A Few Edible Weeds Used in Japan
We can see a lot of green leafy vegetables consumed by the Japanese society often in the raw form or boiled in soups and other dishes. They also make use of many commonly found wild plants that are let unnoticed by all of us even though we may find them around us. I have seen Japanese, especially old people, looking out for weeds and carefully picking them for making use of it in their diet. They seem to consider these plants as some rare food items and handle with lots of care and happiness. These are some of such weeds that Japanese society always classified among the healthy and delicious food items. Those people going to the mountain areas seems to come back with a plenty of green leaves, branches and buds which they refer to as “Sansai” meaning mountain vegetables and all of them are growing wild in the mountain areas. Some such edible weeds commonly during our walks or trips includes the Tsukushi, Shiso, Itadori etc.
Tsukushi or the horsetail are often seen near marsh lands and aside the farmlands. They give out stalks in the early spring and these stalks are carefully plucked and used for making some Japanese dishes. They can be stir fried with meat or egg and could be used in soups also. We can see a lot of people plucking these stalks on the banks of calm marshy areas.
Warabi or the bracken couldn’t be called as a plant- it is a fern that grows in forest areas. The stems of these plants are used in foods. Also the famous summer sweet of Japan, called the warabimochi is made from the starch of the warabi roots. This is a very precious item now as their processing is difficult and hence they are costly too.
They are the Perilla plants and are commonly found in both green and purple colours. These are used as salads in Japanese foods or it is made into a paste which is used in preparing some dishes. We may see them cultivated in most gardens during the summer seasons in small amounts.
It belongs to Sansai and is commonly found in wild areas. But they could be grown in shady garden areas also. They are long plants that grow in abundance giving up a lot of shoots quickly. The plant parts are used in salads and the stems could be used in making tempuras.
It is a commonly consumed wild plant vegetable during the summer season. It is usually eaten with miso soup, or boiled in water, sake etc. Also they are preserved as pickles and used for a long time. These plants are found in almost all grassy areas of Japan and have been consumed by the Japanese from very ancient days.
It is another edible wild plant found in almost all parts of the country. The fukinoto plants are often used for making tempuras or used in miso soups. These plants produce flower buds during the early spring and they are also used as food. While in other seasons, the leaves and stems of this wild plant is consumed as food.
The Japanese knotweeds are a very common edible weed found consumed in Japan. The new shoots of this plant that appear just after the winter season are made use of for cooking. Sometimes it is preserved in salt and used later. Itadori as the name indicates is considered as a pain remover. These plants could be found in the wild and often seen everywhere aside the pathways.
They are fibrous wild plants that are used for making traditional dishes of Japan. These plants are found in the mountain areas and hence it is a Sansai. The roots and the bulbs of this Lilly plant is edible. The root is used for making some starch which is added in dishes. The starch powder known as Katakuriko is expensive and hence potato starch is used instead.
Mitsuba is also known as the Japanese Parsley as it has some flavor and fragrance similar to the parsley. Mitsuba means three leaves as they are found as group of three leaves in a single stem. These are commonly used in salads, soups and sometimes it is stir fried. Usually they are consumed in its raw form to avoid the bitter taste once it is cooked.
Tampopo or the dandelion is a very commonly found plant. The dried flowers of a dandelion are a sort of crazy thing for everyone as the florets are once ready for its seed dispersal. The yellow dandelion flowers seen in the spring season are used to garnish the food items like Sashimi in Japanese restaurants. Not only is it used for garnishing, but also the plant is considered as an edible item by the Japanese. All parts of this plant are edible and are used by some people in their diet as it is rich in many kinds of Vitamins and nutrients.
There are still a lot of plants that could be seen around us and are edible. The medicinal value of most of these plants is known well to the Japanese society from their ancestors and that food habit are still maintained by new generations also. While in Japan, we could also make ourselves aware about these plants and their importance.