On 9th April 2016 I was staying with my new friend Tei Kobayashi in the mountains in a lovely village, Nogura, above Ueda in Nagano Prefecture. I was put in touch with Tei through a mutual friend in Norwegian Seed Savers (KVANN), Caroline Ho-Bich-Tuyen Dang, when I put out a call for an interpreter when visiting the farm with the underground udo forcing caverns in Tokyo: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=8284 and https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=7499 Tei had kindly agreed to travel down to help out! She took me to see udo (Aralia cordata) being grown on a small farm in her village with a villager who had knowledge of sansai. The new shoots were just appearing through a thick layer of rice husks. Here’s a video and some pictures of this beautiful place! Thanks again to you Tei for your hospitality without which this would never have been possible! There will hopefully be more posts from the visit with Tei as soon as time allows! Tei starts talking about another use of rice husks, in nukazuke, fermented vegetables in rice bran (nuka), see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukazuke
Showing us Chengiopanaxsciadophylloides (koshiabura) which had yet to emerge:
Yesterday, I introduced Agricultural Explorer David Fairchild who, inspired from visiting Japan, was determined to try to introduce udo (Aralia cordata) and wrote an interesting paper 120 years ago giving more details about this novel perennial vegetable: Udo introduction to the US with cultivation instructions (1903) 11 years later in 1914, he wrote a really interesting report summing up his experiences with udo. It blows my mind to read how much work was done on this plant over 100 years ago, but sad to see that it was never adopted in a big way! You can read the whole report and I recommend you do, but I’ve picked out some titbits from the report that I found particularly interesting followed by a few other interesting excerpts from various inventories of introduced plants to the US!
I stumbled upon this interesting US Department of Agriculture Bulletin from 1903 by David Fairchild, who calls himself Agricultural Explorer, entitled “Three New Plant Introductions from Japan”. There are 4 pages and some photos concerning udo (Aralia cordata) in the article “Udo : A new winter salad” (see pages 17-20 and the plates in the pdf below). This gives detailed growing instructions for “Kan udo” and “Moyashi udo” for harvesting during winter (October to May); these are cultivation techniques rather than udo varieties. Winter cultivation is more relevant to areas with relatively warm winters. The other two plant introductions are Edgeworthia chrysantha as a fibre plant (for producing paper) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica). Kyle Dougherty posted on my Edimentals Facebook group in 2021 about the same program with a great picture of udo cultivation and wrote “Here’s an interesting story for the udo (Aralia cordata) fans out there. In 1902 the USDA imported some 25,000 improved udo plants into the United States from Japan for trialing as a new vegetable crop. Plants were grown at the experiment station in Rockville, MD until at least 1917, and were also distributed to private gardens around the country and the Chico field station in CA. The Rockville experiment station is long gone, and is now the site of Montgomery College, but I can’t help but wonder if any of these plants are still out there somewhere. It’s also kind of a bummer that it never really caught on despite the effort the USDA put into it.”
Here’s the document I discovered (pages and plates are repeated below)
The best of spring in one sitting. In celebration of the country Norway, we yesterday (17th May) harvested a small selection of the best blanched perennial vegetables (apart from the ostrich fern which had to be harvested or it would have been too late). This included three udo species (Aralia cordata, Aralia californica and Aralia racemosa), sea kale (Crambe maritima), Hosta “Big Daddy” together with delicious sweet blanched ramsons (Allium ursinum) . They were all eaten raw (apart from the fern which was steamed for 10 minutes) with a Japanese dipping sauce – olive oil (should have been sesame), tamari (soy sauce) and roasted sesame seeds. These accompanied an onion soup prepared with half of the leaves from one plant of Wietses Onion, a vigorous hybrid of Allium pskemense and Allium fistulosum! It doesn’t get much better than this! More information with the pictures:
This year’s udo (Aralia cordata) selfie pictures, probably the highest ever with a flowering spike way above my head. I harvested about 1/3 of the shoots in the spring. This is my largest herbaceous perennial vegetable that was planted here 20 years old ago! It has never had any fertiliser and is growing on the steepest slope in my garden. Ostrich fern (strutseving) and giant bellflower (storklokke) can be seen in the foreground.
Not something I can make very often as I don’t find fasciated dandelions very often! A simple salad was put together, made fascinating with a fasciated dandelion. The blanched udo (Aralia cordata) was ready: I harvested some blanched sea kale (Crambe maritima) too and I found a fasciated dandelion to decorate the salad The udo was peeled
…and the salad was put together with the fasciated dandelion flower stem cut into strips and mixed in with a sesame oil – soya sauce dressing:
During a webinar recently somebody asked me recently whether udo (Aralia cordata) resprouts in the same season if one cuts it. I said I would give photographic evidence that it does. The first picture is the blanched udo ready to eat. It was cut right down on 1st April. It reacted quickly by sending up two new shoots, one of which I ate and the second picture is what it looks like on 24th April (it was kept inside). So, the answer is yes that udo certainly responds quickly to us harvesting it.
Almost exactly 5 years ago this week I was on a study tour to Japan to look at Sansai production. I’m doing a webinar talk about the trip for Norwegian Seed Savers (KVANN) on 18th April. Although it’s open for all it will be in Norwegian. If there is interest for it I could repeat in English at some stage, but probably not before next winter. If anyone would like to organise it, please let me know. Otherwise, I may just organise it as the first Edimentals talk! See https://www.facebook.com/events/1333421547030675 Sansai (meaning mountain vegetables, mostly perennials) are what are essentially previously wild foraged vegetables which are now produced on farms in the lowlands around the cities in Japan, often in greenhouses for all year production – roots are often frozen until they are needed). With a little planning one can extend the season for some of the best sansai vegetables by digging up roots in the autumn and planting them in soil in buckets which are stored in my cold cellar (just above 0C this winter), and ready to be brought up into the living room for forcing in winter / spring (they could also be left outside, protected by piling leaves or similar around them – the roots are more exposed to cold in a bucket). For blanching I use a second upturned bucket on top. I’ve now harvested three important sansai veggies which were forced (it took a couple of weeks); Udo (Aralia cordata): peeled and sliced and eaten as a salad in a sesame oil and soy sauce with roasted sesame seed dressing Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): steamed for 10 minutes Urui (Hosta sieboldiana): The blanched shoots are deliciously crispy and mild tasting, perfect with a dipping sauce (sesame oil, roasted sesame seeds and soy sauce) The sansai were served with fried veggie beetroot burgers (aka blood burgers) which are cooked and grated beetroot mixed with egg and wholegrain emmer flour (with grated onion, garlic, chili, salt and pepper).
I’ve been self-sufficient in fresh vegetables year round and have blogged and lectured about how I can do this even in winter without a greenhouse, without a freezer and without using additional energy apart from my own manual labour :) The most important factor allowing me to do this is the cold cellar under the house where I can store vegetables cold and frost free. None of the common winter leafy green vegetables further south in Europe – kales (grønnkål), chards (mangold) and leek (purre) – can be reliably overwintered outside here, although winters are getting milder. For example, swiss chard is killed by the first hard frosts which due to our northern location last all day (little direct solar warming at this time of year). Usually I’m taken by surprise by hard frosts in early November and there’s a panic digging up vegetables and I often have to use an iron bar to get through the ice layer. Not so this year. Thanks to corona and a very mild first part of November, I’ve had more time for the harvest. Last week I lifted the swedes and turnips and yesterday the parsnips, jerusalem artichokes and carrots. Today, I moved all the swiss chards, celery and chicories (sikkori) to large buckets, planted in soil, ready to move quickly inside later in the week if necessary as colder weather is forecast. In the past I’ve stored these winter vegetables in hand made wooden crates filled with soil. However, after 20 or so winters, they’re no longer usable and I hadn’t got round to making new ones, so I will store in these large plastic buckets, which had been purchased to plant the Allium collection, now with a permanent home at the Ringve botanical garden. I’ve also been digging up perennial vegetables for winter forcing. This includes various onions – Allium senescens, Allium flavescens, Allium angulosum and Allium cernuum. In addition, I’ve dug a udo (Aralia cordata) root and also a few ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and Hosta “Frances Williams” (sieboldiana). Finally, I’ve been digging large amounts of my most important winter vegetable, dandelion! (see my 2018 harvest here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=20124) 19th November: the next morning it snowed (see the video at the bottom)!
Harvested swiss chards including the Lucullus type and perpetual spinach (all Beta vulgaris var cicla):
My 18 year old udo (Aralia cordata) is probably the tallest ever this year (I’m 6 ft or 1.8m). After the coldest May for many years with plenty of rain, June is likely to be the warmest ever in this area with several days over 30C and a probable (to be confirmed) highest temperature for this area at 34.3C at the airport on Saturday. Cold damp spring temperatures are perfect for udo! I’m dreaming of fields of udo replacing the barley and oats!
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden