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Sansai (Japanese Mountain Vegetables) or Foraging in Japan

 
pollinator
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Location: Japan, roughly zone 9b - wet and warm climate
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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 ๅฑฑ่œ 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.
 
pioneer
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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.
 
gardener
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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"ใ€€๏ผˆๆ‘˜ใฟ่‰๏ผ‰; I take it to mean something like "foraging". The book is only in Japanese.ย 


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.ย 

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.ย 

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"ใ€€๏ผˆๆ‘˜ใฟ่‰๏ผ‰; 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 ใƒป Leaf stems ใƒป Fruits ใƒป 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.
 
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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.  
 
L. 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
้ฃŸในใ‚‹้‡Ž่‰ใจ่–ฌ่‰ (Wild plants and medicinal herbs to eat)
้ฃŸในใ‚‹้‡Ž่‰ใจ่–ฌ่‰ (Wild plants and medicinal herbs to eat)
IMG_20210103_105140247.jpg
้ฃŸในใ‚‹้‡Ž่‰ใจ่–ฌ่‰ Showing stinging nettle
้ฃŸในใ‚‹้‡Ž่‰ใจ่–ฌ่‰ Showing stinging nettle
IMG_20210103_105152486.jpg
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ้ฃŸในใ‚‹ๅฑฑ่œใƒป้‡Ž่‰ (Delicious mountain vegetables and wild plants)
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ้ฃŸในใ‚‹ๅฑฑ่œใƒป้‡Ž่‰ (Delicious mountain vegetables and wild plants)
IMG_20210103_105336636.jpg
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ้ฃŸในใ‚‹ๅฑฑ่œใƒป้‡Ž่‰ Showing Pteridium aquilinum (bracken, brake or common bracken)
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ้ฃŸในใ‚‹ๅฑฑ่œใƒป้‡Ž่‰ Showing Pteridium aquilinum (bracken, brake or common bracken)
IMG_20210103_105344085.jpg
้‡Ž่‰ใจๆšฎใ‚‰ใ™365ๆ—ฅ (365 days with wild plants)
้‡Ž่‰ใจๆšฎใ‚‰ใ™365ๆ—ฅ (365 days with wild plants)
IMG_20210103_105405719.jpg
้‡Ž่‰ใจๆšฎใ‚‰ใ™365ๆ—ฅ Showing yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
้‡Ž่‰ใจๆšฎใ‚‰ใ™365ๆ—ฅ Showing yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
IMG_20210103_105412085.jpg
ใŸใฎใ—ใ„ๅฑฑ่œใจใ‚Šใจๆ–™็† Fun mountain vegetable picking and cooking
ใŸใฎใ—ใ„ๅฑฑ่œใจใ‚Šใจๆ–™็† Fun mountain vegetable picking and cooking
IMG_20210103_105502627.jpg
ใŸใฎใ—ใ„ๅฑฑ่œใจใ‚Šใจๆ–™็† Showing dandelion
ใŸใฎใ—ใ„ๅฑฑ่œใจใ‚Šใจๆ–™็† Showing dandelion
IMG_20210103_105518008.jpg
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ„ใใฎใ“ๆฏ’ใใฎใ“ใƒใƒณใƒ‡ใ‚ฃๅ›ณ้‘‘ (Handy guide to delicious mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms)
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ„ใใฎใ“ๆฏ’ใใฎใ“ใƒใƒณใƒ‡ใ‚ฃๅ›ณ้‘‘ (Handy guide to delicious mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms)
IMG_20210103_105609111.jpg
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ„ใใฎใ“ๆฏ’ใใฎใ“ใƒใƒณใƒ‡ใ‚ฃๅ›ณ้‘‘ Showing lyophyllum shimeji
ใŠใ„ใ—ใ„ใใฎใ“ๆฏ’ใใฎใ“ใƒใƒณใƒ‡ใ‚ฃๅ›ณ้‘‘ Showing lyophyllum shimeji
 
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Mathew Trotter wrote: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.



I subscribe to AtlasObscura, which has a way of drawing the past into the present. In this case, they talk about how Fuki fed many Japanese interned during the war years. It talks about how and where the plant grows, its uses and resiliency. I think you'll like it: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/fuki-japanese-canadian-internment?
 
Barbara Manning
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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"ใ€€๏ผˆๆ‘˜ใฟ่‰๏ผ‰; I take it to mean something like "foraging". The book is only in Japanese.ย 


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.



Thanks for this. I just purchased a gently used copy of the book. And, I'm excited to say that the "blue flower weed is growing quite robustly in my garden!  Also, there are at least two sansai trees directly across the street, growing in the very large plot of land owned by the electric company.  I have to make friends with the couple I see out there in the spring, digging up plants.
 
Barbara Manning
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Thanks so much!  I bought the book and love looking through it.  I'm also using DeepL  https://www.deepl.com/pro?cta=header-pro for AI translations.  Japanese to English is rough on AI translations. The two languages just don't compute very well.  I feel much better equipped to explore the forest with it.
 
L. Johnson
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Great I'm glad it's serving you well.

There is so much information unavailable because of language challenges.

Japanese -> English is getting better. It's still hilarious sometimes. I think people in all languages fail to realize how many expressions they use are idiomatic. Idioms are often hard for AIs to catch until their corpus is ginormous.
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