• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Carla Burke
  • John F Dean
  • Nancy Reading
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • Jay Angler
stewards:
  • Pearl Sutton
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
master gardeners:
  • Timothy Norton
  • Christopher Weeks
gardeners:
  • Tina Wolf
  • Matt McSpadden
  • Jeremy VanGelder

Sansai (Japanese Mountain Vegetables) or Foraging in Japan

 
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
921
2
kids home care trees cooking bike woodworking ungarbage
  • Likes 19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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.
 
pioneer
Posts: 595
Location: Oregon 8b
208
monies dog forest garden fungi foraging homestead
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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
Posts: 499
Location: Nara, Japan. Zone 8-ish
372
2
kids dog forest garden personal care trees foraging
  • Likes 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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
pioneer
Posts: 595
Location: Oregon 8b
208
monies dog forest garden fungi foraging homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

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.
 
master steward
Posts: 6098
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
2960
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
921
2
kids home care trees cooking bike woodworking ungarbage
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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
 
pioneer
Posts: 170
Location: Nikko, Japan Zone 7a-b 740 m or 2,400 ft
41
2
cat fish cooking food preservation medical herbs writing
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

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
pioneer
Posts: 170
Location: Nikko, Japan Zone 7a-b 740 m or 2,400 ft
41
2
cat fish cooking food preservation medical herbs writing
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

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. 


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
pioneer
Posts: 170
Location: Nikko, Japan Zone 7a-b 740 m or 2,400 ft
41
2
cat fish cooking food preservation medical herbs writing
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
921
2
kids home care trees cooking bike woodworking ungarbage
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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.
 
Posts: 5
Location: Catskills NY
1
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello to all my fellow Japanofiles

I just found this thread and I'm excited to see where it goes. So far I have cultivated butterbur (Fuki) Solomon’s seal and dayflower (tsuyukusa) successfully and I forage in my woods for ostrich ferns and ramps, which are plentiful.  I am also cultivating shitake and mukitaki mushrooms in logs. I'll be traveling to Japan this summer (Hokkaido) and can't wait to go foraging! Do you have any recommendations as to what to look out for in my Japan July foraging?

Also, I'd be interested in plant swapping for Aralia Cortada or Prunus mume (ume plum) in any form; seeds, cuttings or young plants. I've already had an awesome experience exchanging via Permies and much prefer the vibe of this platform/community to others.

Cheers!

Naomi

 
pioneer
Posts: 379
Location: Florida - Zone 10A
35
purity cat dog foraging trees books food preservation cooking medical herbs woodworking homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This is all absolutely remarkable.

It was my dream for a while to live in Japan. I started learning Japanese, but due to my unsociability (which is actually not uncommon in Japan) I have since forsaken it. I figured it would be extremely difficult as a non-wealthy foreigner to find opportunities in the countryside.
 
steward & author
Posts: 34842
Location: Left Coast Canada
12058
8
books chicken cooking fiber arts sheep writing
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My Japanese friends often volunteer to help on the farm this time of year.  I like to pretend it's because they like us so much, but I suspect some of them are more motivated by the reward at the end of the hour when they get to forage for fiddlehead ferns (not the same type as in Japan, but still tasty) and other wild food we encourage to grow.  

One of these days, I'm going to get some seeds for some of the plants we don't have and make a little polyculture corner specifically for spring foraging.  I also need to find out what these things taste like and why my friends go absolutely wild when they see the spring edibles.
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6098
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
2960
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Naomi, Welcome to Permies. Have you tried eating any of your sansai plants yet? I think I need to acclimatise my palate to more bitter flavours. Stephen Barstow has a few hints in his book Around the world in 80 plants but sometimes the season is so short you miss it. I'm pretty sure I've missed Hosta again this year, although my Solomon's seal may be worth a try again just now.
 
L. Johnson
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
921
2
kids home care trees cooking bike woodworking ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jeff Steez wrote:This is all absolutely remarkable.

It was my dream for a while to live in Japan. I started learning Japanese, but due to my unsociability (which is actually not uncommon in Japan) I have since forsaken it. I figured it would be extremely difficult as a non-wealthy foreigner to find opportunities in the countryside.



Off topic, but:

If you have a bachelors degree it's pretty easy to get a job teaching English in Japan. I'm not sure how hard it would be if you don't have a B.A.

Once you get here anyway, if you do get involved in the community there are often many ways to stick around. You just need that first visa and a chance to build relationships. The japanese countryside is not particularly expensive... and with the exchange rate right now the USD has a lot of purchasing power.
 
Jeff Steez
pioneer
Posts: 379
Location: Florida - Zone 10A
35
purity cat dog foraging trees books food preservation cooking medical herbs woodworking homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

L. Johnson wrote:

Jeff Steez wrote:This is all absolutely remarkable.

It was my dream for a while to live in Japan. I started learning Japanese, but due to my unsociability (which is actually not uncommon in Japan) I have since forsaken it. I figured it would be extremely difficult as a non-wealthy foreigner to find opportunities in the countryside.



Off topic, but:

If you have a bachelors degree it's pretty easy to get a job teaching English in Japan. I'm not sure how hard it would be if you don't have a B.A.

Once you get here anyway, if you do get involved in the community there are often many ways to stick around. You just need that first visa and a chance to build relationships. The japanese countryside is not particularly expensive... and with the exchange rate right now the USD has a lot of purchasing power.



I can barely get by in America, I do not know if acclimating to another culture would work, though I do admire a lot of the Japanese traits.

I had the slightest of opportunities to visit and possibly apprentice with a blacksmith via introduction through the individual I buy wood tools from, but at the age of 29 I highly doubt it will be worth the smith's time. Though, he is getting old, and none of the younger Japanese want to perform such works anymore.

I understand cash is king in Japan, and the society is a complex mixture of new and old. Have you seen the movie Ikiru? I can't imagine the bureaucracy that a foreigner would face trying to buy land in the countryside, but you would know far better than I.

The houses, the woodworking, how the culture is ingrained into every measurement carpenter's used in older houses, it's just a whole different ballgame than the quick and dirty modern American carpentry. I really enjoy watching "Shoyan Japanese Carpenter" on YouTube.
 
pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Minnesota
131
homeschooling kids purity trees books cooking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I read Eating Wild Japan as a reviewer before it was released.  Here's my review from back then:

I read this book as an American forager. Our family forages hundreds of pounds of wild foods a year and they make up a big part of our diet. We forage wild asparagus, mushrooms, elderberries, acorns (once processed they make a fantastic flour), ramps, lambs quarters, apples, pears, gooseberries, raspberries, wood sorrel, dandelions and their flowers, nettles and much more. I wouldn't want to live without foraged foods, not just because they're free and incredibly healthy but also because they just taste so much better than most grocery store produce. We also forage for a lot of medicinal plants like plantain, elderberries, mullein, etc.

I was hoping to find a sort of kinship in this book and learn how people on the other side of the world use wild plants in similar and different ways from the ways we do. This book didn't really hit that mark. There's more talk of a few people doing really complicated ways of foraging and processing foods in traditional ways than just modern Japanese people subsisting on the delicious and healthy wild plants that are all around.

At one of our local foraging spots, we frequently run into Hmong families that harvest completely different greens than we do. One morning, my teenage daughter and one such family tried to communicate with each other about what they were each harvesting. For our family, it was spring ramps and nettles (one of the healthiest wild plants in the world, and surprisingly tasty once you blanch them and remove the sting or blend them in smoothies). My husband and daughter didn't recognize the greens they were harvesting but they seemed very enthusiastic about them. I was hoping to learn more about the plants that might be loved in other places and go unappreciated here, or to even learn new ways of enjoying plants that are found in both regions.

This was definitely an interesting book. I was often saddened about how much is being lost in Japan in terms of both nature and traditions (Bird describes massive trees that are being purchased from rural families so companies can use them to make one-slab tables for very rich people from the giant trunks, for instance). It almost seems like a tribute to the past rather than a modern foraging guide for Japan. It is fascinating and well written, but probably not ultimately helpful for those interested in actually foraging either in Japan or elsewhere.



I do recommend the book as it is quite interesting, but it's not necessarily the best modern foraging book.  

If you want to take a look at it on Amazon, it is here: Eating Wild Japan (affiliate link).



did7.jpg
Eating Wild Japan
Eating Wild Japan
 
Jeff Steez
pioneer
Posts: 379
Location: Florida - Zone 10A
35
purity cat dog foraging trees books food preservation cooking medical herbs woodworking homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Are there any opportunities to transition from WWOOFer in Japan to some type of related occupation? Or perhaps... Arriving with a sum of money to buy those abandoned farmhouses in the countryside as well as fix them to code afterwards?

As far as I can tell the only real opportunity is marrying Japanese...
 
This tiny ad isn't wearing any underwear - WOO!
Building a Better World in your Backyard by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop
https://permies.com/w/better-world
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic