July 23, 2013
‘Tis the season for yamamomo (Myrica rubra), variously known to the English-speaking world as Chinese or Japanese bayberry, red bayberry, yumberry, Asian bog myrtle, Chinese strawberry tree or waxberry. Of these last two names the former comes from a resemblance to the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and the latter because the fruit of other myrica species is coated in wax (from which candles can be made) and therefore they are known as wax myrtles or wax berries. However, despite sometimes being referred to as waxberry, the fruit of M. rubra does not have a waxy coating. A friend who lives without electricity (and thus always interested in potential sources of candle wax) has been wholly unsuccessful, despite her best attempts, in extracting any wax from M. rubra.
The Japanese name, yamamomo (山桃), means ‘mountain (yama 山) peach (momo 桃)’ although there is nothing very peach-like about the fruits of yamamomo. But then neither is there much peach-like about the native plums which are called sumomo (which once meant vinegar, or sour, (su 酸) peach (momo 桃), although in contemporary Japanese sumomo is usually written 李 which obfuscates this older meaning). As far as I can see the only thing these other momo’s have in common with peaches is that they are round, stone fruits and usually red-ish.
The fruits of yamamomo are about 1.5 – 2 cm’s in diameter (there are cultivated varieties that have larger fruits however, according to local growers, the fruit is easily damaged by inclement weather at harvest time). The fruits grow in clusters and are dark red to purple when ripe. The tree is evergreen with leathery leaves and grey bark, reaching heights of 15 metres. It grows on forested mountain slopes (100 – 1500 metres) throughout southern China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the Philippines…
The fruits are refreshingly tart and may be eaten fresh though often they are served in a sweet syrup. They also make wonderful wine (and if you can make wine you can, of course, make vinegar too). In both China and Japan they are used to make a medicinal liquor (steeped in báijiǔ in China and shōchū in Japan). See recipes below.
I have been told that, in the past, the seeds of yamamomo were also eaten in Japan. The seeds are “stones” like those of plums — although rather small they are very hard. I am yet to find out exactly how the seeds were rendered edible but I will surely update this post when I do.
The traditional medicinal uses of M. rubra by the peoples of east Asia include as an antidote for arsenic poisoning, a carminative, an anti-inflammatory, for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, dyspesia, nausea, excessive perspiration, psoriasis, and in the treatment of wounds, ulcers and sores.
For the treatment of arsenic poisoning, wounds, sores and skin diseases a decoction of the stem bark is applied externally.
The leaves have long been known to practitioners of Chinese medicine to be anti-inflammatory and recent studies have shown the juice of the fruits is also anti-inflammatory and effective in the treatment of ulcers.[5, 6]
Yamamomo in syrup
The few recipes for sweetened yamamomo that I have seen recommended cooking the fruit for 5 – 10 minutes in the syrup but I find this makes the fruit too mushy and it loses its wonderful tart edge. They also recommended an equal weight of sugar to that of the fruit – I say half that amount of sugar is plenty. I suspect these people don’t even like yamamomo!
- Soak yamamomo in a salt brine for 30 minutes then rinse. This is to remove insects of which there are usually plenty.
- Bring sugar (half the weight of the fruit) to a boil in enough water to cover the fruit.
- Add the fruit and boil for just a couple of minutes.
- Put the fruit in jars and cover completely with the the syrup and screw on lids.
After about 24 hours they should be ready. Kept in a cool place they should keep for a month. If, once filled and capped, the jars are covered with hot water and boiled for 20 – 30 minutes the fruit should keep for up to a year. For more on processing for long term storage see here. I have attempted a batch with raw fruit — the yamamomo was not placed in the boiling syrup but directly in the jars and the hot syrup poured over the fruit — however, it started to ferment within a few days. Still tasted great though.
After finishing the fruit the syrup is used to make a very pleasant summer drink. Pour a little in the bottom of a glass and fill with cold water.
Yamamomo fruits are coated in wild yeasts which, if treated right, will happily make alcohol for you. And they’re so easy to please! Place the fruit in sugary water and stir often. As simple as that. How much sugar you use will affect the vigour and length of fermentation and thus the strength (alcohol content) of your brew. For a strong wine, use more. For 2kg of yamamomo I use about 1.25 kg’s of sugar. To make a simple “country wine” to be consumed “green”: 
- Do not wash the yamamomo. You want to keep all the wild yeast on the fruit. Yes, there probably will be many tiny insects in the fruit but these will be strained out later. Place the fruit in the bottom of a container – a food grade plastic bucket or large glass jar will do nicely.
- Dissolve the sugar in enough cold water to generously cover the fruit (5 to 10 cm’s is good). Pour this mixture over the fruit in the bucket.
- Stir. And stir often. The more you can stir your potion the better. I stir my concoctions anywhere from 6 to 10 times a day. At a minimum give it at least four good stirrings every day.
- Between stirring keep your bucket covered with a lid, cloth or anything else that keeps flies and dust out.
- After a day or two you should see bubbles or froth forming on the top of the liquid. Keep up the daily stirrings until the froth begins to lessen – hopefully this will take a couple of weeks.
- When fermentation does begin to subside strain in to bottles and enjoy.
Vinegar is essentially wine that has been overexposed to oxygen. Once the yeasts that converted the sugars to alcohol have begun to lose steam through lack of food acetobacter (acetic-acid-producing bacteria who were always present but until now held in check by the vigour of the yeasts) begin to dominate. It is acetobacter that will turn your wine in to vinegar.
So, to make vinegar follow the wine making steps listed above but rather than bottling the finished wine strain it into another wide mouthed container and keep covered with a cloth. Taste regularly and when it reaches the desired acidity (when it tastes like vinegar) bottle and cap. A vinegar ‘mother’ may have formed on top which you’ll need to remove before bottling. But don’t discard this. You can eat it, feed to it to your chickens or compost it.
Given that yamamomo is abundantly covered in wild yeasts (kõbo) it can also be used as a yeast source for bread (and probably beer too). Place some fruit in a jar, cover with water and add some honey or sugar. Stir or shake the jar often (if shaking release pressure by opening the lid after shaking). When it begins to bubble vigorously it is ready to use. For bread, just add some of the liquid to your dough mix. A little experimentation may be needed to get the amount right.
Simply steep yamamomo in liquor for a month or more. Here in Japan shōchū is typically used, in China it is báijiǔ and in Korea soju. These are all white liquors usually ranging from around 35 – 60% alcohol by volume. Vodka would be an obvious substitute. If you’re concerned about little insects in your alcohol soak the fruit in a salt brine for 30 minutes then rinse. Place the fruit in a jar and cover with liquor of your choice.
If your focus is on extracting the medicinal qualities of yamamomo then what you are making is a tincture. Fill your jar with as much fruit as possible before adding the liquor. Let it sit for at least one month and keep it out of direct sunlight. Shaking it around a bit from time to time is not a bad idea either.
If, on the other hand, you just want to flavour some liquor for drinking then less fruit/more liquor can be used.
1. https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/スモモ. Accessed 7/19/2013.
2. Flora of China Vol. 4. Available online at efloras.org. Accessed 7/20/2013.
3. Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed 7/23/2013.
5. Wang, S.J., et al., ‘Anti-inflammatory activity of myricetin isolated from Myrica rubra leaves.’ Planta Med 76(14), October 2010.
6. Alajmi et al., ‘Some pharmacological actions of Myrica rubra.’ African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology Vol. 7(9), 8 March, 2013. PDF from Academicjournals.org. Accessed 7/23/2013.
7. For more on making country wines (or any other fermentation technique for that matter) see Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation. Chelsea Green, 2012.
March 22, 2013
Here is Asako’s latest Les chroniques purple contribution. Originally posted March 16, 2013.
We have two pairs of chabo — Japanese heritage breeds of chicken. They are much smaller than regular chickens and thus lay smaller eggs but we chose chabo instead of the typical hybridized egg-machine chickens. Be it creatures or plants, we prefer the strong, close-to-wild ones that can take care of themselves. Chickens that have been selectively bred for high productivity require special food to keep up with the nutrient, mineral and protein demands that come from pumping out so many eggs. Favoring particular genetic traits always comes at the expense of others and so these chickens are prone to illness and have usually lost the ability to efficiently forage their own food.
Our four chabo all hatched last summer, making this their first spring.
Their names are Bully, Obasan (Japanese for auntie), Chabosuke, and Chaboko. Chabo tend to pair bond and are ‘faithful’ to their partners. Because of this it is traditional in Japan to keep pairs of chabo – one rooster for every hen. Our two pairs are descended from different breeds, one of which produces roosters that are considerably larger. Due to this difference in body size, Bully was always bullying Chabosuke (hence his name). Recently Chabosuke began taking out his frustration on the girls and sometimes on me too! Then one day he decided enough was enough. It was time to confront the bully.
The challenge started with a high flying kick to Bully first thing in the morning. But mostly their fighting method is more like sumo wrestling. They stand off, puffing up their collars, staring at each other. One lunges at the other’s comb or wattle, pecking it with his beak and pulling on it to drag down his opponent’s body. This is the first time I have seen chickens fight. It was a frightening scene: blood on their faces, on their feet, and splattered all over the ground. They wouldn’t stop. I became worried that it might not end until one was seriously injured, crippled, or even killed.
After thirty minutes of carnage I stepped in, and put everybody into their separate houses to cool down (interestingly, the girls didn’t care about the boys’ fighting at all, and were busy with their usual scratching up the soil and munching away on things while right next to them the voltage was at maximum!).
Next morning I opened the doors of the two chook houses and, within seconds, witnessed the same scene as yesterday. After a short while I shunted everyone back inside their respective houses and closed the doors again.
Not knowing what to do, I called the guy who had given the chabo to us. He said, “I don’t know. I never know what they are thinking. We can only observe them. They will figure it out for themselves.” I asked if it was a good idea to move one of the houses away from the other. “No”, he replied. Of course, I don’t know what they are thinking either! I made up my mind to stop interfering and see what would happen, to let it go all the way even if the outcome was one I didn’t like.
Next morning it started again. This time I didn’t interrupt but just observed the fighting. It seemed like Bully was losing, trying to run away from Chabosuke. He looked confused, like he couldn’t comprehend what was happening. But Chabosuke wasn’t letting him escape. They ran beyond the perimeter of their normal playground. I patiently followed them wherever they went just to keep an eye on where they were. At one point Chabosuke knocked Bully down. He seemed completely off-switch, blood all over him. It looked like Chabosuke wasn’t going to stop attacking him. I reached in to the fray, grabbed Bully and held him tightly to my chest. After having a good look at the damage I put them into their houses again.
And I moved Bully’s house far away from Chabosuke’s.
I thought by now Bully would understand that he was no longer No.1. And here, in this new location, he could enjoy a new life with his partner, Obasan.
Next morning, they were having breakfast at their now widely separated locations. It seemed a quiet, gentle morning … until Chabosuke started crowing loudly. Sure enough Bully, hearing the crowing, rushed off in the direction of Chabosuke. At this point I just walked away. I went back to my daily tasks but I kept thinking about it.
I had lived in cities my whole life until recently when I moved to the mountains to live within nature. After two years, I thought I was getting better at it but this incident showed me that I am still far away from nature, trying to force other living things to fit my view of the world, domesticating them into cute house pets and ignoring their instinctual natures. To ‘protect’ them both I had tried to prohibit them from fighting. But then, are they the only ones to have been domesticated?
Recently I went to the city. Around the station there were many signs prohibiting people from doing all sorts of things: No parking! No smoking! No talking on mobile phones! Don’t litter! Don’t stand in front of this line!.… Red and yellow is everywhere. The colors of security and safety, we are led to believe, are protecting people from one danger or another, some inappropriate behavior or filthy habit, but aren’t they actually preventing people from listening to their intuitions, to their instincts and senses, redirecting the very process of their thinking? Domesticated animals. And I am one of them.
The situation calmed down that day. Chabosuke lost both of his spurs and gave up the fight. Bully kept his dignity after all. They went back to their usual roles, but only until Chabosuke’s spurs re-grow, perhaps.
February 18, 2013
Originally posted on Les Chroniques Purple, February 16, 2013.
During a recent spell of particularly warm days a paper wasp appeared on the toilet wall. In subsequent days the temperature plummeted and (if she has moved at all) her movements have been barely perceptible. Coaxed from hibernation by the arrival of spring. Or, maybe not…
Although the sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day the nights remain crisp—cold clear skies and shimmering stars. This cold dark energy has dominated the past months. During this time many plants concentrate their vital energy, their ki, in root systems sunk deep in the relatively warm soil. There are also plants that have hugged the ground closely protecting themselves from the brutal wind that whips up the valley. Now, here and there, fukinoto, the small buds of the giant butterbur, have begun popping up from the ground. Fukinoto we deep fry or boil and mix with miso paste. It is a bitter tasting plant. The bitterness of many spring wild edible plants stimulates the digestive system and helps flush out the residue accumulated through the winter’s heavier fare. Fukinoto is a plant that reminds us of winters passing and the arising of spring.
It is a commonplace that farmers or those who “live close to the land” are more keenly attuned to the seasons. For us, living as foragers and gardeners in a forest, what we have become more aware of is the bleeding boundaries of the seasons across time and space. Spring, summer, autumn and winter as discrete seasons with “official” starting dates—be they astronomical or calendar-based—seem to have little to do with the dynamic flow of constant and gradual change that we experience. The drum roll of spring beginning somewhere in the depths of winter. The fall crescendo building momentum in the torrid days of summer.
During February—usually the coldest month—the morning ground glistens with a carpet of frost. The chickens struggle to drink water through the crust of ice that covers their bowl during the frigid nights. Winter scenes to be sure. However, late morning, as the sun crests over the mountains to the south, a warm glow fills the valley and a different scene is revealed. The tiny white flowers of chickweed peek out from the plants’ increasingly lush growth. Thousands of frog eggs become visible (how long have they been there?) on the bottom of a small pond. The first tentative blooms appear in the tree canopy.
Behind our house a path cuts across the slope of the hill. Above the path, where the sun hits early, where a bamboo grove shelters the land from strong winds, where the slope of the hillside encourages frost to move along without settling, daffodils have been glorying in days of spring for weeks already. It is here that the florets of nabana, a wild mustard, can be picked first. Below the path, in the depths of the valley, where the sun comes late, where the land is fully exposed to the gales and where frost settles thickly it is still the midst of winter. Here the nabana will arrive much later but will continue producing delicious florets for much longer.
For the forager attuning to the seasons, or “eating seasonally,” is a deep practice. It is an invitation to learn the lay of the land intimately; to learn the precise gradients in temperature caused by the differing angles of the sun as it touches a hillside; to develop a sense of the microclimates offered by a rocky outcrop, a tree, a body of water; to observe where the soil is most, or least, fertile. We overlay this information with what we have learned from the plants: preferences in soil fertility and warmth, preferences in amount of sunlight exposure relative to air temperature, how much rain in which temperature range will spur the fruiting of a particular fungi… Of course this is not to be studied in books then applied in the field but learned by doing, slowly. And anyway, it can hardly be said that it is consciously applied at all but rather, in a most subtle way, the feet, the eyes, the hands are guided.
– Asako Kitaori & Dion Workman
August 27, 2012
As the summer rolls on so too does the succession of wild edibles. The height of summer is often thought to be a relatively barren time for foraging but here, wild foods continue to comprise a significant proportion of our diet at this time. It has been hot, really hot, so our preference is for lurking in the cool moist shade of the trees. A preference shared by many of the wild foods to be found at this time of the year.
A couple of weeks back we held a ‘simple living’ workshop at Shikigami [view photos of the event here] with participants wild harvesting ingredients for the weekends meals. They were surprised – as are most of our visitors – at the abundance and diversity of wild edible plants here. We first introduced them to inutade (Polygonum longisetum), a relatively new one for us too and one that has quickly become a much respected and appreciated summer food. (While I think very highly of the Plants for a Future site and use it often the ‘edibility ratings’ on the site should not be taken too seriously. The entry on Polygonum longisetum is a case in point: it is given an edibility rating of 1 (out of 5). These edibility ratings are subjective, of course, but further, plants are often rated on hearsay rather than from the direct experience of the articles authors. Polygonum longisetum is far better than the designation of ‘famine food’ given it on the site. I would give it at least a 3 out of 5.)
Inutade is a mucilaginous herb growing to 50 – 100cm and one of the dominant ground covers at this time of year. We eat the leaves and the tender tips of the stalks both raw and cooked. As you can see in the photograph above it has quite distinctive dark markings on the leaves. There are a number of related species that carry these markings also. There is one species here with leaves considerably narrower than those pictured but very similar in taste to inutade. Another related species, that carries somewhat similar markings but has a very different leaf shape, is mizosoba (Polygonum thunbergii) and it is extremely bitter. The leaves of inutade alternate from a single stem which ranges in colour from olive green to red. From the nodes, where the leaf attaches to the stem, fine white hairs grow.
We also introduced the workshop participants to wild pesto. (And it is to my dear friends Karin and Cath back in Aotearoa that I have to thank for introducing me to this particular culinary delight.) As the late vegetalista Frank Cook observed, pesto is not so much a specific recipe as it is a genre. So then, what comprises this genre of pesto? Some green stuff, some garlic-like stuff, some nuts, parmesan (optional), all very finely chopped and mixed with olive oil and perhaps a dash of salt. The classic formula of basil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan is but one way. On this occasion our pesto contained walnuts, parmesan, ushihakobe (a chickweed), tsubokusa (gotu kola), plantain, aomizu (in the Urticaceae, or nettle family and one to which I shall return later), chidomegusa (lawn pennyroyal), clover, oregano…and probably some other plants that I can’t recall right now.
Peel and crush the garlic (I use about two cloves for every generous handful of greens but then, I eat a lot of raw garlic. You’ll quickly discover the quantity that suits you). Place a handful of greens on the garlic and begin chopping. As you are chopping keep scraping all the ingredients from the chopping board back in to a pile. Once the plant material is well chopped (does not need to be super fine at this stage) add another handful of greens and repeat the process until all the greens have been added. By this stage, with the repeated chopping as new greens were added, the leaves and garlic should be quite finely cut. Chop the nuts of your choice coarsely, sprinkle them over your pile of finely chopped leaves and garlic and continue to chop. Once the nuts have been reduced to small pieces (but before they have become dust) add grated parmesan (optional) and chop this into very small pieces too. The idea throughout this process is that by chopping the ingredients on top of the previously added ingredients they all get mixed up rather nicely as you achieve the desired fineness for a good pesto (in my humble opinion having it all mashed to a pulp in a blender does not make for good pesto – but as you like). Place your mixture in a bowl, adding salt to taste, then add the olive oil – just enough to achieve the desired consistency if you plan to eat the pesto immediately. If you have made more than you can eat immediately place the remainder in a jar and add more olive oil to just cover the pesto. This should keep for at least a week or two refrigerated (I’m guessing here as I tend to make it fresh each time).
Two attendees of the workshop showed an extreme aversion to garlic and all members of the Allium genus and so experimented further with the basic recipe. Using the same greens they substituted ginger for garlic, sesame oil for olive oil and sesame paste for parmesan. The result…absolutely delicious.
Aomizu (Pilea mongolica syn. pumila, Canadian clearweed), one of the pesto ingredients mentioned above, is another cherished summer green, making regular appearances in our salads of the past month. It is a member of the nettle family and the Japanese name aomizu (green water plant) gives you a good idea of where to look for it. A small annual with a preference for shady, moist places. The leaves look and taste very similar to koakaso (Boehmeria spicata), another member of the nettle family that I have written about previously here and here.
Myōga (Zingiber mioga) of the ginger family is a plant native to Japan and Korea that is a popular ingredient in the cuisine of both countries. Its popularity has led to its wide cultivation but it can still be found wild or, once introduced to an appropriate site, let go wild. It is a great plant for forest gardens as it grows well in full or partial shade.
In Japan it is often pickled or used in miso soup. The flower buds are the most commonly used part of the plant though the young shoots are eaten too. The flower buds appear at ground level – not on the above ground parts of the plant – so a bit of crawling around on the soil might be necessary. Even if not necessary it is fun and…uhh…grounding.
A stand of myōga left alone will soon fill up the available space with a subsequent reduction in the number of flower buds produced. A bit of disruption to the soil now and then (something the wild pigs usually do a reasonable job of) will increase the number of flower buds produced each year. Here we have summer and autumn flowering varieties.
Combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Guess the amount of vinegar you’ll need to cover the quantity of myōga you have (when in a jar) and add sugar and salt to taste. Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Cut the myōga flowerbuds in half and dip in boiling water for about thirty seconds to a minute, drain and place the myōga in a jar. Cover the myōga, while it is still hot, with the vinegar mixture then let the jar cool to room temperature before putting the lid on. Best kept refrigerated or in a very cool dark place.
July 15, 2012
Month four in a twelve month journal of the wild foods we are eating. Previous posts in this series can be found here.
Roused from a midday sleep by hunger I grab a bowl, don a wide-brimmed straw hat and head out to gather a salad.
First I make my way to patches of ushihakobe (“cow chickweed”) and tsuyukusa (Asiatic dayflower), gathering generous quantities to bulk up the salad. Then on to chidomegusa (lawn pennyroyal) and tsubokusa (gotu kola), passing a nasturtium I pluck a few flowers and a handful of leaves, doing the same with shirotsumekusa (white clover). A few leaves of suiba (sorrel), a good handful of shiso leaves, shiroza (lambs quarters) and amaransasu (amaranth). Moving from the clearing where I have been gathering these sun loving plants I make my way toward the shady forest edge looking for sumire (violet). Passing oobako (plantain) sprouting new leaves I gather a bunch of the small tender light-green new growth (all the more tender for growing in dappled shade). After collecting sumire and katabami (wood sorrel) I investigate a patch of myoga – still a little early for the flowerbuds, I move on. Skirting the forest edge I pick young koakoso (nettle family) leaves then back in to the sun I gingerly take a few azami (thistle) leaves – these with prickly spines which I shall trim off with scissors later. Ambling back towards the house I gather some leaves of mint, nira (garlic chives), comfrey, mukuge (rose of sharon), lemon balm and lemon verbena, parsley and oregano.
Back inside, having trimmed the spines from azami, I toss everything in a bowl and top with kurumi (walnuts) pickled in a honey vinegar and dress with yamamomo (Chinese bayberry) vinegar.
A cup of suikazura (Japanese honeysuckle) flower tea in hand I return to horizontality and thumb through a book, recently read, looking for a passage in which an anthropologist suggests that one measure of a societies affluence might be the amount of daytime sleep afforded. Unable to locate the sentence I lay the book aside and go back to sleep.
Koakoso (Boehmeria spicata) I mentioned a couple of months back as a pot herb. I was less than enthusiastic about the taste but I have found a new love for this plant as a salad green. The light green young leaves make a really nice addition to a salad – their mild flavour making them suitable for bulking up more pungent plants. Shadier locations will likely yield a greater quantity of the tender young things.
Ushihakobe (Stellaria aquatica) is a chickweed. It is not the chickweed (Stellaria media) but a closely related species that continues to grow vigorously through summer when hakobe (Stellaria media) is resting.
Mukuge (rose of sharon, Hibiscus syriacus) is a plant of Asian origin (but not of Syrian, as Linnaeus thought when he named the plant). It is a large deciduous shrub (up to 3m x 2m) with edible leaves, flowers and roots. I haven’t seen it growing wild here (yet – hopefully some of our fifteen or so plantings will be happy enough with their locations to go wild – it is a prolific producer of seed so chances are good) but it is a common ornamental plant and therefore one for you urban foragers to look out for. Also, as ours are still small I have so far only tried the leaves which I like a lot: mild flavoured with a pleasantly mucilaginous texture. There is a flowering specimen growing in a private garden in the village but, tempting as it is, I am well aware that every time I cycle through the village there is at least one set of eyes following me (“that strange foreigner who lives deep in the mountains”).
Katabami (Oxalis corniculata) is one of the many plants known to the English speaking world as wood-sorrel – their lemony tang being reminiscent of sorrel (Rumex spp.). The intense lemon flavour of oxalis and rumex species, while pleasantly refreshing and uplifting, is due to the presence of oxalic acids and a good indicator that moderation should be exercised. Large bowlfuls everyday are not the way to eat this plant. Some leaves mixed through a salad being more the way to go.
Shiso (Perilla frutescens) is, of course, the green leaf served as a garnish with sashimi and sushi (lately replaced by pieces of green plastic cut to vaguely resemble patches of grass). A really fantastic herb and all over the place! Don’t be timid with shiso. The flavour is mild enough to eat in quantity, it is nutritious and medicinal. Great as a salad leaf, or pickled in soy sauce and mirin, shiso pesto, shiso tea…. An annual that readily self-seeds to establish colonies and an excellent insectary plant, it’s a good candidate for scattering around in a forest garden, on abandoned land, city parks…. Green and purple varieties are common in Japan – the latter is not normally eaten fresh but is pickled and used in the making of umeboshi (pickled plums). Later in the year I’ll come back to shiso to talk about making use of the seeds.
Shiso‘s medicine: antiasthmatic, antibacterial, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitussive, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, emollient, expectorant, pectoral, stomachic, tonic.
Shiroza (lambs quarters, fat hen, Chenopodium album) and amaransasu (amaranth, Amaranthus spp.) can be found growing wild throughout much of Japan. The young leaves of both are great in salads. Older leaves of shiroza can be boiled, steamed, added to soups etc. Both shiroza and amaransesu leaves are very nutritious. Both are weedy…let me rephrase that; both are important pioneer plants initiating processes of succession, thus enabling the return of forests – and so are also good candidates for seedballing barren sites or sunny openings of forest gardens.
The dear old yamamomo (Myrica rubra) up the hill from our house has decided to give the fruit producing thing a miss this year but thankfully produced a good enough quantity last year for plentiful vinegar and wine making.
Mash up ripe fruit (the riper the better) and place in a well cleaned fermenting vessel (glass, ceramic, enamel coated metal but not uncoated metal as the acidity of the vinegar will eat in to it. My preference for cleaning such vessels is a strong antiseptic herbal tea such as sage, juniper, yarrow, kawakawa…). Dissolve sugar in water (about a quarter of a cup of sugar to 1 litre water. Use spring water if possible or, at least, water that has been boiled and let cool to around 40 degrees Celsius. The yeast on the skin of the yamamomo fruits, the beautiful microorganisms that are going to make this wonderful vinegar for you won’t appreciate it any hotter than that. Cover the fermenting vessel with a loose weave cloth and let sit stirring periodically (once a day is good). After about a week strain out the fruit and continue to ferment. After about a month the vinegar will be ready but leaving it for longer may mellow it out nicely. You can make vinegar from most fruit this way.
Finally this month is himekouzo (Broussonetia kazinoki), a somewhat scrappy looking tree/shrub with alluring berries which can be eaten raw and are very tasty but every so often one will irritate the tongue and roof of the mouth with a long lasting itchy sensation. The berries have long hairs which are likely responsible for this but it is a little strange that while all himekouzo berries have these hairs only some cause a reaction. There seems to be no way of telling before you put the berry in your mouth either. The sensation is unpleasant enough to likely put most people off playing Russian roulette with the raw berries but there are other ways to use them. I have tried cooking them in a tapioca pudding but ended up with a bowl of itchiness so they need more than just cursory cooking. Although I have not tried making a jam with them yet I suspect the cooking and mashing up of the berries in the process would take care of the problem. Likewise, ( and also so far untested), cooking, mashing and making fruit leathers. What does work is making himekouzochū, that is, soaking the berries in shōchū, vodka or the like. A good vinegar can be made from them also.
But the fruits are not the only edible part of this plant. The leaves are good cooked and the really young leaves can be eaten raw. The leaves do have a slight raspy texture but this is barely noticeable and nothing compared to the raspiness the berries can have. The flowers can also be eaten. Himekouzo is a close relative of kazhinoki (paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera) and, like that plant, fibre from the bark can be used to make paper, cloth and rope.
July 13, 2012
Basic Skills for Simple Living
A guided tour of our site and explanation of our approach to forest gardening, natural farming and various aspects of living simply. For more info in English see here or for Japanese info see here.