Alexandra Berkutenko and the Giant Edimentals of the Russian Far East

My friend Søren Holt asked the following on a Facebook thread “Did you ever think of collecting giant vegetables from kamchatska tall herb meadows?”

Yes is the answer…and it would be great to actually visit… I remember reading of the Giant herbs of the Russian Far East in Russian botanist Alexandra Berkutenko’s fantastic seed list some 15 years ago. Sadly, she no longer puts out this seed list, but you can get an impression of what was on offer as one of the lists from 2001 is still on-line:

You can see several giant herbs mentioned here – Angelica ursina (have so far not succeeded with this one – seed has either not germinated or I’ve lost the plants); Heracleum dulce, Polygonum sachalinense (Giant Knotweed) and even Aralia cordata (syn. Aralia continentalis) (Udo) is on offer!! All of these are in the book too….
This list was also my original source of Aster scaber!

So yes collecting giant vegetables in Kamchatska has been in my thoughts.
I helped Berkutenko advertise her list in the early days and I remember putting an advert in the North American Herb Companion for her and she sent seed in return (it was difficult for her to pay for adverts from within Russia). She also attended a conference in Tromsø but I didn’t meet her – she mentions seeing giant Heracleum persicum on the streets of Tromsø.
She was also an ethnobotanist and co-authored a book “Medicinal and Edible Plants of Alaska and the Russian Far East” (sadly, never translated from Russian). See below the front page and species list. I corresponded with her when writing the book! I did Russian at school, so can read but not understand much of the text…Søren has actually helped with translating some parts

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