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Sansai Extravaganza

Warabi in Ashes

Well, our morning run turned into a hard morning bike ride (easier on my knees which will soon turn 34). What was supposed to be about an hour, turned into three. The the spring veggies within morning walk distance are, for the most part, too old now. Ride a bike to the end of the mountain road, however, and there is still snow and the sansai wild veggies there think that spring has just begun. This is our harvest today.


What you see here:

The first photo in this post is young warabi covered with ashes in order to remove the astringents. While some of the other Sansai are just about finished, this is just now coming out. We have an exciting week ahead of us.

DSC_7971.jpgDSC_7982.jpgDandelion stem insect repel ant

One year worth of tsukushi buds (the flower of horsetail) for pest-control. Thanks to Tomoe's tireless research, we learned that tsukushi is not only delicious (Craig, if you are reading, that is one of the dishes you really liked), but it is also an effective insect replant. The only problem is that you have to find them when they are young and still have the pollen in them. Unfortunately, we did not know about their natural pest-control properties before, so when young tsukushi were abundant in our area, we ate them all for dinner.

Luckily, there was still a secret patch of pollen-filled tsukushi up in the higher altitudes, so we picked what we expect to be a year worth. (1kg - note, this is not enough to cover all of our plants for the entire year, but the same stuff should not be used all year long, and different seasons bring different pests, which call for different plants to control them)

The second photo shows the infertile part of the horsetail, called sugina in Japanese, and yomogi. The bottom photo is dandelion. These too are quite delicious as well, but in this case we picked them for use as a fungicide and to stave off diseases in our crops.


The red flower is Tsubaki (Camellia). This is also for insect control. Apparently, drying them and boiling them to be sprayed around your crops will keep the bugs at bay for a short time. It is said that tulips have the same effect, so we will be collecting tulips from our neighbors as they die, and planting some ourselves for use in the future.

As an aside, tulips are especially popular here because although we have three meters of snow, the ground never freezes, so unlike cold areas, tulip bulbs can be planted quite shallow, and they are eager to shoot out once the snow melts.


In addition to plants for natural pest and disease control, we also gathered lots of goodies to eat.

The photo above is tar-no-me -the buds of the Tara tree. These are excellent a tempura. Our neighbor cultivates these for sale (a great subject for another interesting post) and gives us his left-overs, but when we ate the wild ones it was quite different. Maybe it is just that we picked it ourselves, but somehow they tasted amazing. Tomoe claims that today's was the best lunch she has had all year.

There are other poisonous trees that look similar to tara, but don't have the spikes. These are urushi, or Japanese Sumac. Great for making lacquer, but not so great to touch (or eat!). Somewhere this year, Tomoe and I have both come into contact with urushi, and have itchy spots in various places on our bodies. It is supposed to spread, but we are lucky that so far it has remained in one spot.


In our soup, we had nemagari-dake bamboo shoots. (a type of sasa. These are just coming out now, and the mountain side is filled with these thin bamboo relatives. This is also what we used to make kanjiki snow shoes.

Peel the outer layer away to reveal the tender inside, boil it to remove to bitterness, and you have a sought after delicacy in Japan.


Zenmai (Japanese Royal Fern), is a staple sansai in this area. We have been collecting it for a month now, gradually moving higher in altitude, but still able to find some near our home. Most people around here have a field where they are cultivating the fern. It is a lot of work to dig out a wild zenmai fern and transplant it into a field, but with a lot of fertilizers, they can grow much larger than the wild natural version.

The problem with zenmai, is that you have to process it the same day you pick it, and processing is time consuming. First, you have to peel away all the fuzz on the outside. In the old days, this fuzz was used to stuff pillows and futons. Then, you have to separate the male from female, and pluck the heads off the male. Once everything is ready, you boil them (our neighbor is helping out in the photo above) and dry them in the sun, but have to massage them every hour or so to make sure that they do not get too tough and stringy. Its a big challenge every time we see a patch of wild zenmai - we have to decide if we have time to take care of them that day, or if we should leave them until next time - when it may be too late.


There are two more vegetables we harvested which I did not get good close-ups of this time. The first, the big green pile in the upper right corner of our sansai harvest pile is fuki. Most people know this as "the taste of spring", and its buds are eaten as tempura. The ones we picked are considered to be a little too old, but it is delicious none the less. In the areas where snow still remains, there were a few buds which Tomoe did include in her lunch yesterday.

Finally, there is a small plant in the lower left corner. I will have a close up soon enough, but this is itadori (Japanese knotweed) - a plant that taste very much like rhubarb. Rhubarb is hard to come by in Japan, and I was happy to find this. After some experimenting, I have now learned how to remove all the fibrous materials that make it inedible, and leave only the oh-so-sweet sour flesh. Yesterday I made some "rhubarb" sauce (it is not actually in the rhubarb family), and it is amazing. I can't wait to gather all that I can find in the next few weeks. The Japanese also eat this, but for some reason with salt instead of sugar. Tomoe's theory is that this oversight is due to the lack of availability of sugar in the old days. I just think Japanese people are crazy.

Finally, the photos below show some of the beans Tomoe has been spouting in the hopes of growing our own this year. Anybody know what they are?



Great post on sansai and flowers !

Also, be on the look out for Yamacha (Wild Mountain Tea)




Great post i enjoyed it very much. I just want to say make sure you don't pick all the sansai or you won't have any for next year. I'm sure you know this though as your very well educated on sustainable practices it seems. :D

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