I have a small patch of different forms of alpine bistort / harerug (Bistorta vivipara) in the garden and this year’s harvest is now drying in the living room. See other posts on this plant here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=%22alpine+bistort%22
Alpine bistort or harerug in Norwegian (Bistorta vivipara syn Persicaria vivipara or Polygonum viviparum) is a common plant here in Norway and the only wild plant apart from berries that I forage every year. There are large quantities of this plant in particular in the mountains. It’s also one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants where you can read more. I enjoy it’s nutty taste on bread and other baked dishes like quiches (see https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=alpine+bistort) However, the local alpine bistort here is a rather small plant, typically up to 20cm tall, and is difficult to cultivated as it competes badly with weeds and requires a lot of weeding. I’ve collected forms that seem to be more vigorous, but nothing as large as I’ve seen elsewhere in botanical gardens. In 2002, I found a plant closely resembling alpine bistort cultivated in the Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire UK. However, it was significantly bigger than our plants. I planted a bulbil in a garden bed, but it spread quite aggressively, a bit like bistort (Bistorta officinalis) and I removed it again. It spread however into the adjacent grass and is still there (I haven’t noticed our native alpine bistort doing this in my garden). I had wondered if it was a different species at the time. Here’s a picture of it (a larger plant with large and many bulbils):
Returning to Hilliers in 2010, I saw another vigorous plant in 2010 (below), more closely resembling our Norwegian plants:
Then in 2017, I saw another viviparous plant, labelled Polygonum spp., in the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens and was given a few bulbils. I’ve grown that one on in a large pot and here are a few pictures taken today:
According to a paper in 2013: “Viviparous bistorts are represented by 3 species in the world, P. suffultoides An Jen Li (1995: 415), B. vivipara (Linnaeus 1753: 360) Gray (1821: 268) and B. tenuifolia”. Tenuifolia has very narrow leaves and the description of suffultoides doesn’t fit my plant. Among other things it has pubescent leaves (hairs – on both sides). I don’t have the accession data for my plant (I will try to find out from Gothenburg), but it does almost fit the description in Flora of China of one of the larger forms of Bistorta vivipara. My plant reaches 50cm (15-60cm in FOC); leaf blade 13cm long (3-10cm). The bulbils are large, but there are a larer proportion of sterile flowers, so the yield may not actually be much larger. The pink flowers are within the normal range and I have one variety from Norway with pink flowers. It could also be from North America where large forms exist (usually known as Bistorta vivipara subsp. macounii), reaching 45cm according to the Flora of North America; see http://floranorthamerica.org/Bistorta_vivipara) I have today dug up a couple of tubers from the grass so that I can grow it out and complete the comparison. Watch this space.
More or less the only plant I forage these days from the wild are alpine bistort (harerug) bulbils (Polygonum viviparum / Persicaria vivipara) to dry for the winter. This is one of the 80 plants in my book and I grow various accessions of this plant also in my garden! See also my post on 25th June 2019: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=22680 The best places for this species are in the high mountains and this plant’s tubers saved many mountain folk in the past from dying of hunger. We were at about the tree line and here it’s only found on disturbed ground but in places there can be large numbers of plants as in the video. It was a little early still, so we didn’t pick a lot, but will return in a couple of weeks. As we worked, hundreds of Idas blue / Idasblåvinge butterflies flitted around us!
A wonderful birthday dinner yesterday! As is the tradition since I left home, my birthday dinner has been Macaroni Cheese with rhubarb crumble for dessert. Mac Cheese was the first veggie dish I ate back in the 60s – Mum took us to Edwin Jones in Southampton (the superstore of the time) where they served it in the restaurant. We loved it and it became a traditions for Mum to make this every Tuesday! Nowadays, we use whole grain spelt macaroni with masses of greens…Hablitzia or Caucasian spinach ( stjernemelde) and dandelion (løvetann). On the top, we used dried alpine bistort (harerug) bulbils! This one time rhubarb crumble is the only time I eat sugar each year, something I’ve kept up now for the last 20 years. Dedicating this to my dear Mum…it’s after all her 65th birth day too!
On Sunday, we went for a walk up to a mountain farm (seter) near to the lake Foldsjøen in Malvik with the main aim to gather alpine bistort (harerug) bulbils (Polygonum viviparum / Persicaria vivipara) to dry for the winter. This is one of the 80 plants in my book and I grow various accessions of this plant also in my garden! See also my post on 25th June: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=22680
You can often find large quantities of this plant in open sheep pasture and dampish meadows. I hadn’t been to this “seter” before and right enough there were large amounts of this plant, although the bulbils were still not fully grown. We walked from Verket, an outdoor museum on the site of Mostadmark Jernverk, the site of an old iron furnace (see https://www.malvik.kommune.no/mostadmark-jernverk.6168342-478994.html) up through the forest past Hulåsen to the seter, returning via Slåttdalen and returning along the side of the lake. We didn’t meet a single person or car all the way! At the end you can also see a number of pictures and films of nature and some fungi we found along the way!
Here’s a short film showing thousands of flowerheads in a damp meadow (the flowers are sterile, the plant almost only multiplying vegetatively by bulbils):
It’s a rare event that I forage outside the garden at this time of year and almost never for leafy greens. I’m trying to find time at least once a week for a walk in the woods and at the weekend I did just that and I was surprised to find that the alpine bistort (viviparous knotweed / harerug) bulbils were ready to harvest. It often grows in large quantities along tracks in sunny spots on the edge of the forest.
We had a perennial veggie quiche for dinner and these were used as as a tasty nutty topping. The vegetables we used included sorrel (Rumex acetosa / engsyre), musk mallow (Malva moschata / moskuskattost), day lily flowers (Hemerocallis / daglilje), various onions (løk), Hablitzia leaves and Hosta.
Harerug? Literally meaning “Hare rye” is a plant found in Norway from the outermost coast to the high mountains and is also one of the few edible plants of Svalbard in the high arctic! It’s Polygonum viviparum (Persicaria vivipara) or alpine bistort in English, in the Knotweed family or Polygonaceae along with many other edible plants such as giant rhubarb and Japanese knotweed and the sorrels and docks. Despite its small size, it has been an important survival food for arctic peoples including in some Norwegian mountain villages in the past as plants have comparatively large nutritious and tasty tubers! I’ve been using the bulbils (hence the latin viviparum meaning living birth as these fall off and form roots giving plants that are genetically identical to the mother plant). They have a delicious nutty taste, something my kids loved as a trail snack in the mountains. Indeed this is a plant one should learn if one is in the mountains as in the event of getting lost, one will still be able to find food. It is a particularly common plant above the tree line here!
It’s also circumpolar as the map in the album shows, even found in the alps and Himalayas. I have a number of different forms in my garden and there are also closely related species which are larger that I believe could have an even bigger potential as a cultivated mountain / arctic crop. There’s a robust subspecies in North America I’d love to get hold of…(Flora of North America: “… with large leaves, compact spikes, and persistent bulblets…. named subsp. macounii”). It’s also one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants!
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden