New Food Specialties

Mountain Gardens

Updated Dec. 2011

Oriental vegetables/herbs

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). We are not yet harvesting this; presently growing for seed production to meet demand, hope for limited leaf & flower harvest 2009. Seed available now @ $8/ gram (~500 seeds)

Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) At present we grow this primarily for seed production (big demand) and we will be harvesting seed shortly (no seed last year due to freeze). Wasabi grows like watercress, in or beside clear, cool, running water. In 2008 we expanded our planting and got a good seedcrop. Hoping to begin harvesting leaves next summer and roots the following year. Fresh seed and plants available now – 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. Fresh seed available in July: $5/pkt (25 seeds)

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 his year, with the goal of naturalizing it at MG (it self-sows readily), and hope to begin harvesting for trial in 09. Seed available @ $5/pkt (~250 seeds), fresh seed in autumn

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. This year 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). Bulblets available $5/25; new crop will be available in August

Mitsuba. Japanese parsley, trefoil (Cryptotaenia japonica) 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. Fresh seed in August

Bamboo shoots. 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 herb yu xing cao ‘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.

Rooted cuttings available @ $5/10 cuttings or free at nursery (you dig)

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). We hope to have rooted cuttings of ‘Crimson Star’ variety in Spring 2011

Schizandra fruit wu wei zi ‘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. Seedling plants available in August @$6 each

Native (WNC) vegetables / herbs

Ramps 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 E 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. Plants available at nursery @$8 (gallon pot)

Solomon’s Seal 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. Fresh seed will be available in Sept. Bare root plants, 3-4 year old @$5. See ‘specialties’ page

Cucumber root 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. fresh seed available in Sept, $5/pkt

Toothworts 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. Two is crinkle root, which grows in large patches and has green leaves all winter. Mustard family. Stay tuned.

Nettles 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. Bare root plants of either are available @$5 each

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.

Campanula americana Tall bellflower, a beautiful native wildflower, potential salad (spring greens prized by Cherokee.) Seed avail. 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)

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)

Many of these plants have closely related counterparts in E. N. America. We are experimenting and hope to offer them to the public soon.