I finished my last day of work as an oceanographer by visiting head office in Wallingford, UK. We were finished by lunchtime, so I visited the University of Oxford Botanical Garden nearby, the oldest botanical garden established in 1621 as a garden of medicinal plants. Here’s an album of edimentals I found during my short visit!
Congratulations to my friend Ronny Staquet who recently won a prestigious prize for his efforts in popularising Hablitzia at the Fête des Plantes de Printemps at Château de Saint-Jean de Beauregard just outside of Paris! See http://www.wallogreen.com/blog/?p=231
I’m proud too as this plant originated in Malvik. Ronny has over the years obtained most of my accessions (some 7 different) in return for help with this web site!! Rumour has it that Ronny has selected a golden leaved Hablitzia from this material!! :) Looking forward to that!
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).