My first day in Victoria and Vancouver Island, BC was a mixed one. As this was probably my only chance I decided to go to the Butchart Gardens, a one hour bus ride outside of Victoria, and rated by some as one of the finest gardens in the world. I didn’t have high expectations, but was disappointed that there were almost no plant labels (apart from the rose collection) and otherwise very few native plants as far as I could see…
The botanical highlight was walking back to my lovely Airbnb room along the 30 min long Songhees coastal path. A interpretive sign informed of the rare Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystem in which both camas (Camassia), an important Native American food plant, and Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) grew alongside Dodecatheon (shooting stars)! A couple of minutes later I saw many fawn lilies in the woods and one emerging flower stalk of Camassia (both leichtlinii and quamash grow here)!
Almost exactly a year ago, I was on the otherside of the Pacific witnessing the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum) in Japan: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=9121
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.
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.
My trip to Japan in early spring 2016 was perfectly timed to witness one of the wonders of the Japanese spring, the mass flowering of katakuri (Erythronium japonicum; Japanese: 片栗), a pink-flowered species trout lily or dog’s tooth violet. Thanks to Kevin Cameron for inviting us along on a hike with a local walking club out of Nagoya! The bulbs were in the past used as a source of starch, the leaves and flowers also being eaten (but shouldn’t be wild harvested nowadays as some sources consider it as endangered). I’ve never seen so many people out flower watching, so many cameras trained at the flowers…a bit like twitchers watching some rare bird….we could call them flitters perhaps!
We took the train from Nagoya to Kanigawa station in Kani city on the edge of Nagoya’s urban sprawl, then walked to Yunohana hot springs spa and market on the river, popped in to one of the walking group’s friend’s house for tea, snack and a garden wander before walking to the katakuri area in a nature reserve area. Finally, we followed a trail up on to the hill where there was a distant view of Japan’s second highest volcano Mt. Ontake. We followed Kevin and daughter back to the spa for a hot bath, while the rest of the group carried on the trail to take the train back from a different station.
I’ve had a katakuri in my garden for several years but it doesn’t get much larger and seems to be self-sterile (pictures of my plants can be seen in the gallery on this page: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=9442
First a gallery of pictures of the katakuri woods followed by 4 videos! This is followed by two more galleries of pictures from this wonderful day! Enjoy…
..and now 4 videos of the katakuri area:
Next, an album of pictures taken on the way from the station to the market and spa and lunch at a Japanese house.
…and finally a gallery of pictures of other plants including a number of edibles on the walk up to the viewpoint with the walking group!
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:
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden