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Sansai (Japanese Mountain Vegetables) or Foraging in Japan

 
Lew Johnson
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I want to start a thread on this topic. I will do my best to bring together the resources I can find, and am hoping for contributions for those that are in the know.

Most of the resources are going to be in Japanese, but I'll make a point to share what I can find in English as it's more relevant to this community at large. And if possible I want to create an English reference for people trying to access the material in Japanese.

Background:
There is a very living tradition of foraging for wild vegetables and other edibles throughout the seasons in Japan. Though they're popular in rural homes around the country, many top tier restaurants and most traditional Japanese inns (ryokan) serve these vegetables because they embody the seasonal freshness that is traditionally treasured here, in contrast to the ever available produce of supermarkets.

Resources:
The wikipedia article in English is a bit weak, especially since many of the linked articles don't exist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sansai
The Japanese article is a bit more robust (as you would expect) and talks about dangerous plants that are easily mistaken for poisonous varieties: https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B1%B1%E8%8F%9C

So far I've only found one book on the topic in English and it's not out yet:
Eating Wild Japan: "Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes" by Winifred Bird.

I recently found a blogger who covers some:
https://cultivateddays.co/

Searching Amazon.co.jp for 山菜 will give you the Japanese books on the topic, but I haven't found the go-to book yet. I plan on looking over the ones available at the library here and taking some notes in the near future.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Thanks for getting this started! I was just bemoaning the other day that there wasn't a better way to have permaculture-y discussions across culture's and languages. Google used to have Google Wave, which included automatic translation and was a kind of mashup between forums, chat, and document editing/wikis. I haven't seen any service that provides a similar level of interaction across languages and it's kind of a bummer.

There are definitely a number of Japanese/Asian vegetables that I'm growing or intend to grow (gobo, fuki, wasabi, yams, hostas, daylilies, etc.) Knowing how things have traditionally been used is super helpful. I'll have to keep an eye on when that English-language book gets published.

I was also hoping to find more information on my Siberian imports by searching in Russian, but without speaking the language I'm kind of limited by what the translator can do.
 
Amy Arnett
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Location: Nara, Japan. Zone 8-ish
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I'm liking this little guide book called tsumikusa zukan, literally "picked weeds guide book". This is the only book I've seen use the term "tsumikusa" (摘み草); I take it to mean something like "foraging". The book is only in Japanese. 


some used ones on amazon.co.jp. here
and some on book off

The book includes a lot of plants I haven't seen in other sansai guide books. The guide has useful graphics and short text packed with information. The text is short enough that it could probably be translated reasonably accurately by showing pictures of the pages or live camera to the google translate app on a smartphone. I'll attach a sample page at the bottom.

The only pet peeve I have is that scientific names aren't included. And there is not much about positive id and look alikes, but most of the weeds are ubiquitous that you probably see all the time and will recognize if you've been living in the countryside of Japan. 

The book also includes some recipes and notes on how much "aku" is in the plant and how to get it out. "Aku" is a difficult concept to translate, but it's basically any compounds in the plant that taste bad or are poisonous. Aku is usually removed by soaking in water or boiling a few times. 

The word aku sounds the same as the word for bad or evil, but it actually comes from the word for lye and has come to mean any yucky part of food that we don't want to eat. The foamy stuff that collects on the surface of chicken soup is also aku, so make sure you get it out of the soup before serving to anyone from Japan :).

I'll dig through our book piles and see what other guides I can find.
DSC_7088.JPG
"tsuyukusa" page from tsumikusa zukan
"tsuyukusa" page from tsumikusa zukan
 
Mathew Trotter
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Amy Arnett wrote:I'm liking this little guide book called tsumikusa zukan, literally "picked weeds guide book". This is the only book I've seen use the term "tsumikusa" (摘み草); I take it to mean something like "foraging". The book is only in Japanese...



Here's the translation I got from Google:

This has a beauty that you can't imagine.  The contrast between the yellow stalks and the yellow stalks is good, and the leaves are solid, but they wilt when the sun shines, and the leaves are dried.  Grated wasabi of Commelina communis 5 9 Flatland collection calendar 3 4 6 | 7 | 8 10 | 11 | 12 1 | 2 Sprouts ・ Leaf stems ・ Fruits ・ Others Wildflowers are light and light nightflowers  Grass] Also known as Aobana, Kamatsuka, Tonbogusa, Hamagurigusa, Commelina communis, Firefly (Product classification 1 Commelina communis 1 year Grass (Flower time) -June to August [Distribution 1 Nationwide (collection place) Roadside, corner, garden  1 ............................ Peterce ............... Collection point, sunlight  It grows from good to half-shade. In early spring, it is a method to use young medicines and soft stems, and from spring to autumn, it is a method to pick up the newly grown twigs.  Eat the color of the dayflower with grated wasabi. You can use the dashi juice to bind it to the egg. You can also combine it with the dayflower or onion.  031 Aku's strength



Assuming that's the correct plant, it is translating something on that page as the scientific name, so that's useful at least. Not sure if it could give a better translation with the book directly in front of me, or if the translation would even be useful to someone who doesn't speak Japanese, but if "Aobana, Kamatsuka, Tonbogusa, Hamagurigusa, Commelina communis" are all correct, that ought to at least provide a jumping off point.
 
Nancy Reading
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I'm also interested in Japanese wild edibles.  Despite being on the opposite side of the globe, and generally a bit cooler, many of the 'mountain vegetables' we either grow as garden ornamentals (like Hosta), or should grow well here, and in much of the UK.  I like the idea of a secret edible garden, just for my own satisfaction: I'm not worried about human scrumpers raiding my veg patch (if I had one) on Skye.
I've done a little research (see my post SkyeEnt Sansai), but am still a little nervous of eating things that are unfamiliar to me so as well as planting hints, I need to experiment with different cookng methods.  Everything needs to pass the Stuart test as to whether my DH will eat it more than once.
I now am establishing Matteucia struthiopteris, Aralia cordata, Zanthoxylum piperitum, Hosta sieboldiana, Polygonatum, akebia trifoliata, Sagittaria latifolia, Erythronium japonicum, Hemerocallis, Zingiber mioga, Wasabia japonica, Persicaria bistorta.
Although we have not tried very many since they are still establishing, and as I said, I am unfamiliar with when to harvest them and how to cook them.  I will be following this thread with interest.  
 
Lew Johnson
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I went to the library before the new year, and had a look at what kind of resources were there. I realized this: I want a book that has recipes other than just fritters/tempura, information on dangerous and easy to mistake plants, and pictures of the plant in various seasons. None of the books have all these... but a few can be used together. Surprisingly the books didn't have as much overlap as I expected... They're pretty much 100% Japanese but these are the ones I looked through.

The parentheticals in the descriptions are my rough translations.
IMG_20210103_104603539.jpg
食べる野草と薬草 (Wild plants and medicinal herbs to eat)
食べる野草と薬草 (Wild plants and medicinal herbs to eat)
IMG_20210103_105140247.jpg
食べる野草と薬草 Showing stinging nettle
食べる野草と薬草 Showing stinging nettle
IMG_20210103_105152486.jpg
おいしく食べる山菜・野草 (Delicious mountain vegetables and wild plants)
おいしく食べる山菜・野草 (Delicious mountain vegetables and wild plants)
IMG_20210103_105336636.jpg
おいしく食べる山菜・野草 Showing Pteridium aquilinum (bracken, brake or common bracken)
おいしく食べる山菜・野草 Showing Pteridium aquilinum (bracken, brake or common bracken)
IMG_20210103_105344085.jpg
野草と暮らす365日 (365 days with wild plants)
野草と暮らす365日 (365 days with wild plants)
IMG_20210103_105405719.jpg
野草と暮らす365日 Showing yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
野草と暮らす365日 Showing yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
IMG_20210103_105412085.jpg
たのしい山菜とりと料理 Fun mountain vegetable picking and cooking
たのしい山菜とりと料理 Fun mountain vegetable picking and cooking
IMG_20210103_105502627.jpg
たのしい山菜とりと料理 Showing dandelion
たのしい山菜とりと料理 Showing dandelion
IMG_20210103_105518008.jpg
おいしいきのこ毒きのこハンディ図鑑 (Handy guide to delicious mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms)
おいしいきのこ毒きのこハンディ図鑑 (Handy guide to delicious mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms)
IMG_20210103_105609111.jpg
おいしいきのこ毒きのこハンディ図鑑 Showing lyophyllum shimeji
おいしいきのこ毒きのこハンディ図鑑 Showing lyophyllum shimeji
 
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