New Food Specialties
Violet mustard (Orychophragmus violaceus):
a MG introduction, soon to be famous. A great spring mustard with large (6-12″), tasty (~ roquette) leaves and 1″ violet flowers (also tasty). Very productive and nutritious (highest protein in the cabbage family).
Wasabi (Wasabia japonica):
At present we grow this primarily for seed production (big demand). Wasabi grows like watercress, in or beside clear, cool, running water. Fresh seed and plants available – see ‘specialties’ page.
Szechuan pepper / prickly ash (Zanthoxylum piperitum):
This is a large shrub or small tree, called sansho in Japan. The pericarp (seed covering) is the spice Szechuan pepper; the young leaves (kinome) have a unique flavor and are prized as a spring garnish for sushi, etc. We have one mature tree, from which we are harvesting kinome; we’ll be planting several more this year, including other Zanthoxylum species.
Codonopsis / bellflower root (Codonopsis pilosula):
The root of this easily grown, herbaceous perennial vine is the important Chinese tonic herb dang shen, used as a substitute for expensive ginseng. Fresh roots, especially those wild harvested in the mountains, are a very highly prized Korean vegetable (dangsam). We are expanding our planting considerably with the goal of naturalizing it at MG (it self-sows readily).
Yam (Dioscorea spp.):
Several species of true yams (these are not sweet potatoes) are prized vegetables in the orient. D. opposita / batatas is widely naturalized in US and considered an ‘invasive exotic’; it makes small aerial bulblets along the stem and is sometimes called ‘air potato vine’. Dried, sliced roots are the important Chinese tonic herb shan yao; the long tuberous fresh roots are an expensive Japanese vegetable, apparently prized more for their texture (uniquely crunchy and mucilagenous) than their flavor. We will be trial planting several new species, including D. japonica; and experimenting with the Japanese method of growing the plants in buried plastic pipe in order to harvest the entire long roots (they go straight down, and are quite fragile).
Mitsuba / Japanese parsley / honewort (Cryptotaenia japonica):
Mitsuba is very similar or identical to our native honewort (C. canadensis). This year we will be planting both spp. for comparison. Although most wildfood books include honewort, it is not too commonly eaten here, but prized and cultivated in Japan, where it is used fresh in soups, salads, tempura, etc. and cooked with rice for flavor and color.
We have been harvesting spring shoots of the widely naturalized yellow-groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) for many years. They are best when just emerging, developing some bitterness as they grow, but they grow so fast, it’s difficult to catch them early. We have planted several of the giant bamboos including Moso, the species most prized for food in Japan, but it will be many years before it’s large enough to harvest.
Udo / Japanese spikenard (Aralia cordata):
This is the blanched spring shoots of a giant woodland herb in the ginseng family. Valued in Japan, rare in America. Grows very well here, making thick shoots; we are still experimenting with methods of blanching, which is challenging because they grow so fast. Plants available at nursery, root cuttings available, fresh seed in August: see ‘specialties’ page
Houttynia (yu xing cao), aka ‘fishy smelling herb’:
From SE Asia, used in Vietnamese cuisine. A strong flavor, ~ cilantro?. Some cultivars have red-yellow-green leaves and are quite ornamental; we also have the double-flowered variety. A Chinese medicinal herb: ‘the smoker’s friend’ (moistens lungs). A very invasive plant.
Lycium (‘goji’) fruit and spring shoots:
This grows well here, but would be more productive in hotter, drier areas. Our fruits have a bitter aftertaste. Selected cultivars from China are now available and will be tried next. We do have plenty of the spring shoots, used in soups (Chinese boxthorn shoots).
Schizandra fruit (wu wei zi), aka ‘five flavor fruit’:
Fresh Schizandra has an amazing flavor. We should be able to grow it here (I tasted it in NY). I keep trying.
Native (WNC) vegetables / herbs
Our native, broad-leaved, spring onion. Now restricted to remote mountain areas due to overharvesting. Not hard to grow in rich soil that doesn’t dry out (increasingly hard to find) but takes several years (5?) to harvestable size. Fresh seed is the way to go – may germinate the following spring, or the spring after that, depending on autumn weather. Fresh seed will be available late Aug – Sept. Plants of various size/age are avail. in spring.
Fiddlehead fern / Ostrich fern:
The tastiest of all East Coast ferns. As with many of these spring vegetables, the harvest is sudden and fast. All of a sudden, they’re everywhere, but each ‘fiddlehead’ lasts two days – max – before opening into a frond.
Our giant Solomon’s seal is a unique spontaneous tetraploid hybrid – so they say. Asparagus size spring shoots taste better than Asparagus. The flowers and young fruits also edible. Roots are promising: sweet & crunchy. See ‘specialties’ page.
These are delicious, the sweetest, crunchiest cucumber imaginable. The problem is, they’re very small. Our efforts are directed towards trying to produce larger roots by pampering them. seed available.
There are two of these. One is a spring ephemeral from a tooth-like (size & shape) tuber of very appealing flavor. The trick will be to develop a way to harvest them economically. The other is crinkle root, which grows in large patches and has green leaves all winter. Mustard family. Stay tuned.
I’d rather eat a mess of nettles than any other spring cooked greens. Could the desirability of the taste be related to the very high nutritional value? Is that why they have to defend themselves with stinging hairs? Actually, nettles (Urtica dioica) are not native, just widely naturalized especially in alluvial areas; but we do have a native species: the woods’ nettle (Laportea canadensis) which is equally good cooked greens. Both are valued fiber plants.
Anise root (sweet cicely):
Also known as sweet root, the roots are rather small and stringy but might be improved with cultivation. David Winston claims this has adaptogenic properties.
Tall bellflower (Campanula americana):
A beautiful native wildflower, potential salad (spring greens prized by Cherokee.) Seed available in autumn.
American groundnut (Apios americana) and Price’s groundnut (A. priceana):
These herbaceous perennial vines have tasty, nutritious tubers and are legumes (fix nitrogen), which makes them desirable components of mixed permaculture plantings. A. americana tubers are available; A. priceana seeds are available in autumn.
Other interesting vegetables / herbs
Hop shoots (Humulus lupulus)
Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
Ground elder (Aegopodium podograria)
Sweet cicely (true) (Myrrhis odorata)
Campanula rapunculus (rampion) & C. rapunculoides (rover bellflower)