Tag Archives: Japan

Oriental and asiatic hybrid lilies

This is an asiatic hybrid lily growing in the garden of the flat I stayed in in Jondal during the Nordic Permaculture Festival!

An asiatic hybrid lily

According to wikipedia, asiatic hybrids include “hybrids of many Asiatic species and their interspecific hybrids, including  Lilium brownii,  Lilium henryi,  Lilium leucanthumLilium regaleLilium rosthorniiLilium sargentiae and Lilium sulphureum. The flowers are trumpet shaped, facing outward or somewhat downward, and tend to be strongly fragrant, often especially night-fragrant.”  Of these, both L. brownii and L. henryi are used for food.

On the other hand oriental hybrids “are based on hybrids within Lilium section Archelirion,specifically Lilium auratum and Lilium speciosum, together with crossbreeds from several species native to Japan, including Lilium nobilissimum, Lilium rubellum, Lilium alexandrae, and Lilium japonicum. They are fragrant, and the flowers tend to be outward facing. Plants tend to be tall, and the flowers may be quite large. The whole group are sometimes referred to as “stargazers” because many of them appear to look upwards”

I’ve never tasted hybrid lilies, but maybe I should as two of the asiatics and all the 6 oriental species involved are eaten in Japan…most importantly L. auratum which is cultivated for markets on a field scale, the others mainly foraged I think! I wonder if anyone has hybridised lilies for food rather than beauty….an interesting project for someone perhaps?

Hosta nutrition

A nutritional analysis of Hosta is reported in the enclosed open access article from Japan (2017):  “Analysis of essential macro-micro mineral content of twelve Hosta taxa” by Mehraj, Nishimura and Shimasaki.  The good news is that the overall conclusion is that Hostas are  excellent sources of a number of minerals important in human nutrition!
Various Hosta species were collected from the wild as well as from commercial vegetable growers (it is indicated that the Hosta were simply collected from the wild and are not selected otherwise), they were grown for a year in the open before being moved to pots for the analysis.

A few quotes:

“Hosta plant leaves have higher K and P content than that of the other (common) leafy vegetables.”

“We found one species (H.  sieboldii) among the studied 12 species containing 1.15% of Ca, higher than STFC-2015, Japan and all levels found in other studies conducted in different countries for various wild edible plants. Data from our study indicated that H. sieboldii could be an excellent daily diet source of Ca. It appears that Japanese people used to consume this species as a source of calciums. The results of this study indicate that hosta taxa are a good source of Mg and Mn.”

“The Zn content of hosta leaves was higher than other fresh vegetable reported”

“Hosta plant leaves contained higher minerals than that of asparagus. From the results and discussion, it is clear that hosta leaves are a very good dietary source of minerals.”

“H. alismifolia, H. sieboldii, H. nakaiana, H. longissima, H. montana can be considered excellent sources of some minerals and can be recommended for their K, Ca, Fe, P, Mg, Zn content.”  (NB! H. montana is often considered as a synonym or subspecies of H. sieboldiana)

Download (PDF, 265KB)

Hosta icicles (yuki urui)

The other day I discovered a long suffering Hosta that I’d covered with a bucket in the spring. Surprisingly the blanched shoots were in good condition despite the warmth. We ate them as a salad with a simple dipping sauce (roasted sesame oil, soy sauce and pepper! And it was delicious, mild tasting, crispy and refreshing, the texture and shape of the leaf reminding my friend of artichoke! The day afterwards, I ate the rest lightly fried with garlic and chili in an omelette with sea kale broccolis! I’m sure you can use any Hosta for this. In Japan, Hosta montana is the main species cultivated for the markets. We found blanched Hosta shoots or urui in all the supermarkets in late march / early april during my study trip to Japan. However, H. montana is not an accepted species name by the Plant List (plantlist.org) and is often given as a variety, H. sieboldiana var montana or var gigantea. However, on the taxonomy account at http://www.hostalibrary.org/species/pdf/species_part1.pdf, it is stated that H. montana is so obviously different from H. sieboldiana that even the average gardener can tell them apart! For this reason, I used H. montana in my book as it is still commonly used in horticulture. For a list of cultivar names known as H. montana, see http://myhostas.be/db/hostas/montana. Hosta undulata is also noted on the Japanese Hosta wiki page as being used. This is no longer accepted as a species and is considered to be a group of cultivars H. “Undulata” (see http://myhostas.be/db/hostas/undulata for a list of cultivars associated with Undulata).

On the Japanese Hosta wiki (translated with Google translate), the main producing area for urui is given as  Yamagata prefecture (north of Tokyo on the other side of Honshu), which ship light green young shoots which are used for salads , pickles , stir-fry , with miso sauce , vinegar miso , miso soup , mixed rice , sushi rolls etc. This explains why we didn’t see the production of Hosta during our farm trips south of Tokyo.
The Japanese name is 雪うるい (yuki urui) which means snow leaf or icicles (google the Japanese name to see many pictures). They are produced in darkened greenhouses for an extended season or the rows are mounded outdoors. The production techniques seem to be different judging by the colour of the urui sold in supermarkets.

The many faces of burdock

One of my favourite multi-purpose vegetables and one of my first unusual vegetables  that I grew in my garden in the 80s was burdock or borre, more specifically various Japanese cultivars of Arctium lappa, hardly used in Europe and North America apart from a few foragers, even though it’s a common wild plant and hardy.  Although it is best known as a root vegetable, there are varieties bred for their leaf petioles and the flower stems are really delicious! If you add to this that the seeds are foraged by various birds like goldfinches and greenfinches in winter in addition to being impressive photogenic plants which tolerated shady conditions, no permaculture garden should be without them!
In the album below are pictures I’ve taken over the years, in my garden, in botanical gardens and in the wild. There follows links to various blog posts about burdock!

Burdock in Japan
Burdock and goldfinches
Greenfinches on burdock
Cardboard and fiberboards from Burdock and about its cultivation
An interesting barlotto (burlotto?)
Perennial Greens June 2015 (including burdock flower stems)
Flower stem sweet and sour
Burdock Flower Stalk Curry
Edinburgh’s Burry Man

From Malta to Japan and back again

The article below, published in Grobladet in 2006 is the story (in Norwegian) of how one of the commonest spring flowers in the Mediterranean countries became one of the most important vegetables in Japan, yet was completely forgotten at home…this is the story of shungiku, the edible-leaved Chrysanthemum, Glebionis coronaria.

Download (PDF, 2.69MB)

Grobladet was the magazine of Oikos, Norway’s biggest organic organisation.

Encounters with Angelica in Japan!

The genus Angelica has about 80 species distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, of which around 25 are found in Japan. Around the world various Angelica species have been used traditionally for food and medicine, notably the Europe to Himalayas species Angelica archangelica, used since ancient times in various ways and the most well-known wild edible in Norway, where we have the domesticated form Vossakvann (see my book) with filled stems:






In Japan, no less than 11 species are covered in my most comprehensive Japanese foraging book, Ikozo Hashimoto’s Edible Wild Plants Encyclopedia (in Japanese). On my study trip to Japan in late March / early April 2016, we spent a few days on the scenic Izu Peninsula, a couple of hours from Tokyo. Here we found the best known Japanese species, Angelica keiskei (ashitaba) for sale in a supermarket (picture).







I wrote about my first encounter with this species here: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=1385
(the Japanese name ashitaba means “tomorrow’s leaves”, referring to the plants very quick response to being damaged)

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but ashitaba is endemic to the island Hachijō-jima (jima means island), one of a string of volcanic islands in the Pacific roughly 190 km south of Izu. Apart from Hachijō, ashitaba is cultivated on some of the other islands, including Izu Ōshima, Mikura-jima, Nii-jima and To-shima. It is also grown on the mainland (Honshū). Hachijo has a humid subtropical climate with very warm summers and mild winters, so it’s not surprising it didn’t overwinter in my garden and grew only slowly through the summer (more like winter in Hachijo!). It is an important plant for the local cuisine on the island where both the leaf and flower stalks, flower buds and roots are used in many types of dish from soba (buckwheat pasta), tempura, the alcoholic shōchū, as well as tea, cakes, konjac and even ice cream and is promoted for its health giving properties. In Izu oshima, it is fried in Camellia tea oil, an oil with a sweet, herbal aroma, cold-pressed from the seeds of Camellia oleifera. It is relatively strong tasting and is therefore mostly eaten in oily dishes like tempura or diluted for a milder taste. A nutrient analysis of ashitaba can be found here: http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/gijyutu/gijyutu3/toushin/05031802/002/006.pdf

Interestingly, the variety grown on Mikura-jima is said to be the best as it is less bitter. This variety has “thick” stems, which calls to mind our own thick stemmed Vossakvann variety which is also milder tasting! Varieties on other islands are said to be distinct, having coloured stems.

The most common species we saw in southern Honshu was shiny leaved Angelica japonica (hamaudo, meaning Udo growing on the beach). Many consider it to be “poisonous” (which probably signifies that it is stronger tasting), but it certainly is used in similar ways to ashitaba and we even encountered a local foraging what was probably this species on Izu (see the film at http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=9672).

More information can be found in the captions below, which includes pictures of other Angelica species seen in botanical gardens in Kyoto and Tokyo and even ashitaba being grown as a house plant in the mountains near Nagano. My friend Andrew McMilllion in Southern Norway has discovered this wonderful plant and is growing it indoors (in flower as I write this in mid-January).

Thanks to Tei Kobayashi for showing me around on the visit to Nagano and Ken Minatoya-Yasuda for translating some of the text in my foraging book!

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:








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: