Eating Wild Plants in Spring

In Japan, picking and eating wild plants in Spring and Autumn has always been part of daily life. It was mentioned even in Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, which includes one hundred poems written by one hundred poets.

Kimi ga tame Haru no no ni idete Wakana tsumu Waga koromode ni Yuki wa furitsusu

Translation: For you, I went to a field in spring and picked up wild plants. Snow is falling on my sleeves.  

This poem was written by Emperor Koko around the ninth century. It can be interpreted that people usually picked up edible wild plants in early spring.  

 

Even after the change in eating habits due to the influence of other countries, the practice is still existing and popular, especially in the countryside which has clear water and beautiful mountains. However, the countryside is not the only place with edible wild plants; you can find them in Tokyo as well. Thus, the scene of eating wild plants appeared even in some novels.

Photo by the author

For example, in Osyaberi neko daikatsuyaku which is a story for children written by Miyako Moriyama, wild plants are cooked in many ways. The story is about an elderly woman who lost her husband and a cat that starts talking after his death. The cat supports her, and they close their soba noodles restaurant to start a new small restaurant serving wild plant dishes. This book is now out of print, but you can borrow from the library and it's good for those who just started studying Japanese.

Another example is a rather new novel, Shokubutu zukan by Hiro Arikawa. It is basically a romance, but cooking wild plants play an important role in the story. Though it is was adapted into a movie, I highly recommend that you read the book, because it includes the recipes of some dishes that appeared in the story.

 

Do you want to try some? Here are some edible plants that you can find in Spring, along with common ways to cook;

 

Nanakusa (seven herbs)

Nanakusa via Wikimedia Commons

Nanakusa rice porridge via Wikimedia Commons

Nanakusa is the general term to call seven spring herbs, seri (Japanese parsley, water cerely), nazuna (shepherd’s purse), gogyo (cudweed), hakobera (chickweed), hotokenoza (henbit), suzuna (Japanese turnip), and suzushiro (Chinese radish). On 7th January, they are put in rice porridge and eaten to rest the stomach after eating too much on the New Year days. Though spring nanakusa is now widely known, there is an autumn nanakusa as well, but they are ornament plants and not appropriate for eating.

 

Tsukushi (horsetail)

Tsukushi via Wikimedia Commons

-Nimono…Boiled and cooked in stock with soy sauce and other seasonings

-Tempura…Deep-fried

-Tsukudani…Preserved food boiled down in soy sauce

-Ohitashi…Boiled then eaten with soy sauce

-Tamago toji…Cooked with beaten egg in soup before it is set

 

Zenmai (royal fern)

Zenmai via Wikimedia Commons

-Tsukudani

-Ohitashi

-Goma ae… Boiled it then dressed with soy sauce, sugar, and ground toasted sesame seeds

 

Warabi (bracken)

Warabi via Wikimedia Commmons

Since warabi has strong harsh taste, be sure to boil them with baking soda before cooking.

-Ohitashi…Boiled then eaten with soy sauce and can add vinegar, wasabi, and mustard by your taste

-Tsukemono… Pickled and salted. Appeared in the book Osyaberi neko daikatsuyaku

-Tempura

 

Tara no me (fatsia’s bud)

Tara no me via Wikimedia Commons

-Ohitashi

-Goma ae

-Tempura

 

Kogomi (ostrich fern)

Kogomi via Wikimedia Commons

It does not have much harsh taste and it is easier to cook.

-Ohitashi

-Goma ae

-Tempura

-Salad

 

Itadori (Japanese knotweed)

Itadori via Wikimedia Commons

It caused serious problem in the UK as an invasive species.

-Sautéed and seasoned soy sauce, salt and pepper

-Pickled with salt

 

Yomogi (Japanese mugwort)

Yomogi via Wikimedia Commons

-Yomogi mochi…Mixed with rice cake and usually served with sweet red bean paste or soybean flower.      

In the book Osyaberi neko daikatsuyaku, they put them in miso soup.

-Tempura

-Used in many sweets because of its fresh flavour

 

Yomena (Japanese aster)

Yomena via Wikimedia Commons

-Maze gohan…Mixed with warm cooked rice with other ingredients such as carrots and deep-fried tofu. Appeared in the book Osyaberi neko daikatsuyaku.

 

Fuki (butterbur)

Fuki via Wikimedia Commons

Fuki nimono via Wikimedia Commons

-Nimono

-Maze gohan…Appeared in the book shokubutsu zukan

-Kyarabuki…Same as tsukudani, but much salty

 

Fuki no tou (butterbur flower stalk)

Fuki no tou via Wikimedia Commons

Fuki miso via Wikimedia Commons

-Tempura

-Fuki miso…Mixed and sautéed with miso and a bit of sugar

-Dengaku…Put fuki miso on tofu. Appeared in the book Osyaberi neko daikatsuyaku

 

Tsuwabuki (leopard plant)

Tsuwabuki via Wikimedia Commons

Kyarabuki via Wikimedia Commons

-Nimono

-Kyarabuki

 

Tanpopo (dandelion)

dandelion via Wikimedia Commons

-Tempura

-Coffee… Roasted the root

-Tea

 

Udo (Japanese spikenard)

Udo via Wikimedia Commons

-Tempura

-Miso soup

-Ohitashi

-Kinpira… Sautéed with carrots and seasoned with soy sauce and sugar.

 

Nobiru (long-stamen chive)  

Nobiru via Wikimedia Commons

-Eaten with vinegar miso   

-Miso soup

-Spaghetti

 

Most plants in this list need to be boiled a long time to remove their harsh taste, but remain a bit bitter and are considered as a taste of spring. These are healthy and perfect for vegetarians, and there are many other recipes online.

Though you can find them in the town, those tend to be dirty because of garbage and pets so make sure you wash them. Or, it is better to go river banks, the suburb areas, and the countryside. Also, there are some poisonous plants, so do not eat something you are not sure.

It's going to be a good experience to enjoy the spring delicacy.

Why don’t you wander around the street, pick some up, and cook them?