Clearing space and removing trees turned out to be a theme of 2013.
Clearing space and removing trees turned out to be a theme of 2013.
Sansai means, literally, ‘mountain vegetable.’ Mountain vegetable implies wild vegetable., as opposed to cultivated (on the plains). Mountains are high, closer (than plains) to heaven. Mountain vegetables, because they are wild, because they grow closer to heaven, embody more qi (ch’i) (usually translated as ‘energy’ – this is the energy which flows in the acupuncture channels, and is activated by ‘Tai Ch’i’ exercises).
Furthermore, most sansai are the early spring shoots of various perennial herbs and shrubs, so eating them partakes of the vital, bursting-forth energy of spring. And they are delicious. In Japan, the arrival of sansai in urban restaurants and markets is eagerly anticipated. Grocery stores offer commbination packages which might contain, e.g. a bamboo shoot, a few fiddleheads, a bunch of mitsuba, some Hosta shoots and of course kinome, the ‘essence of spring.’
I have found, so far, three lists of plants used as sansai in Japan, and they are included below. The main interest and relevance of these is that almost every one of plants listed occurs or has a closely related species in Eastern N. America (an exception would be Hosta – there are no American Hosta spp. But Hosta is well-established in American gardens, and even if only deer eat them at present, that will be changing soon…)
Of particular interest is the fact that most of these are woodland plants. While our S Appalachian ‘rich woods’ are famous as the source of most of the well-known American medicinal herbs, we rarely think of them as providing food. And while it is true that the amount of food we can gather, particularly from the spring ephemerals and also the tender early shoots of many woodland perennials, is relatively small, it is also true (or so I and many others hold), that it’s ‘the best food you’ll eat all year.’ (Not to mention that it comes right at the time we are most pining for fresh green plant energy.)
We supply ‘mountain vegetables’ to three nearby restaurants, and their chefs want everything we can bring them. So we are not looking for more customers for our sansai; rather, we see our niche as offering seeds and ‘starts’ to folks who’d like to establish these exciting, new (to us) food plants for their own future harvest. This includes anyone who grows vegetables for discriminating chefs.
So, our project is to develop a repertoire of sansai plants for our garden (and yours). Below are the the plants we are currently working with (more to come): we’ll be adding pix and instructions as time permits. Most of these are available either as seeds or bare-root plants or divisions.
We’ll be having a workshop about sansai and spring wildfoods on Friday April 19,1:30-5:00 pm. Please go to workshops page to register
ramps Allium tricoccum
solomon’s seal Polygonatum commutatum
indian cucumber root Medeola virginiana
ostrich fern Matteucia struthiopteris
Hosta Hosta spp.
mitsuba, honewort Cryptotaenia canadensis
bamboo Phyllostachys spp.
udo Aralia cordata
kinome Zanthoxylum piperitum
woods nettle Laportea canadensis
Jap. knotweed Polygonum
Canada lovage Ligusticum canadense
tall bellflower Campanula americana
anise root Osmorrhiza longistlis
aralia / acanthopanax spp.
crinkle root / toothwort Dentaria diphylla
Chinese wolfberry (leafy shoots) Lycium chinense
arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia
SANSAI PLANTS in Japan:
from website> www.shizuokagourmet.com This website has a nice photo of each item.
Allium victorialis ainu negi
akebia chocolate vine (fruit)
Polygonatum odoratum amadokoro
Petasites giant butterbur fukinoto
Glehnia littoralis hamaboufuu
Senecio cannabifolius hangonsou
Lonicera caerulea hascup hasukappu
flying spider monkey tree fern hikagehego
Urtica thunbergiana irakusa
Polgonum Japanese knotweed itadori
Erythronium dogtooth violet katakuri
Hosta fortunei plantain lily kiboushi
Matteucia (?) ostrich fern kogomi (exists as green & red)
Acanthopanax sciadophylloides koshiabura
Lycium Chinese wolfberry kuko
Clerodendron harlequin glory bower peanut butter shrub kusagi
silver vine (fruit) matatabi
Cryptotaenia canadense mitsuba Japanese honewort
Anemone faccida nirinsou
Allium macrostemon nobiru
Synurus pungens oyamabokuchi
Clethra barbinervis ryoubu
Actinidia arguta sarunashi
Japanese parsley seri
Portlaca common purslane suberiyu
bamboo shoots takenoko
Taraxacum dandelion tanpopo
Aralia elata tara no me
Equisetum (arvense?0 horsetail tsukushi
Adenophora triphylla tsuroganeninjin
Arali cordata udo
“ “ yamaudo (bundle of blanched shoots)
Hosta montana urui
Pteridium aquilinum warabi
Vitis crimson glory vine (fruit)
wild horseradish yamawasabi
Osmunda japonica zenmai
Sansai – ‘wild mountain vegetables’ – “Sansai convey a strong sense of spring and are a great favorite of vegetarians, often featuring in the menus of shojin ryori (zen buddhist cuisine)… The following is a list of the commonest plants used:
lamb’s quarters Chenopodium album var centrorubrum
asatsuki chive Allium ledebourianum
ashitaba Angelica keiskei
Japanese butterbur, unopened buds Petasites japonicus
chive Allium victorialia var platyphyllum
Japanese knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum
water shield Brasenia schreberi
licorice Glycyrrhiza uralensis
dog’s tooth violet Erythronium japonicum
ostrich fern fiddleheads Matteucia struthiopteris
indian plantain Cacalia delphiniifolia, C. hastata ssp. orientalis
sasa bamboo Sasa kurilensis
red garlic Allium grayi
plantain lily Hosta sieboldiana
saltwort Salsola komarovii
water dropwort Oenanthe javanica
green brier Smilax riparia
angelica tree shoots Aralia elata
field horsetail, fertile shoots Equisetum arvense
acanthopanax Acanthopanax gracilistylus
nettle Elatostema umbellatum v. majus
bracken Pteridium aquilinum v. latiusculum
udo Aralia cordata
aster Aster yomena
wormwood Artemisia princeps
royal fern Osmunda japonica ”
Richard Hosking A Dictionary of Japanese Food (Tuttle, 1995)
The third list is in the Wikipedia article on sansai.
January Treefall The year started with a bang as my favorite tree, the largest of the poplars that ring the deck, snapped off in a windstorm, It had been struck by lightening a year previously, and I was still dithering about how to drop it since there was no direction for it to fall which wouldn’t damage something. In the event, it trashed part of the deck and destroyed the outdoor kitchen addition and cob oven (all has been rebuilt). Could have been worse.
Solar panels. For the past 30 years, I’ve been hearing that cheap solar panels are right around the corner. Apparently we’ve finally gotten to that corner (if not quite around it). I found (friends found for me) a great deal on panels, and we tripled our capacity. Then I had to buy a new voltage regulator, which nullified the savings. Well, its all been paid for, and now we can actually use the computer on a rainy day.
Hike for ramps. A spring ritual. Ramps grow in abundance in the richest coves, mingled with early wildflowers: Trillium, squirrel corn, hepatica, wild delphinium, bloodroot and many more. Most are ‘spring ephemerals, and will be gone with the ramps when the trees leaf out. The ephemeral moment (actually it lasts about a month). I go for tzu-jan “occurence appearing of itself…the ten thousand things unfolding spontaneously, each according to its own nature…” – Hinton*). Of coure tzu-jan is eternal and everywhere, but the ‘doing of nothing’ (wu wei) is hard to experience, hidden as it is by the ’doing’ of humans. The best of all times and places I’ve found to dwell, if briefly, with tzu jan are among the boulders and rivulets near the head of the deep valleys in the mountains behind my house.
* David Hinton; the quote is from his selection Chuang Tzu the Inner Chapters, his Mountain Home: the Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China is inspiring reading in conjunction with mountain walks.
Ramps…..Our motives on that particular hike were not entirely pure. We gather ramps – to eat, to pickle and to sell to one restaurant (the Lantern, in Chapel Hill). Note that these are without roots – we left them in the ground to grow again.
Solomon Seal, Hosta, etc.. morels and dryad’s sadle mushrooms, a few more delicious wildfoods from our surroundings. In Japan, wealthy gourmands make pilgrimages to the mountains for a meal like this. If you want to cater to wealthy gourmands, I’d say America is ripe for the same aesthetic.
.Shiitake inoculation. Another early spring ritual.
Bees. The bees survived the winter! (sometimes they haven’t)
bees…and swarmed! We managed to catch one.
Herb Fair….Getting ready for the Asheville Herb Festival at the beginning of May. This is the best organized and labelled our nursery was all year. The biggest money-making event we do. There are a lot of ‘herb fairs’ in the spring, but this is the biggest and most fun.
Bare roots. The apprentices filled an order for $1000 of bare-root Chinese herb plants. Dug, divided, wrapped, packed and shipped in a two day marathon. Their prize? $1000..
bamboo…There are some nice stands of bamboo nearby. We use it for walls and trellises (and gather the shoots to eat)
Computer….sean….. (website…..) With so much more electricity, we got a computer for the pavillion (apprentices). We also got reasonable internet (DSL), after 20 years of dialup. Hopefully this will result in an increasing flow of information onto this website this year.
wasabi ….We’re setting up a kiddie pool for planting wasabi. A layer of chunky rocks, then good woodland soil and leafmold mulch. Wasabi likes cool water on its roots; but not stagnant, so there are holes to let the water out. We’ve made three of these now, and they’re quite successful at growing this somewhat challenging plant.
apprentices….. kitchen projects…..
Pao Zhi workshop for my students at Daoist Traditions college. This is Chinese herb processing, using heat, from mild to ‘blast-fried’, and ‘adjuvants’ such as rice, clay, honey, wine, ginger juice to alter an herb’s energetics, reduce side effects, neutralize obnoxious flavors, etc. This is always a fun workshop: the alchemical experience.
essential oils …. mugwort, holy basil, etc. Ryan figured out how to get the essential oil still functioning. Another alchemical experience. No, we don’t get much E.O., a tablespoon or less, but more hydrosol, which is also useful It’s fun to do.
Mushrooms galore…It was a big year for gathering wild mushrooms around the place. This is a typical day’s haul.
Joseph with Ganoderma tsugae…Ganoderma lucidum is reishi in Japan, lingzhi in China: the ‘mushroom of immortality.’ G. tsugae, growing on hemlocks, probably has similar properties, maybe better.
making honey pills… (workshops…) Lots of workshops and college classes last year.. These folks are making honey pills from a powdered Chinese herb formula, an ancient Chinese technique. Since they are students, the formula was probably bu nao wan which strengthens the brain and, in particular, memory.
herbal intensive…..We held a six-day workshop on Chinese herbology: propagating, cultivating, harvesting, processing and making medicinal preparations. It was fun but a little much. This year we’ll do a series of weekends covering the same material
seed collecting….Late summer and autumn is harvest time, and one of the main things we harvest is seeds of our many useful plants. Geoff took on the job of collecting, cleaning, drying and cataloging, and the seed collection is now very well organized.
clearing beds… digging ku shen….Here we are moving those perennials around (and harvesting). There are five shen plants in Chinese medicine, all are very important. renshen is ginseng, kushen is Sophora flavescens, an important herb for clearing heat.
new dryer constructed..Joseph is working on a new solar herb drier, since finished and installed. It works much, much better than the previous incarnation and we are looking forward to harvesting and drying a lot of our herbs this year for the pharmacy, tea blends, etc.
new brick & cob oven…Under Tom Trout’s direction, we built a new cob pizza (bake) oven, to replace the one detroyed by the fallen tree (back in the first picture).
pond construction…One of Will Hooker’s horticulture classes from NCSU. They’re building a rock wall for the front of what will be a large pond in the center of the garden.
Will Hooker’s class….
arborist visits….All of our hemlocks have been slowly dying due to the hemlock wooly adelgid, and it finally got time to cut them before they fall on something valuable. We were blessed to get help from some experienced arborists. Very sad to lose the hemlocks – the garden was designed around them – but it will increase the sunny area of the garden, and we’ll experiment with growing mushrooms on the stumps.
new terraces…A big project is the construction of a series of terraces on a south-facing slope at the bottom of the garden. Unlike most of the garden, there is not much rock here, so we’re using locust slabs from a nearby sawmill. This will eventually become an intensive fruit orchard, but we’re pioneering with potatoes and vegetables
snow traces new garden beds….A view of the lower part of the garden. This was a very random mix of edible and medicinal perennials, but they were moved out, beds reconfigured, cover cropped, and now it’s ready for intensive food production.
green in the greenhouse…The best thing this garden (with limited sun and a cool mountain climate) produces is greens of all kinds and in every season. This is January in one of our unheated greenhouses
We have a lot of very exciting projects ongoing. This winter I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the excellent library at UNC Chapel Hill and discovered a lot of obscure reference material, some of which I managed to purchase on line, others have been added to our library thanks to xerox. All of these projects involve both research and gardening, and in both areas we have made significant progress in the past year and look forward to greater progress in 2013. Here is a rundown on the diverse range of projects we’re working on:
A major theme here, as will be seen below, is ‘E-W comparative studies.’ By ‘E-W’, we mean specifically E. Asia and E. N. America. We want to compare, and create a new synthesis from, eastern and western botany, ecology, herbology, horticulture, pharmacy, garden design and, indeed, philosophy.
The first day of October arrives with a chill in the air, constant rain, and a bounty of new colors in the trees. With this change in the weather comes an opportunity to sit down at the computer.
The last weeks of summer brought a flurry of activity to Mountain Gardens. Wade and I had the opportunity to milk Goldie, the cow who lives year-round at Camp Celo. We went with Keenan, our friend and neighbor, who gave us a yogurt culture to make our own delicious yogurt out of the 2 gallons of milk we brought back to the farm.
Tom Trout, a friend and local builder, came over to help us build a brick and cob oven to replace the one that was destroyed by a falling tulip poplar early this year. The brickwork took a large group of people one day to complete. The cob was added in two layers, over a period of several days. Most significantly, we have been able to bake several loaves of bread, sweet potatoes, and pizzas in our new oven!
Amanda, a former Mountain Gardens intern, came to visit to help us harvest honey from our hives. We only got honey from one of them–the second hive donated a “super” of honey to the third, which otherwise might not have had enough honey to make it through the winter. What a delight to enjoy our honey on the yogurt we had made!
Our new herb dryer was completed, after much hard work from visiting friends Jenny & Frank, Joseph revised the plan and construction.
Wade and I got to visit the land that our friends Jim and Elena recently purchased, and enjoy samples of just a few of the many heirloom apples in abundance there. Their homestead garden will soon be a treasure trove of all the many heirloom Appalachian seeds Jim has collected in his work in the area and beyond.
Finally, I was able to go on a wildcrafting hike with Joe. Although we did not return with any ramp (wild leek) seeds, which was our initial mission, we did encounter an American chestnut tree on our hike. It was a special treat to encounter one of these rare trees!
Wishing you a bountiful fall harvest,
Mountain Gardens intern
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