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!
I’ve grown burdock in my garden, originally mainly as a root vegetable, since the 80s when Japanese varieties such as Takinogawa Long and Watanabe Early began to appear in vegetable seed catalogues in the UK. In japan, it’s an important root crop that is available in all supermarkets both as fresh roots and in various processed products (also fermented):
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.
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!
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.
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:
…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:
In early April 2016, on my study tour to Japan, I was invited to the mountain home of Ken Takewaki (and Masama) for a short visit. I wrote about Ken’s home and the shock of waking to new snow after 20C the day before in the lowlands back in April (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=6357)! Despite the snow, Ken took us on a trip around the local area (Sugadaira in Nagano) and we had a walk around a local wetland nature reserve, before Ken took us on a long walk up through the forest where he had recently taken over a piece of land in a clearing to grow vegetables. All the signs were in Japanese, so I don’t know the names of many of the plants we saw, but here’s the pictures:
When I visited Japan in early spring 2016, I noticed a violet/purple flower growing as an ornamental in some gardens and also escaped as a weed.
I finally realized that it was a plant I had grown for a couple of years (2011-2012) as an unusual annual vegetable, Orychophragmus violaceus, known as ‘Chinese Violet Cress’ or ‘February Orchid’, sourced from Horizon Herbs in the US. Despite one of its common names, it’s not an orchid but is related to cress, belonging to the cabbage family Brassicaceae.
It hadn’t grown particularly well in my garden, but it did manage to flower and I used them in various salads during those two years, adding a different colour to the mix and it continued flowering right to the first frosts in November! It was also badly attacked by the usual pests of Brassicas, but it bounced back with masses of shoots from the roots in the autumn when the pest pressure was released. It doesn’t like temperatures below -5C and therefore didn’t have much chance of overwintering here in Malvik (it is biannual in the Far East).
Orychophragmus violaceus has a wild distribution in China and Korea and was introduced to Japan a long time ago both as an ornamental and also as a potential oil seed crop (you can google pictures of it growing alongside rape oil plants). In the wild it has a wide range of habitats from woodlands, gardens, roadsides and open fields. In Japan it has widely naturalized in many habitats thanks to its adaptability and it is now found throughout the islands, encouraged by gardeners who love the early spring flowers. In some parts it carpets woodlands in the early spring and it has been described as the Bluebell of Japan! However it is also a weed in gardens (and as such one of the world’s most beautiful weeds!). In Japan it is known as hanadaikon (“flower-daikon”), which name is also used for Hesperis matrionalis (dame’s violet), ooaraseitou, murasaki-hana-na (“purple-flower-rape”), shikinsou (“purple-gold-plant”). Shokatsusai / zhu ge cai is its Chinese name.
It has also been used as a forage species in China: “Its shoots are rich in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Hence it is a valuable forage. Its shoot yield is high, about 36,400 kg/ha, when cultivated in Chengdu. This plant species is adaptable to grassland, barren hills, roadsides, gardens, etc. Its protein content is higher than most other forage plants.”
Orychophragmus violaceus is mentioned as an edible wild plant alongside Udo (Aralia cordata) in Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables!
For the first time freely available is my article in Permaculture Magazine about my largest and most exciting vegetable Udo (Aralia cordata)! See the link near the bottom of the page and please subscribe here, they do a great job, but need our support! Go to https://www.permaculture.co.uk/subscribe…………….
To witness the underground cultivation of Udo in large caverns under Tokyo (mentioned in the article) was one of the reasons for embarking on a study tour of Japan with Naturplanteskolen in Denmark in Spring 2016, and during the visit we discovered that you can have one more layer in a forest garden……..
Thanks to Tei Kobayashi who acted as interpreter and liasing with the local authorities, to Ken Minatoya in the Netherlands who also initially called the city clerks for me and Joan Bailey for helping out, accompanying us on the visit and also for writing a local article, see here http://metropolisjapan.com/more-than-cherry-blossoms
I will write more about this visit as well as my other encounters with Udo in Japan as soon as I can!!
Each day on the trip to Japan had been equally amazing as the day before with new plant and food discoveries all the way!! The venue for my talk in Tokyo was the art/photography studio belonging to a guy called Ken Takewaki. It turned out he’d spent a lot of time in the UK working on organic farms and knew the owner of Poyntzfield Nursery in Scotland well and I’d already planned to try to visit Poyntzfield on my Scotland trip in September! Knowing that I was heading for the mountains after Tokyo, Ken kindly invited me to visit his mountain home! What a place and the food was out of this world! Ken and his lady Masami had made a special effort to feed me sansai!
The next morning it was as if I’d been transported home in my dreams as there was new snow on the ground at the Ken’s home at 1300m. The day before it has been over 20C at 600m! Thanks so much to Tei, who I got to know through Caroline Ho Bich-Tuyen Dang, a member of Norwegian Seed Savers, for showing me so much of her village near Besshou (Ueda) in Nagano Prefecture and sharing all the amazing sansai and sake and for taking me to Ken’s place! More on Besshou later when I get time!Thank you so much too Ken and Masami for your hospitality!
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