used by Native American tribes. In Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany (http://naeb.brit.org), 5 species are documented as used for food, with yellow flowered E. grandiflorum (Glacier or Avalanche lily) with most records, including: “Bulbs eaten raw and cooked, dried for winter use; small root ends of corms eaten as candy by children; made into a pudding by boiling black tree lichen, dried saskatoons (Amelanchier), salmon eggs, lily bulbs, or bitter root (Lewisia) and deer fat”. Other species for which the bulbs were either eaten raw, baked, steamed, cooked and (sun)dried for later use are E. mesochoreum, oregonum and revolutum. An interesting technique was to chew the root and spit it into a river to make fish bite (trout, I presume ;) ). One informant says, however, that the raw corms were poisonous (but there are many records of them being eaten raw). Erythronium oregonum bulbs were, according to ethnobotanist Nancy Turner, an important food for the Kwakiutl people on Vancouver Island in Canada. They were eaten raw, baked, boiled, or dried.
The best North American modern firsthand account is as usual that by Samuel Thayer in his wonderful book Nature’s Garden. He notes that the species he uses most is woodlander Erythronium americanum, not documented as edible (only medicinal) by Moerman. He rates the early spring bulbs highly, tasting “ like sweet corn or snow peas..crunchy, sweet and tender raw”…but he notes that they are small and it takes a lot of effort to pick a decent amount (he also notes that E. grandiflorum bulbs, a species that grows in alpine meadows, are bigger). Various early foraging authors in the 50s and 60s, including Euell Gibbons, note that the leaves, flower stalks, buds and flowers of americanum are eaten raw and cooked. Thayer is not fond of the leaves or flowers, however, saying that they are “best before unfurled…bitter aftertaste…worse after cooking”, but he comments that others enjoy the taste. I haven’t noticed any bitterness the times I’ve tried different species. Gibbons also mentions that white trout lily (E. albidum) has similar uses to americanum.
The species that grows best for me is dog’s tooth violet Erythronium dens-canis. This species was once considered to range from Southern Europe to Japan, but the Eastern forms are now considered to be separate species, E. sibiricum and katakuri (E. japonicum), both of which I grow, but clumps grow very slowly, if at all! In Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World (1919), it’s stated that the Tartars collect and dry the bulbs of dens-canis and boil them with milk or broth. Cornucopia II informs us that “Roots eaten with reindeer’s or cow’s milk in Mongolia and Siberia. Leaves boiled, starch from roots..” (presumably this is what we now know as sibiricum).
Ken Fern in Plants for a Future recommends E. “Pagoda” and “White Beauty” as they “grow freely when well-sited” in the UK. Alan Carter in Aberdeen has firsthand experience and on a good blog about Erythroniums for the forest garden (see https://scottishforestgarden.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/eating-dogs-tooth-violet) rates “Pagoda” as the best one to grow for eating, due to its larger bulbs and states that “My favourite way of cooking them is to slice them thinly across and fry the discs”. Pagoda is a hybrid between Erythronium tuolumnense and Erythronium californicum ‘White Beauty’ and is readily available.
All the North American species I’ve tried including Pagoda have sadly not survived more than a few years at best in my garden.
As mentioned, Erythronium japonicum will be the feature of two follow-up blogs and I will discuss this one more later, but the bulb starch, known as katakuri-ko, was important and harvested from the wild in the past in Japan, but nowadays potato starch is used in its place as the wild stands are considered by some to be under threat, not only dug up for food but also removed from the wild for the ornamental plant trade… We will also see that both the leaves and flowers are used in Japan. If using leaves, it’s best to only one of the two leaves produced each year so as not to weaken the stands too much.
If anyone wants to know how these beauties are grown in Scotland – Ian Young’s free e-book is available here: http://files.srgc.net/general/ERYTHRONIUMS-IN-CULTIVATION%20-2016-IanYoung.pdf
My trip to Japan in early spring 2016 was perfectly timed to witness one of the wonders of the Japanese spring, the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum; Japanese: 片栗), a pink-flowered species trout lily or dog’s tooth violet. Thanks to Kevin Cameron for inviting us along on a hike with a local walking club out of Nagoya! The bulbs were in the past used as a source of starch, the leaves and flowers also being eaten (but shouldn’t be wild harvested nowadays as some sources consider it as endangered). I’ve never seen so many people out flower watching, so many cameras trained at the flowers…a bit like twitchers watching some rare bird….we could call them flitters perhaps!
We took the train from Nagoya to Kanigawa station in Kani city on the edge of Nagoya’s urban sprawl, then walked to Yunohana hot springs spa and market on the river, popped in to one of the walking group’s friend’s house for tea, snack and a garden wander before walking to the katakuri area in a nature reserve area. Finally, we followed a trail up on to the hill where there was a distant view of Japan’s second highest volcano Mt. Ontake. We followed Kevin and daughter back to the spa for a hot bath, while the rest of the group carried on the trail to take the train back from a different station.
I’ve had a katakuri in my garden for several years but it doesn’t get much larger and seems to be self-sterile (pictures of my plants can be seen in the gallery on this page: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=9442
First a gallery of pictures of the katakuri woods followed by 4 videos! This is followed by two more galleries of pictures from this wonderful day! Enjoy…
..and now 4 videos of the katakuri area:
Next, an album of pictures taken on the way from the station to the market and spa and lunch at a Japanese house.
…and finally a gallery of pictures of other plants including a number of edibles on the walk up to the viewpoint with the walking group!
The first time my garden was featured in a book was in former Norwegian TV gardener and gardener for the King, Tor Smaaland’s 2004 book “Din drømmehage”. The book was based on Tor’s travels around Norway visiting gardens and their owners. I remember his visit well as he was like a whirlwind almost running around the garden and talking at full throttle…he told me that he was a landscape architect and new little about plants and then he was gone again…so quick was he that I didn’t get a single picture of his visit! Most of the text about the plants was written by me (see pdf at the bottom of this page!).
I loved his amusing description of me and my garden (first in Norwegian below and then translated):
«Hage til å spise opp: Som Norges kanskje eneste moderne ikke-munk har engelskmannen Stephen Barstow brukt de siste tiåra på å anlegge et slags fri klosterhage ved Malvik utenfor Trondheim med noe mellom 1500-3000 planter, avhengig av hvordan vinteren har fart over hagen. Her er 30 av hans favoritter – og ganske uventet bruk av dem» ;)
(Garden to be eaten up: As perhaps Norway’s only modern non-monk, Englishman SB has over the last 10 years created a kind of free style monastery garden in Malvik outside of Trondheim with somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 plants, dependent on the ravages of the winter. Here are 30 of his favourites and their rather unexpected uses)
You will notice quite a few of the plants that finally ended up in my book and many of which I now call Edimentals; for example: variegated ground elder (variegert skvallerkål), nodding onion (prærieløk), seiersløk (Allium victorialis), udo (Aralia cordata), giant bellflower (storklokke), daylilies (dagliljer), Hosta, golden hops (gulhumle), Malva (kattost), ostrich fern (strutseving), Bath asparagus (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), bistort (ormrot), rubber dandelion (gummiløvetann), bulrush (dunkjevle) and nettles (nesle).
When I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh (RBGE) in September 2016 I was pleased to find an exhibition of portraits of Nepalese plants, many of which were edible and information was even provided on food and other uses of the plants shown! The exhibition celebrates the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Britain and Nepal and the even longer botanical relationship of the gardens with Nepal (see http://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/21610).
The exhibition features drawings made by a group of 6 RBGE artists that visited Nepal in 2015 as well as a Nepalese artist. See also http://www.mdhardingtravelphotography.com/single-post/2016/08/13/Bicentenary-UK—Nepal
My album of pictures show the edible and fibre plants on display!
Yucca filamentosa is at the top of my list of plants that I’ve grown and never expected would survive one winter let alone over 10 and finally flower, as it did in 2008…..sadly, it used up all its energy in flowering and died that winter..
My title? Needle and Thread salad, doesn’t sound very appetising, does it? Well, two of the common names of this North American plant are Adam’s needle and Eve’s thread, with reference to the needle like inflorescence and the thread-like leaf edge filaments that help separate this species from other Yuccas! It is, for obvious reasons, also known as Spanish Bayonet and Desert Candle.
Although other parts of this plant and other Yuccas were used by Native Americans, it’s the flowers you will want to try in your garden, unless you have the pollinating Yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) in your area, in which case you may even get to taste the edible fruit (I haven’t)..
Knowing that this is a plant that grows on sandy soils in the wild, I planted it initially right next to the south facing wall of my house back in the mid-1990s. To my surprise, it came back year after year, but grew slowly. I then moved it next to my small home made greenhouse on the east facing side of my house in 2001. It grew slwoly but steadily and then to my amazement I discovered a flowering stem and it flowered late August 2008 (see the pictures below, including the salad I made with the flowers). The flowers are delicious and I didn’t detect any bitterness as noted by some people!
This species is one of the best edimentals where it thrives, but there are a number of even more ornamental varieties worth trying including: ‘Bright Edge’, a dwarf cultivar with creamy leaf margins (awarded the UK Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit), Golden Sword’ which is similar to ‘Bright Edge’, but larger; ‘Ivory Tower’ has creamy white flowers tinged with green; ‘Color Guard’ with broad yellow stripes all year and red stripes in the winter.
Other uses include fibre extracted from the leaves and soap from the saponin-rich roots.
…and just last month Yucca filamentosa flowers were featured in a salad I made at my walk and talk at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh
When I visited Japan in early spring 2016, I noticed a violet/purple flower growing as an ornamental in some gardens and also escaped as a weed.
I finally realized that it was a plant I had grown for a couple of years (2011-2012) as an unusual annual vegetable, Orychophragmus violaceus, known as ‘Chinese Violet Cress’ or ‘February Orchid’, sourced from Horizon Herbs in the US. Despite one of its common names, it’s not an orchid but is related to cress, belonging to the cabbage family Brassicaceae.
It hadn’t grown particularly well in my garden, but it did manage to flower and I used them in various salads during those two years, adding a different colour to the mix and it continued flowering right to the first frosts in November! It was also badly attacked by the usual pests of Brassicas, but it bounced back with masses of shoots from the roots in the autumn when the pest pressure was released. It doesn’t like temperatures below -5C and therefore didn’t have much chance of overwintering here in Malvik (it is biannual in the Far East).
Orychophragmus violaceus has a wild distribution in China and Korea and was introduced to Japan a long time ago both as an ornamental and also as a potential oil seed crop (you can google pictures of it growing alongside rape oil plants). In the wild it has a wide range of habitats from woodlands, gardens, roadsides and open fields. In Japan it has widely naturalized in many habitats thanks to its adaptability and it is now found throughout the islands, encouraged by gardeners who love the early spring flowers. In some parts it carpets woodlands in the early spring and it has been described as the Bluebell of Japan! However it is also a weed in gardens (and as such one of the world’s most beautiful weeds!). In Japan it is known as hanadaikon (“flower-daikon”), which name is also used for Hesperis matrionalis (dame’s violet), ooaraseitou, murasaki-hana-na (“purple-flower-rape”), shikinsou (“purple-gold-plant”). Shokatsusai / zhu ge cai is its Chinese name.
It has also been used as a forage species in China:
“Its shoots are rich in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Hence it is a valuable forage. Its shoot yield is high, about 36,400 kg/ha, when cultivated in Chengdu. This plant species is adaptable to grassland, barren hills, roadsides, gardens, etc. Its protein content is higher than most other forage plants.”
Orychophragmus violaceus is mentioned as an edible wild plant alongside Udo (Aralia cordata) in Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables!
Last week, I blogged about the opening of an exhibition in Trondheim by a photographer Terje Visnes who must have taken thousands of pictures for the local newspaper Adresseavisen over the years. He had taken pictures of one of my salads two years ago:
I was chuffed then that he should choose one of the pictures taken that day for the exhibition and, naturally, had to go along and see it for myself! I visited unnanounced today and, to my surprise, Terje had also popped in, so there was an opportunity for a photo and a chat…and it turned out that Ingrid who runs the gallery knows my artist daughter….
The exhibition was nicely put together and the key to the salad ingredient picture (see the following link: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/536181539210264576) was made available to visitors and was apparently quite popular – you can look at the picture and guess what the vegetables are and check afterwards their identity! And of course there are several other great pictures that Terje has taken over the years on show!!
That photo shoot in my garden turned out to be an expensive day…as I just had to have one of the few copies that are being sold :) If you’re into vegetable diversity art, you’ll have to be quick to get one of the remaining pictures!! Perfect for better restaurants!
Location: RAMM Rammeverksted, Haldens gt. 1, Trondheim (http://www.trondheimramm.no)