..and end of the year Yacon harvest

Yacon (Polymnia edulis/Smallanthus sonchifolius) also gives higher yields when grown on inside until the end of the year in a large pot; however, it is much less day length sensitive than ulluco and oca…when I had a cold greenhouse, yacon would give at least as good a yield as this by October…
The sweet tasting tubers are becoming quite popular in recent years! Yacon is in the Asteraceae, the roots containing inulin like its edible tubered cousins Jerusalem artichoke and Dahlia.

The yacon was moved into my living room which is heated…about 2/3 of the leaves froze off before harvest, but it resprouted from the base and continued flowering….


The propagules were sprouting (small nodules used to start next year’s plants)


End of the year Andes in Malvik tuber harvest

As the psychedelic (colour not effect) Andean tubers Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) and Achira (Canna edulis) benefit from a longer season than I can give them outside, I grow them in buckets which I bring inside and harvest around Xmas time for a colourful christmas dinner…so here’s an album of this year’s harvest!

I was very surprised by one of the best ulluco harvests here, despite the leaves being mostly frozen off before moving the pots inside and not regrowing…I don’t understand…


100% self-sufficient in sugar at 63.5N!

I gave up sugar poison completely over 10 years ago, apart from the once a year suck on my living room sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) :) This is a hardy cultivar from Raglan in New Zealand although I grow it indoors all year!
Here’s how to eat it (apparently it gives you strong teeth): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfE62Y-11NI

On the sunny side of my living room forest garden
Hazel demonstrates..


Around the world with Erythroniums


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


Back in the early 1990s I bought a book by leading Norwegian ethnobotanist Ove Arbo Høeg (and Helga Hjort) “Barkebåt og kongleku”, all about games children played with plants…at least one of these games I remember teaching my kids…using the flowering stems of Plantago major (Greater plantain / storblad or kjempe)…and the same game turned up in Japan!!

From the Norwegian book on childrens’ games using plants, “Barkebåt og Kongleku”, an illustration of two games using the flowering stems of Plantago major! The top one I taught my own kids, Robin Arne Barstow and Avellana Wood…hook the stems over one another and pull…the winner continues.. The game below is called “slå kjempe” (beat the giant) and here the idea is to knock the top off the opponent’s stalk….this has given the name to the plant, kjempe in Norwegian..
…and in Nagoya, Japan I met Kevin Cameron and his daughter Mona who had a great little book to learn wild plants and here we see exactly the same game :)


Persian shallot confusion!

I’ve also harvested onions of Allium stipitatum “Album”, one of the so-called Ornamental onions…but for those in the know also a fantastic Edimental onion. I bought this one as Allium rosenbachianum “Album” from Taylor’s bulbs in 2009. My friend, THE onion man,Mark McDonough​ tentatively ID’d it rather as Allium stipitatum “Album” – a bit disappointed as I’d just discovered a paper documenting the traditional use of the young leaves of rosenbachianum in traditional soup dishes in Tajikistan (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=6578). However, stipitatum is one of at least 3 species of onion of which the bulbs are harvested, sliced and dried and sold as Persian shallots around the world. I’d earlier blogged about a second tall edimental onion I was growing; ID’d by Dutch onion grower Wietse Mellema​ as probably Allium altissimum (but bought as Allium hirtifolium “Album”) (see my blog A Year in the life of the Persian Shallot – http://tinyurl.com/jexyak7 and
http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=893). However, Wietse commented this summer that he didn’t think it was altissimum….so still unsure what this is…
Anyway, I harvested the largest onions, replanted the smaller ones and they are now drying along with apples above my wood stove…must remember to mark them as onions when dried this year as the last time I did this somebody ate one thinking they were apples ;)

I also discovered that the roots that the bulbs had already put down in preparation of spring were tasty and crunchy…. to be used in tonight’s salad!