Category Archives: Wild Edibles

Perennialen III: Alvastien Telste – from fjord to shieling

Documentation of yet another amazing day during last week’s Perennialen III in Hardanger!! Pictures taken on a fantastic 6-7 hour round trip from Eirik Lillebøe Wiken​ and Hege Iren Aasdal Wiken​’s house to their shieling (støl or seter in Norwegian). We took our time botanising on the way up, passing through different types of forest on the way up, from alder (or), ash (ask), planted spruce (gran), lime (lind), elm (alm), hazel (hassel), aspen (osp) and birch (bjørk) at the highest levels. Lower down, old apple trees witnessed that these steep slopes had at one time been worked for fruit production, no easy matter….
Eirik and Hege are planning to rejuvenate and replant some of this area and have planted a multispecies forest garden above and below the house, probably one of the most dramatic forest gardens in the world (more later).

Ostrich Fern (strutseving)

Ants on pine tree

Aspen (osp) and the fjord

Young blackcap (munk)

Vikhammer plants and birds

Fawn lilies and Camas in Victoria

My first day in Victoria and Vancouver Island, BC was a mixed one. As this was probably my only chance I decided to go to the Butchart Gardens, a one hour bus ride outside of Victoria, and rated by some as one of the finest gardens in the world. I didn’t have high expectations, but was disappointed that there were almost no plant labels (apart from the rose collection) and otherwise very few native plants as far as I could see…
The botanical highlight was walking back to my lovely Airbnb room along the 30 min long Songhees coastal path. A interpretive sign  informed of the rare Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystem in which both camas (Camassia), an important Native American food plant, and Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) grew alongside Dodecatheon (shooting stars)! A couple of minutes later I saw many fawn lilies in the woods and one emerging flower stalk of Camassia (both leichtlinii and quamash grow here)!
Almost exactly a year ago, I was on the otherside of the Pacific witnessing the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum) in Japan:  http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=9121

Around the world with Erythroniums

 

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Erythronium japonicum, katakuri in my garden

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.

Probably seed propagated Erythronium californicum "White Beauty"
Probably seed propagated Erythronium californicum “White Beauty” in my garden

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

Katakuri at Mt. Iimoriyama

This post documents my visit with Aiah Noack of Naturplanteskolen in Denmark to the historical town of Asuke in Aichi Prefecture near to Toyota, where we’d spent the night, on 28th March 2016.  Asuke and the Korankei Gorge is a popular place to visit to see the autumn colours, with some 4,000 different maples planted here since a priest started beautifying the place in 1634 (see http://japan-highlightstravel.com/en/travel/nagoya/120029). Aiah had contacted an old plant breeding colleague, Teruo Takatomi,  based in Toyota,  who had kindly offered to show us around for a couple of days and this was the first day of the itinerary they had arranged for us visiting natural areas and farms growing sansai (wild mountain vegetables).  Two of Teruo’s colleagues took us to Asuke to see the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum) on Mt. Iimoriyama right next to the town. However, there was much more than katakuri in the wood as the first album documents and at the end of the walk through the woods  we stumbled on a wonderful small nursery specialising in wild and edible plants! The owner ran it as a hobby and kindly invited us back to his house for tea and to see his garden (second album below).

For edimental gardeners, katakuri is one of the most exclusive vegetables, requiring at least 7-8 years to flower from seed!  Two plants I was given by Magnar Aspaker in April 2008 still only produce one flower a year and I’ve never seen a flower, but it’s growing in a less than optimal environment… It has survived the worst of the freezes here including the coldest winter since records began (frozen solid for 3-4 months)! Ian Young relates the same problem in his excellent e-book “Erythroniums in Cultivation” (available for free at http://files.srgc.net/general/ERYTHRONIUMS-IN-CULTIVATION%20-2016-IanYoung.pdf). He says that the bulbs divide slowly and seed is important to increase plants, but it takes time. On the other hand, individual plants can, according to a Japanese site, reach 50 years old with a new bulb every year! This seems to be his favourite Erythronium, easy to grow (although slowly increasing) with dramatic markings on the flowers.

Erythronium japonicum in my garden
Erythronium japonicum in my garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an edible plant, it was once an important source of an edible starch, katakuriko, but the plant was overharvested (also due to its popularity for the wild flower industry) and potato starch is used today, retaining the name! Both the leaves and flowers are used in Japan in various ways and I’ve given a few recipes roughly tranlated from various Japanese pages in the following document:

Download (PDF, 257KB)

…or as in this picture from one of my Japanese foraging books:

Katakuri

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leaves are also fermented!

We also spent some time at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki,  a working traditional crafts museum next to Mt. Iimori and had a gourmet lunch at the Kunputei restaurant overlooking the river gorge (third album below). This restaurant specialises on tofu dishes, handmade every morning and we ate konjac for the first time here (Amorphophallus konjac) (see this blog post for my experience with growing konjac:  http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=845)

Mass flowering of katakuri video!

In the afternoon, we were invited to the house of the nursery owner in the old traditional part of town. He also had a garden full of interesting plants!

Finally, a gallery of pictures from our visit to the traditional crafts museum, Sanshu Asuke Yashiki, and our gourmet lunch at the Kunputei restaurant within the museum grounds:

More seed for stratifying

An early Xmas present from Alexander Naumenko! Thanks!
Several new very interesting Alliums, Taraxacum lilacinum (lilac flowered dandelion…hope they will germinate!), Hyssopus tianschanicus, Tragopogon capitatus, Angelica brevicaulis and Serratula coronata (an important wild edible food plant in the Far East that I’ve been looking for for some time; this species has a very wide geographic distribution and is in the same family as saw-wort/jærtistel, Serratula tinctoria )! Also a nice little book in Russian on the Plants of Kyrgyzstan…P1700098

Danish walk down the Homla canyon

On the 2nd day of the Malvik permaveggies course, we walked the Homlastien (path along the mighty Homla river) from the waterfall down to the station at Hommelvik! As always it takes longer than expected and my estimated 4 hours became 6-7 hours with all the stops!
See the pictures here:

http://www.edimentals.com/pictures/index.php?/category/115

Persian Cornflower

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There are several knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) that have been used as wild vegetables in the Mediterranean countries. I haven’t yet found and evidence of this beauty (Centaurea dealbata “Steenbergii”) having been used but it’s flowering in my garden at the moment!
I’m interested in seed of any of the following, all recorded as food plants (shoot, leaves and stems):
Centaurea aspera
Centaurea calcitrapa
Centaurea dumulosa
Centaurea hyalolepis (syn Centaurea pallescens)
Centaurea nicaeensis
Centaurea nigrescens
Centaurea solstitialis

Danish invasion of Vennafjellet

On Sunday of the Danish Malvik permaveggies course, we drove to near the top of the closest mountain from home to see the views and the rich flora: Vennafjellet (Faseknippen) and walked over to Baklifjellet
Please feel free to add names to plants and people!

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See the whole album here: http://www.edimentals.com/pictures/index.php?/category/114