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:
Saxifraga stolonifera is a lover of dark, wet, rocky places in Japan, Korea and China. I saw it several places in Japan during my March / April visit and ate the leaves as tempura, the commonest way of using it in the kitchen. In Japan, it has the “lovely” name Yuki-no-shita, meaning “Under the snow” whilst in English this fairly popular rock garden plant is known as creeping or strawberry saxifrage. It has flowered for the first time in my garden and they are rather special! There are a number of leaf selections (currently 8 available in the RHS Plant Finder in the UK, as well as a large flowered form). A great rock garden edimental then!! Probably not hardy, I will try to overwinter in my cellar!
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden