Shikigami Forest Garden staging area

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== Shikigami comes to a close ==

We have decided to bring the Shikigami project to a close. It has always been our intention to develop a forest garden community, living and working together to achieve a high level of self-sufficiency, resilience and autonomy. After four years at our current location it has become clear that we will not be able to gain access to enough land to achieve that here. Thus we have decided it is time to bring our project to a close and to move on to the next phase.

We are deeply appreciative of all the support we have received and the wonderful times we have spent with those of you that attended our workshops. Although there is a certain sadness in leaving behind all the work we have put in to the site it has been a valuable learning experience for us. The workshops too have been a great learning experience for us as we hope they were for you.

Dion is currently working on a large permaculture project on the Bōsō peninsula and we are hoping to offer some workshops at the Bōsō site in the spring of 2015. Announcements of any events we are involved in will be posted on this site.

We realize that many of you may wish to visit Shikigami before we leave but we must ask for your understanding. We are in the process of uprooting much of our forest garden in order to replant what we can in locations that have a more sure future so there is no longer a working forest garden to see here.

In closing we would like to thank you all again for your support. When we first began talking about operating Shikigami within a gift economy model everybody we talked to was highly sceptical that such a model could work in Japan. After four years of doing all our work on a donation/gift basis we are pleased to report that it does work in Japan! We are also very pleased that the small seed we planted has already resulted in forest gardens growing in Japan and we hope to hear of many more in the future.


Forest garden THE PLACE

On the Izu peninsula, southwest of Tokyo, the Pacific coast of Honshu Island. Up a steep path climbing a narrow valley deep within forested mountains, a terraced landscape once occupied by a small community of mountain folk. From this former community a single house remains and now serves as the Shikigami homestead.

The site is an “open woodland” of approximately 1 acre (or 4 chõ, or 4000 sq. metres). Farmed for generations as a traditional terraced paddy system the land was later planted with a small number fruit and nut trees and many more trees and shrubs for their flowers. By the time of our arrival many pioneer species had also appeared as part of the natural reafforestation process. These plantings and volunteers are now the frame work for the forest garden we are growing.

Surrounded by bamboo groves, regenerating forest − much of which was previously coppiced woodland for charcoal production − and timber plantations of sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) and hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa). Abandoned and in various states of decline and very slow natural repair.

The timber plantations provide abundant fuel wood simply gathered from the ground. Elsewhere in the forests are chinkapin (sudajii), walnut (kuruminoki) and chestnut trees (kurinoki), food for ourselves and the other wild animals.

Typical of rural Japan, the land abounds in wild foods and medicinal plants; the sansai of the mountains and yasõ of the clearings. Already wild harvesting throughout the year to procure a significant proportion of our food, as our forest garden matures little more than foraging will be necessary.

THE PEOPLE[edit | edit source]

Asako & DionShikigami is the home of Asako Kitaori and Dion Workman. In Brooklyn, New York, we began growing a garden. We began seeing the wild nature that was growing through the cracks in the thick layers of asphalt. It spoke to us.

Inspired, we studied permaculture and wild foods, Chinese energy practices and herbalism. In the thick of 9/11, raging wars for resources and the euphoria of large public opposition rapidly turned to resignation and pathetic hopelessness we began looking beyond the usual “solutions,” (or lack thereof), predicated as they are on how the problems have been formulated. A strong sense was emerging that there was something fundamentally wrong with the whole way of life we were participating in.

Dion returned to his native Aotearoa/New Zealand and on the way, attended a permaculture design course taught by Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia. Following this was two years working at Rainbow Valley farm, the iconic permaculture farm in Aotearoa establsihed by Trish Allen and the late Joe Polaischer. During this time Dion met ecologist and researcher of traditional Asia-Pacific natural farming systems (Terraquaculture), Haikai Tane and began a period of intense, paradigm shifting study.

In the US Asako attended urban permaculture courses and studied herbalism informally. In a playful experiment she converted a friends lawn into a natural, no-input vegetable garden. Later, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Asako completed a permaculture design course taught by Darren Doherty.

Asako has since focused on the revival of pre-industrial folk-ways. Passionately studying “granny’s knowledge,” Asako brings many old ways back from the pages of books or the fading memories of elderly folk into the realm of daily life.

Tsuchiya-sanTsuchiya-san is a former inhabitant of the community that lived in these mountains. Now living in the small village at the base of the mountain she continues to ascend the mountain to tend her land; harvest her fruit trees, and bamboo shoots, check her shiitake logs for mushrooms or bottle the cool pure mountain spring water to take back to her home in the village. At 80 years of age her vitality, her physical health and mental agility, are truly inspirational.

Tsuchiya-san is our mentor in the old mountain ways. Sharing with us her immense store of knowledge of the tried and trusted practices. She introduces us to new sansai, informing us of the best spots to find particular wild edibles in the area. Her instruction in techniques of daily subsistence life and stories of how life used to be here, how the land has changed, are invaluable. In the conservative atmosphere of rural Japan, when others think our simple mountain life odd and a bit backward at best, or downright suspicious, at worst, Tsuchiya-san offers encouragement, a motherly concern for our wellbeing and the abundant generosity of a grandmother.

PHILOSOPHY[edit | edit source]

Life at Shikigami is simple and slow. Cooking over a fire, making much of what we use ourselves, making our own medicines from the plants at hand. Prying loose the grip that technological civilization has on us, we are learning to live again within the natural abundance of Earth.

ECONOMICS[edit | edit source]

Our economic policy is guided by a desire to move away from a money-based economy towards a gift economy.

The money system is one of the root causes of envirnomental destruction and the dismantling of communities. Money is created through the conversion of natural resources into “goods” and the conversion of human relations – the things we once did freely for each other – into “services” to be bought and sold. This system impoverishes us all, even though we may have more money. But it impoverishes most those who live in the areas where pockets of natural resources still remain. Lands are stolen, environments destroyed, communities devastated, people deprived of the ability to provide for themselves and thrown into financial destitution.

Our approach is to first try to reduce our need for money. We are learning to meet many of our needs by making things from materials at hand. Within our local community we are participating in gift economies; sharing freely what we can and, with gratitude, receiving gifts in turn. We do not sell anything we do or make. Rather, we offer workshops, events, consultancy and crafts as gifts and gratefully accept the gifts and donations offered in return that help meet the needs we have.

The monetary donations that we receive we use to meet our needs, not to accumulate “wealth.” For we already have wealth in the forest that surrounds us, the plants and animals that provide our food, medicines, fuel and other essential materials. Our economic policy is to build an economy that protects this fundamental wealth not to undermine it.

For more on gift economies see our blog posts The Gift Economy part I and part II.

The Land of Rubus: A few of the wild rubus species of Japan

by Dion on July 27, 2014, no comments

The Rubus genus, much loved by wild food enthusiasts (and gardeners) throughout the temperate regions, is particularly well represented in Japan with some 43 wild species, all edible. To date I have had the pleasure of meeting but a few of these though these few have all proven to be acquaintances well worth knowing. So, starting in Spring, allow me introduce these fine friends in order of seasonal appearance.

Momijiichigo (Rubus palmatus var. coptophyllus) is so named for its leaves whose shape resembles those of the Japanese maple, Momiji (Acer japonicum). Prefixed, ichigo means “berry” and unprefixed specifically “strawberry.” The specific name palmatus also refers to the palmate form of the leaves. The leaves are usually five lobed with deeply serrated edges

Momijiichigo (Rubus palmatus var. coptophyllus) Momijiichigo (Rubus palmatus var. coptophyllus)

The fruits of Momijiichigo, in these parts (Izu peninsula), can be harvested around May. The bright orange fruits following the small white flowers are little globes of spring sunshine. The berries vary a lot in size and at their largest are comparable to a decent sized raspberry, about 1.5-2cm, though much sweeter than the common raspberry. The first time I attempted to make a momijiichigo jam I followed a raspberry jam recipe and ended up with something far too sweet for my taste.

Momijiichigo (Rubus palmatus var. coptophyllus) Momijiichigo (Rubus palmatus var. coptophyllus)

Momijiichigo forms thickets at forest edges and clearings. While I often come across it in dappled to quite deep shade it grows sparsely in these conditions and the quantity of fruit is usually low though still of good flavour. Like much of the genus it is armed with thorny canes. As the fruit forms on the underside of the momijiichigo canes my harvesting technique is to lift the cane with one hand to expose the fruit and avoid getting hooked on the thorns while picking the fruit with the other hand. Individual canes often grow to around two metres in length arching over the thicket and surrounding vegetation. Beating down spent canes with a stick or foot can greatly improve access to the younger fruiting canes. Harvesting is a slow process but tending wild thickets to reduce the number of spent canes goes a long way toward increasing harvesting efficiency.

Next up is…well, I’m not quite sure. This is like when you want to introduce an acquaintance to someone but you’ve forgotten their name, or perhaps you never new it (and you’ve known them for far to long to ask again), or as in this case, you’re not sure the name you’re thinking of is actually right. When I first stumbled across this berry – and I literally did stumble out of the forest into a large clearing dominated by this magnificent looking berry thicket – I sampled some berries (I could see that they were a Rubus species and, to my knowledge, there are no species in the genus whose berries are poisonous), was much impressed and gathered some up along with a couple of leaves to help me find out who this was. Looking in my trusty Japanese wild food lexicon I saw a photo in which the berries and leaves looked exactly like those I had found. I was looking at a picture of Nigaichigo (Rubus microphyllus). Nigaichigo means “bitter berry” and the berries I collected did indeed have a slight, though by no means unpleasant, bitterness to them. The specific name, microphyllus, means “having small leaves” and if you look at the image below you’ll see that relative to the size of the berries the leaves do look rather small. It all seemed right so I just accepted that what I had found was indeed R. microphyllus, known locally as nigaichigo.

I have known this berry for three years now, I pop in to visit that incredible thicket in the clearing whenever I’m in the general vicinity (not only when the berries are in season, what kind of friend does that!) and I feel like I’ve built a certain rapport with the bitter berry. Then by some accident I recently happened across a description of R. microphyllus that said it grew to about 50cm in height. I consulted other sources, including the lexicon I had initially used and they all concurred. A detail I somehow missed when I first looked it up. The bitter berries I’m harvesting grow on canes that reach two metres or more!

Scattered throughout the forest I have found plenty of other representatives of what seem to be R. microphyllus and all of these come in at about 50cm or less. It seems only those in the clearing have achieved gigantism. This raises some intriguing possibilities. The least intriguing of these being that I have simply misidentified the species in the clearing, though my research has revealed no other possibilities. More interesting is the prospect that this thicket is a naturally hybridized rubus species – R. palmatus var. coptophyllus' and R. parvifolius are growing close by. Or perhaps these plants have transformed their anatomy in an expression of the particularities of their situation. Such things are not unheard of. Precise taxonomy is ultimately irrelevant: I know where to find the berries and I know they taste good. And if I really want a name, of more sense would be to ask the plant directly.

The bright red bitter berries, be they nigaichigo or not, come hot on the heels of momijiichigo, beginning in June when a smattering of the latter can still be found. The berries are preceded by pink flowers. The leaves usually have three leaflets, each ranging from 2-4cm in length. While the canes are thorny the fruits appear on the upper side of the canes making for much easier harvesting (if not easier movement through a thicket).

Nigaichigo (Rubus microphyllus) Nigaichigo (Rubus microphyllus), perhaps

The fruits are round and relatively large (I would guess a 2cm diameter to be fairly typical). The seeds are also rather large but not so large as to be unpleasant. The fruits are not particularly sweet, compared to the momijiichigo, say, and as mentioned above have a slight bitterness to them. They are nice eaten fresh and make a good jam.

Come late June/July we have Nawashiroichigo (Rubus parvifolius). The red fruits consist of a relatively small number of relatively large druplets. Fruit size is generally around 1-1.5cm in diameter. They are refreshingly tart with a nice raspberry-like flavour. The arching branches grow to between 1-2 metres high and have small sparse thorns. The shrub produces new branches yearly which fruit in the second year of growth. The small flowers (1cm) are pink to purplish red. The leaves consist of 3-5 leaflets and are sparsely covered with very small prickles and soft hairs.

Nawashiroichigo (Rubus parvifolius) Nawashiroichigo (Rubus parvifolius)

As well as being eaten raw the fruit of Nawashiroichigo are used to make jam and jelly, juice, syrup, wine and vinegar. Dried fruits have long been used in Chinese medicine and an infusion of the leaves is taken as a tea. The leaves are antiemetic, astringent, a blood tonic and stomachic and are used in the treatment of stomach complaints, diarrhoea and dysentery, anaemia, the spitting up of blood and to treat vomiting. Extracts from the roots are being researched for their antiproliferative activity on leukemia tumors. The plant is also being researched for its hepatoprotective and antioxidant activities.

The name nawashiro means “rice seedling nursery.” My guess would be that this Rubus has been so named because wherever you find a mature plant you will most likely find a large number of small plants in the immediate vicinity. Each mature plant forms a nursery of “seedlings” around it.

Following Nawashiroichigo we have Ebigaraichigo (Rubus phoenicolasius), a berry whose excellence has allowed it to travel far outside its native range. Assisted in its travels by berry growers it has naturalised in other temperate regions where with some insolence it is now referred to as an “invasive” species. In the English speaking world R. phoenicolasius is known as Japanese wineberry or simply wineberry. In Creating a Forest Garden (Totnes: Green Books. 2010) Martin Crawford claims the English common name refers to the wine-red colour of the berries. Robert Hart, pioneer of modern day temperate forest gardening, asserted that the berry was so named because it was used to make wine in Japan. Both explanations are plausible. The berries are indeed often a wine-red colour (though they may also be bright red) and I have come across at least one reference in a Japanese wild foods book to the fruits use in wine making. More difficult to explain is the Japanese common name. Ebigara means “shrimp shell,” yet, to my eyes, there is no part of this plant that really resembles the exoskeleton of a shrimp.

Ebigaraichigo (Rubus phoenicolasius). Photo by Rasbak. Ebigaraichigo (Rubus phoenicolasius). Photo by Rasbak.

The Ebigaraichigo is a thicket forming shrub. Its 2m+ arching canes put down roots when they come in to contact with the soil. The new canes are initially green but turn red and are covered in fine red hairs. The pinnate leaves typically consist of three leaflets. The small flowers (6-10mm in diameter), appearing in late spring or early summer, are purplish red. The delicious fruits appear around July.

Next on the menu is Fuyuichigo (Rubus buergeri). Fuyuichigo means “winter berry” and this is exactly what makes this member of the Rubus clan so special. The berries are available from October through February when other fruits are scarce giving us an especial appreciation of these antioxidant rich, nutritive and colourful red berries.

Fuyuichigo (Rubus buergeri) Fuyuichigo (Rubus buergeri) fruiting heavily in a sunny location

Fuyuichigo is an evergreen creeping plant that grows low to the ground or erect (up to around 50cm), sometimes forming patches that carpet the forest floor. The plant spreads by sending out runners (stolons) similar to strawberries. Its natural habitat is the forests and forest edges of Japan, China and Korea. It is tolerant of deep shade and full sun. It produces more berries in the sun but usually forms a denser ground cover in dappled to deep shade. For all these habits it makes an excellent choice as a ground cover for temperate climate forest gardens. The bright red fruits range from around 1-1.5cm in diameter. The stems of the plant are usually unarmed, or may feature sparse minute prickles that are barely noticeable to foraging hands. The leaves are a glossy dark green (often tinged brown in sunnier locations) with a whitish grey-green underside, 10cm or so in diameter, have 5-7 lobes and are covered in soft hairs.

So that’s my Rubus crew, for now. There are still another 38 lurking in the wilds of Japan and whose acquaintance I am very eager to make.

Special thanks to Andrew Jansen for his help in deciphering the kanji for some of the species discussed in this post and for the copy of Stephen Buhner’s latest book.

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The Foragers Elixir: Koso Jusu

by Dion on July 19, 2014, no comments


As an avid fermenter of wild potions it was with great enthusiasm that I first learned of kōso jusu (enzyme juice). This weedy brew currently so popular amongst the Japanese “natural food” subculture is not the enzyme juice of western raw foodists – it is not simply fruits and greens run through a juicer – rather it is a fermented herbal syrup, strong and potent. Leaves, shoots, roots, flowers, fruits and wild yeasts fermented into an invigorating drink, a cupful of Wildness itself.

The wide variety of plant material used gives the juice a broad nutritional and medicinal spectrum. The chemical complexity of wild plants is desirable but highly medicinal or deeply nourishing cultivated plants are welcome too. Anything goes. Sugar is used to draw out the plant juices and to feed the wild yeasts, fermenting the vegetable matter into a potent (potentiated) juice. White sugar is recommended by kōso jusu advocates for its “emptiness”: similar to the use of alcohol as a solvent in making herbal tinctures, where a highly distilled product is usually preferred, it is claimed that highly refined white sugar will draw out more of the nutritional and medicinal constituents. The potion is stirred by hand so that the bacteria present on ones body is also included in the brew. Every person likely to consume the juice should have their bare hands in the bucket mixing the sticky mass during the fermentation period.

So, here is how one concocts a brew of kōso jusu: On a sunny morn and with a pure heart, after the dew has dried but before the sun has become fierce in the sky, take to the forests and the fields (particularly the edges between the two) and, with offerings of prayers and thanks to the green tribe, gather your materials. Thirty species would be my recommended minimum – thirty is good though fifty is better. Gather widely. Small quantities of many species is preferable to large quantities of but a few. The shoots and leaves, the roots and stalks, the flowers, the fruits, the medicinal and the edible. The lore of kōso jusu has it that even the poisonous will be rendered innocuous in the transformational process, that toxins will become harmless. However, given the complete absence of any sort of explanation as to how this might occur and until we are confident in our own research into this matter the novice is advised to stay on the side of caution. Remember though, that when it comes to the green ones, the truly poisonous are few and far between. Learn the really troublesome ones and everything else remains possible.

Koso Jusu Ingredients

Upon returning to your hut do not wash your materials. Remember you are collaborating with wild yeasts, don’t go loosing your head in sanitary insanity and wash them all away. First weigh your plant materials then, with bare hands tear the raw green ones into shreds and lay them in your cauldron (or crock or wide mouthed glass jar or food grade plastic container – if such a thing can really be said to exist). Cut up the roots and fruits and add to the herbs. With some fruits, such as citrus, the juice can be squeezed over the herbs before slicing the skins and adding to the mix. Layer the plant material with your sugar at a ratio of 1:1 by weight. Yes, that is a ratio of sugar that will likely scare many. This is not for the fainthearted (though for the practised fermenter it suggests some interesting possibilities unrealised in standard kōso jusu). Cover your concoction with a cloth or loose fitting lid.Mixing kouso juice

On the second day stir the sticky mass with barbaric thoughts and bare hands. Repeat at least once a day for about ten days. After a day or two liquid will be drawn out of the plant material and the sugars dissolved. After three or four days the liquid will begin fermenting. At the end of ten days strain the plant material out, giving it a good squeeze through a cloth as you do so to get all the liquid out. You will now have a thick syrupy herbal concentrate. To imbibe mix with water in whatever proportion feels good. The syrup needs to be kept cool to prevent further fermentation, unless…

That then is the normal process for making kōso jusu. But “normal” is always more fun in the company of subversive bastard offspring. After making kōso jusu a couple of times it occurred to me to take the fermentation further and make kōso wine or kōso beer (whether it be wine or beer is uncertain and wholly irrelevant). After making a batch of kōso jusu I added extra water and transferred it to a fermenting vessel with an airlock. It fermented for a further week before petering out, at which point it was bottled. I certainly would have preferred to see a longer stronger fermentation and sure enough the resulting wine (or beer) was still very sweet. The first taste was reminiscent of a desert wine, but a number of sips later it was merely sickly sweet. Alcohol could be detected though in no way could this brew be considered highly inebriating.

But Alchemy is a Way, a practice, a spiritual practice, if you will. While the product of the initial experiment was somewhat disappointing the process remains full of promise. And I must admit that this first experiment was conducted in a rather undisciplined manner. More precise calculation of the amount of water to be added and the timing for when it is added may improve the brew. Also to be considered is introducing additional yeast for the second fermentation. Clearly there is more work to be done, for this vegetalista-alchemist has tasted the promise of intoxicating gold.ShenNung2

Update 10/2014[edit | edit source]

Three months later I am sitting here enjoying a glass of (somewhat) aged kōso wine. It has improved a great deal in the four or so months since I made it. The wine was highly carbonated upon opening suggesting that if rather than bottling the wine I had racked it instead I may have been able to achieve a longer fermentation and stronger wine. It is still sweet but not sickly sweet as I first reported. The fermentation occurring in the bottle has converted a lot more of the sugars to alcohol reducing sweetness and increasing strength! I take back my comment above that the wine was insufficiently inebriating.

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Ushihakobe (Stellaria aquatica)

by Dion on May 12, 2014, 4 comments

ushihakobe_Stellaria-aquatica Ushihakobe (Stellaria aquatica, syn. Myosoton aquaticum') is a chickweed. It is not the chickweed (Stellaria media, common chickweed or hakobe, in Japanese) but a closely related species that continues to grow vigorously through summer when Stellaria media withdraws from the heat and humidity. Ushihakobe means “cow’s chickweed,” probably in reference to the size of the plants stems and leaves which have the appearance of beefed up chickweed. Giant chickweed is a European common name for the plant though this name may be used for other chickweeds such as S. pubera in North America. Another European common name is water stitchwort, in reference to ushihakobe’s preference for moist habitat and “stitchwort” being a common name for plants of the Stellaria genus.

Stellaria aquatica is a small herb growing to around 20-50cm. The stems of the plant are striated, the leaves ovate, 20-50 x 10-23mm. The flowers are white. The seed capsules are ovoid and around 8mm long. The plant ranges through temperate Asia, Europe and Central Asia and can now also be found throughout much of North America.

Illustration from Flora of China Illustration from Flora of China

Usually we eat ushihakobe in salads. It seems it was once a popular salad plant in Korea and one study on the antioxidant and anti-cancer activities of traditional Korean salad plants revealed strong anti-cancer activity in Stellaria auquatica.1 We eat wild salads almost daily and ushihakobe is a reliable bulk ingredient for most of the year. While the plant can be found year round here in southern Izu late in spring, as the plants begin flowering, the taste becomes very green at which time we use it in much smaller quantities as a secondary salad ingredient. Our other uses of ushihakobe include as an ingredient in beer (made from dried stems and leaves) and in making kōso jusu (enzyme juice).

The Chinese too have long utilised ushihakobe as food, medicine and animal fodder. Medicinal uses in China include the treatment of dysuria (painful urination) and oliguria (low output of urine), fistula (abnormal connection between an organ, vessel, or intestine and another structure), piles, tumours and sores and as a lactagogue (promoting the flow of milk).2

The casual visitor to our forest garden will likely take ushihakobe for just another rampant weed. But to us it is a most cherished ally. The fact that it is “out of control” is cause for admiration, not dismay, fear or anger.

# Sang-Uk Chon et al. 2008. ‘Total Phenolics Level, Antioxidant Activities and Cytotoxicity of Young Sprouts of Some Traditional Korean Salad PLants.’ Plant Foods for Human Nutrition (2009) 64:25-31. # James A. Duke.Dr. Duke’s Ethnobotanical Database: Stellaria aquatica. Accessed 5/11/2014.

Harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus)

by Dion Workman on April 27, 2014, no comments

Harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus) Harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus)

Harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus) is a medium to fast growing deciduous tree reaching heights of up to 30m and a trunk diameter of about 1m. It grows in forests from sea level up to 2500m and is hardy to -40° C. It is found throughout China, Korea, Japan and eastern Russia.1 The branches and trunk of harigiri are armed with thorns. The leaves are approximately circular (suborbicular) and 9-25cm wide with 5-7 lobes. The flowers are white/yellowish, appearing in mid-summer. Harigiri is the sole species in the genus Kalopanax.

Harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus)

One of the English common names for harigiri is “tree Aralia,” and it does indeed hail from the Aralia family, like its better known (more commonly eaten) cousin taranoki (Aralia elata). As with taranoki, harigiri’s spring shoots make a fine vegetable and it too has a history of medicinal use in the East Asian region. Harigiri is also valued for its timber, known as sen.

Harvesting harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus) Harvesting harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus)

The new shoots of harigiri can easily be removed by hand if within reach but for wild harvesting extendable secateurs may be required. Tended wild plants or those planted in a forest garden can be kept within easy harvesting height by pruning branches just above where the shoot emerges.

Edible shoot of harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus) Edible shoot of harigiri (Kalopanax septemlobus)

To prepare harigiri for eating remove the stipules (the two green and purple tipped sheaths that enclose the emerging leaves) and any woody parts attached to the base of the shoot. It can be eaten raw or cooked in any number of ways. It is particularly good prepared as tempura or just deep fried and served with a little salt.

Harigiri is reported to be antifungal, an expectorant, hepatic and stomachic and beneficial for the skin. The parts of the plant used medicinally are the bark, leaves, roots and wood. The bark in particular contains many bio-active compounds such as saponins, flavonoids and lignans, is anti-fungal and has liver protecting properties. Infusions of the leaves of harigiri taken internally as a tea are said to tone the stomach and stimulate the appetite. The root is used as an expectorant and decoctions of the wood are used in the treatment of skin diseases.2

Tangential section of Kalopanax septemlobus wood. Tangential section of Kalopanax septemlobus wood.

In Japan the wood of harigiri is popular for furniture making and panelling. Elsewhere it is commonly sold as veneer, either as “sen” or “Japanese ash,” the latter name given for its resemblance to the wood of ash species (Fraxinus spp.).

Kalopanax septemlobus wood. Kalopanax septemlobus wood.

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Taranoki (Aralia elata)

by Dion Workman on April 17, 2014, no comments

Taranoki (Aralia elata) Taranoki (Aralia elata)'

Taranoki (Aralia elata) is a small tree whose new spring growth (taranome) is a popular wild food in Japan. The English common name for taranoki is Japanese angelica tree. The tree is a pioneering species and will be found in forest clearings or at forest edges, on roadsides, or abandoned fields. It reaches heights of 3 – 5, sometimes 8 metres, growing at a moderate to fast rate. Taranoki’s range extends from western China, through to Korea and Japan in the east and up to eastern Russia in the north.

The branches of taranoki are armed with sparse large thorns. The leaves are bi- or tripinnate with a pair of accessory leaflets at each division of the rachis (main leaf stem). The leaflets are between 5 – 19cm in length and 2.5 – 8cm wide and are tinged a purplish-red. The flowers appear in the form of umbels in summer/autumn and are a creamy white/yellow.

Taranoki (Aralia elata)taranoki (Aralia elata)

The Food[edit | edit source]

Extendable secateurs, or “air pruners” as they are sometimes called, are a useful tool for wild harvesting taranome. In a forest garden or tended wild lands trees can be managed to keep the shoots within easy reach by pruning branches just above a bud or where a shoot has already emerged. When harvesting taranome the entire shoot is removed, which can be easily done by hand if within reach. Be sure to leave at least one new shoot on the tree to ensure its survival. Before cooking any woody material attached to the shoot is removed as are the large stipules (the pink/white part enclosing the base of the leaf stems in the photograph below). In Japan taranome is almost always served as tempura (lightly battered and deep fried).

Taranome, the shoot of taranoki (Aralia elata) Taranome, the shoot of taranoki (Aralia elata)

By sight, taranoki can be easily confused with karasuzanshō (Zanthoxylum ailanthoides, crow’s sanshō', or crow’s “Japanese pepper”). Both species look very similar with a similar growth habit and a preference for similar conditions. Both are (technically) edible though the taranoki is by far the better species for eating. The karasuzanshō has a strong distinctive flavour and smell that I find quite unpleasant. By smell there is no confusing the two! The leaves of taranoki have an inoffensive neutral smell whereas karasuzanshō has an intensely strong odour.

And the Medicine[edit | edit source]

Not only are the taranoki’s shoots an excellent tasting food but, like so many wild food plants, taranoki possesses interesting medicinal properties too. Contrary to the widespread notion that in developing agriculture we greatly improved our health it has been shown that our move from a diet of wild foods to one of predominantly domesticated cultivated foods was actually trailed by a serious decline in health.1 Whatever the reasons for the adoption of agriculture improved health was certainly not one of them. But the first agriculturalists of Japan, the Yayoi culture, which displaced the hunting-gathering-tending Jōmon around 300BCE continued to value taranoki and the use of taranome as a spring vegetable continues to this day. Unfortunately the use of taranoki in folk medicine has, like folk medicine in general in Japan, largely been discontinued.

The traditional medicinal uses of taranoki in Japan and China include the treatment of stomach cancers, diabetes and nephrosis (non-inflammatory nephropathy, or kidney disease),2 and as a tonic and antiarthritic.3 While the bark and root bark, or root cortex, are the preferred parts of the plant for medicinal use, all parts – bark, roots, shoots, seeds – can be used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthralgia, coughs, diabetes, jaundice, stomach ulcers and stomach cancers.4 The shoots, the taranome, contain hypoglycemic constituents5 and thus are an excellent food for diabetics or non-diabetic sufferers of hypoglycemia. The root bark has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in rats.6 The roots and stems of taranoki are anondyne (pain killing) and carminative (reducing flatulence).7 All parts of the plant can be dried and taken as a decoction.

# Spencer Wells. 2011. Pandora’s Seed: Why the Hunter-Gatherer Holds the Key to Our Survival. New York: Random House. # J. A. Duke, Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed 4/9/2014. # Amala Soumyanath ed. 2005. Traditional Medicines for Modern Times: Antidiabetic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. # A Barefoot Doctors Manual. 2003. Philadelphia: Running Press and J. A. Duke and E. S. Ayensu. 1984. Medicinal Plants of China. Algonac, Michigan, Reference Publications. # Amala Soumyanath ed. 2005. # Ibid. # A Barefoot Doctors Manual. 2003.
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												Categories: Foraging, Forest Gardening 							| Permalink  														 

An Introduction to Thinking Like a Forest

by Dion Workman on April 9, 2014, 6 comments

moss2It is now past three years since we came to live on this land.1 We came here to homestead, to farm, to be self-sufficient-ish. We came to do but have found ourselves watching and listening (being), far more than doing. From the perspective of our backgrounds in permaculture and natural farming, our initial intention towards the land was fairly orthodox: a carefully designed property with intensive “zone 1″ garden near the house surrounded by a forest garden; a farming system that harmonised with existing habitats and utilised ecostructures with a minimum of infrastructure etc. However, another long standing practice (and love) – the gathering of wild plants – took over and led to our spending a lot more time getting to know this place intimately and a lot less time altering it to fit our designs. Our inclination to intervene in the landscape, to design and create our little piece of paradise has been tempered by a fascination with the self-willed environment. We have learnt a lot about what a human habitat, as part of a more-than-human forest community could be – important lessons that may have been missed had we got busy and got on with executing our initial designs. We have experienced a shift in perspective and intention, a shift away from the mentality of farming. A shift in our thinking and subsequently in the way we live. Or perhaps it is the other way around.

With the wild plants it is more like we are in their hands. The more you work with them, the more they require you to change.

– Matthew Wood. ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Wildcrafting’2

Observation and interaction are key principles of both permaculture and Asian natural farming practices and our experience confirms their primary importance. Harvesting an ever increasing amount of our food from wild plants and animals we are intuitively learning from the land, learning broad patterns and intricate details, while already being sustained by the land. Sustained not through toil but as a gift from the forest. Quite literally the cells of our bodies are replaced with cells infused with forestness, comprised of forest plants and animals: “You are what you eat.” What we aren’t foraging from the wild is coming from perennial sources such as trees planted by the previous occupants, charcoal makers’ abandoned copses and some perennial vegetables introduced by us. We have achieved a high degree of food self-sufficiency within a very short space of time and with very little work. We have a very real sense of what “tending the wild” might mean. We now know that a forest garden really can be a forage garden. And it need not be a fully planned and controlled space but can develop organically within the natural tendencies of self-willing land. Gentle nudges given here and there, riding flows of energy like catching waves. A better analogy might be Taijiquan or Aikido: applying minimal pressure at just the right moment and place to guide flows and pulses of energy. This could be enough to provide for our needs of food, medicine, fuel, building and craft materials, even clothing with only minimal disturbance to the whole forest community. This approach is positively regenerative particularly in areas such as the acre surrounding our house which has been continuously cleared and farmed for many generations, frustrating the lands persistent efforts to clothe itself again in forest cover. Fondly we call this feral permaculture.3

Feral Permaculture[edit | edit source]

“A feral animal (from Latin fera, ‘a wild beast’) is an animal living in the wild but descended from domesticated individuals.”4 This is precisely the meaning that I have in mind when I say “feral permaculture.” If permaculture, to use a simple definition offered by David Holmgren, is “a design system for sustainable living and land use,”5 then feral permaculture is a system for designing undomesticated, or uncivilised, sustainable living in rewilded environments. It is true that domestication and civilisation are not exactly synonymous – they are more like cause and effect which over time have reversed relations – and technically, that is genetically speaking, humans are not (yet) domesticated animals but tamed animals.6 Our situation is more akin to that of wild animals caged in zoos than of chickens, cows or pet dogs whose very existence is the result of breeding programs controlled by humans (although often we display all of the psychoses observed in the former and the slavish behaviour of the latter). Is it merely a matter of unlocking cages and removing enclosures? Feral permaculture is a system for designing uncivilisation: a designed reversal of the forces of domestication that replace forests with fields (on the way to making them deserts!) and that tame wildness. The so called “invisible structures” of permaculture – the social, economic and legal structures of human societies and what we might also call the cages of civilisation – must be made visible, laid open and subjected to intense scrutiny, placed at the forefront of design considerations not just tapped on as an afterthought.7

Rewilding[edit | edit source]

Rewilding is a term used by two occasionally overlapping but distinct groups; conservation biologists and anarchists.8 The former focus on rewilding wilderness areas, that is protected zones for the conservation of “wild life”. Perhaps most dramatic is the advocacy for the reintroduction of top predators and close relatives of extinct species, for example reintroducing elephants, lions and cheetahs to the Great Plains of the USA. Anarchists, on the other hand, generally use the term rewilding to mean the rewilding of humans, reestablishing cultures of wild humans living in wild environments. My own use of the term stems from the anarchist interpretation and indeed it was in green anarchist or anarcho-primitivist texts that I first encountered the term. Of course the anarchist idea of rewilding humans is predicated on a rewilded environment though not necessarily involving shipping large mammals across oceans.

So what is a wild human? If H'omo sapiens sapiens remain genetically wild (that is, tamed rather than domesticated) then what could be meant by “rewilding humans”? In a non-technical, though very important sense humans too are the victims of domestication, or more precisely victims of the domesticating process we have inflicted on other species. Genetically wild we may be, but our minds have long been colonised territories. With education we have been psychologically subjugated, with technology our senses dulled, and specialisation has stripped us of our most basic survival skills. Rewilding then requires decolonsing the mind, sharpening the senses and reacquiring skills. As indicated above restoration of habitat is an essential part of this process for the city is not fitting human habitat. Architecturally, in form and function they resemble nothing so much as endless aisles of battery hen cages. There is an optimal environment for humans and a sprawling city is about as far from it as is conceivable.

If man had originally inhabited a world as blankly uniform as a ‘high rise’ housing development, as featureless as a parking lot, as destitute of life as an automated factory, it is doubtful that he would have had a sufficiently varied experience to retain images, mold language or acquire ideas.

– Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine9

Our species developed in the forest. Descendents of primates living predominantly in the forest canopy we came down to settle on solid ground, particularly at the forest edge where most of the plants we still consider good eating originate and where there is access to the widest possible range of plants and animals for food and materials. Forest edge becomes savannah; a more park-like environment of widely spaced trees and grasslands that still resonates with us today as evidenced by the desire to replicate it in country estates and urban parks. Here we learnt to work in the dangerous open spaces. The spaces of large fast predators, but also of substantial prey and, at first, before honing our own skills as predators, a place where the “left overs” of kills by the more proficient predators could be scavenged.

Our optimal environment, the environment in which we have evolved as a species is a treed and leafed environment. Its scent is of humus and fungi, aromatic herbs and flowers. It is Green. Deep, deep Green. In this environment we lived sustainably – not merely sustainably, we actually flourished, proliferating rich diverse cultures for hundreds of thousands of years. It is an environment from which gifts for our sustenance flowed. Scarcity, conceptually and as a recurrent physical reality appears as we stray from our optimal environment.10

Our bodies developed in response to pressures exerted by the physical environment, such as strong legs for standing upright in order to gain a better view over the tall savannah grasses and for running from (or perhaps towards) what we saw. Internally, our bodies were shaped by the diet provided by our evolutionary environment. This optimal human diet obviously does not include highly processed and refined foods, artificial colourings, flavourings and all the decidedly non-food elements that pervade the modern diet, but neither does it include large quantities of grains (or any of our “staples”), grain fed animals, regular salt intake, dairy, or concentrated sugars – except those of fruits, tree saps and honey. Remember we have only been agriculturalists for but a blip on our evolutionary timeline; a mere 10 thousand or so years compared to the 2.3 million years, or thereabouts, of our time in the genus Homo and a further 15 – 20 million years in the Hominidae family.11 Understanding the optimal diet for humans is simply a matter of looking at what we have eaten for the longest time as it is with those foods that our bodies have been shaped: wild meats, fish, molluscs, insects, eggs, leafy greens, plant shoots, seaweeds, fruit, fungi, roots, nuts, pollens, honey, tree saps, and small amounts of seeds and unrefined grains. However, we could go further by positing that wild and domesticated are hardly the same. Many of the foods that we might think of as persisting to the present – leafy greens, eggs, roots or seeds for example – bear but a superficial resemblance to those from our pre-agricultural past. Domestication is the subjugation of a wild species’ genes in order to bring to the fore particular qualities, for example docility and increased frequency and size of eggs in poultry or removing bitterness from leaves. Focusing on specific traits can only be done at the expense of others and thus the nutritional integrity of the original wild species is compromised. The chemicals that produce bitterness in a leaf may also be ones that help us efficiently digest minerals and micro-nutrients locked in the plants cells. Many of our modern plant foods and foods derived from domesticated animals are nutritionally poor equivalents of their wild ancestors.12

We are not yet indulging in winged fantasies of our wild future simply grounding ourselves in how we have lived. Like environment or diet the social structures we now consider normal are relatively recent developments and, in the long view, aberrant. They are certainly not inevitable, nor are they particularly “progressive.” Contrary to the story that has thus far kept us going our civilisation is not on a linear climb out of misery toward the promised land, quite the contrary.13 While some will claim that “human rights,” equality, social justice, access to housing, health care and the means of subsistence are the goals to which civilisation marches, in reality civilisation has marched us (all militaristic associations fully intended) in the very opposite direction. Anthropological studies of uncivilised (primitive), non-agricultural, non-pastoralist peoples are clear:14 in general such societies have a high degree of egalitarianism and personal autonomy for all members, leadership or “chiefly” power is non-coercive and often rotating or context dependant; there is equal access to the means of subsistence (meat is distributed throughout the community and not considered the property of the individual hunter nor is gathering restricted by proprietary claims on the land and, most importantly, from a young age all individual members possess the knowledge and skills required to forage and make all the necessities of life); there is generalist knowledge of medicinal herbs and healing practices (though there are always some individuals especially gifted in these arts). Karl Marx saw in primitive societies a “primitive communism” however, given their degree of individual autonomy, horizontal organisation and explicit resistance to State formation, “primal anarchy” would seem the more appropriate classification.

The point is not that primitive societies comprise perfect human beings, but to quote Stanley Diamond, they “do not squander their substance by inequities woven into the social fabric.”15 In primitive societies material culture and social structures and mechanisms have evolved to facilitate desirable ways of being, not reified values such as “equality” or “individualism.” Within civilisation however, “compelled by our social structure, we segregate values from the general flow of our experience.”16 Small group size, flexibility in the fission or fusion of bands, mobility, non-stratified and minimal division of labour, absence of private property, 17 are some of the elements which combined form a functional culture, that is a stable, sustainable culture.18 Invert these elements as civilisation does and inevitably we achieve the opposite.

Counter-Revolution[edit | edit source]

Repression of the primitive begins with agriculture.19 For some six thousand years following the earliest domestication and prior to the emergence of cities, material needs were met with a mixture of tending and foraging. Paul Shepard has suggested that this early “village horticulture, relatively free of commerce and outside control, may have been an ideal life.”20 But tending becomes full-fledged farming as the human hand reaches deeper into the genetic foundations of plant and animal species. For Shepard this “domestication would create a catastrophic biology of nutritional deficiencies, alternating feast and famine, health and epidemic, peace and social conflict, all set in millennial rhythms of slowly collapsing ecosystems.”21 Social structures warped and new institutions grew to meet the novel needs of sedentary populations: a trend towards political complexity, coercive power relations, property and ownership, wars of conquest and a rapid scaling up of resource extraction. To this “agricultural revolution” we are counter-revolutionaries.

It is post not pre-agriculture that we propose: Agriculture, with civilisation riding its wake, has already re-formed the surface of the earth in its own monotonous image, and alas, not only the surface. We speak then not of a return to an idyllic primitive past but a response to contemporary crises, social and ecological (that we think we can separate the two may well be at the very heart of the issue). The primitive must be found in the present, not the past. Primitive lifeways continue to this day in a few precious places but the primitive, human wildness, is still present in us all. As Paul Shepard stated, “It is not necessary to ‘go back’ in time to be the kind of creature you are. The genes from the past have come forward to us.” 22 The task is to harmonise our ways of living, our societies, our culture with our genetic inheritance. Surely a preferable and easier task than trying to achieve the opposite. But primitiveness is repressed precisely because it is the antithesis of civilisation. It is barbaric. Savage.

It is not the specifics of how any one primitive culture lives or once lived that is important here; there exist many differences in the details of primitive societies, but to an extraordinary degree they adhere to general patterns and it is from these that we can construct a pattern language to guide us. This is not to say that close study of the indigenous traditions of one’s bioregion – or in the all too rare cases of living traditions, forming alliances, working alongside and learning directly from indigenous people – will not provide critically important lessons on how best to inhabit that environment (to be of that environment, to become indigenous) but we must acknowledge that all environments have changed and will continue to change dramatically in the coming decades. Civilisation has caused the sixth great extinction event in the history of the earth and initiated catastrophic and potentially “state shifting” climate change. There is nowhere we have not soiled – be it the visible trashing of the land by strip mining, clear cutting or city building or the invisible trashing of the atmosphere and oceans – so that all ecosystems on the planet may now be considered novel ecosystems.23 To not utilise all of the information, techniques and species available to us through some ideal of primal purity or nativism would be dangerously naive. Such ideological purity is a reflection of civilisation, not the pragmatism of uncivilisation.24

How do we rewild ourselves and the landscapes which have been arbitrarily divided up into parcels of private property, crisscrossed with fences and roads and industrial infrastructure and populated far in excess of their natural carrying capacity? An immediate return to a hunting/gathering existence could only be possible for small numbers of people in a few places (and in many such places it may in fact be a luxury that would quickly disappear in a dissolving civilisation). Prior to the rise of agricultural civilisation hunter/gatherers were mobile, leading semi-nomadic lives to follow seasonal flows of food and materials. Fence lines, “property rights” (and the uniformed armed thugs that protect them), national borders (and those same armed thugs again!) all conspire to make any kind of nomadism extremely difficult. And we are dealing with severely degraded environments where many resources25 are long gone. To meet our material needs and regenerate wild lands it won’t simply be a matter of giving up agriculture and returning to the Old Ways but of transitioning away from it. The more people that take this course, whether consciously striving for liberation or fleeing the fallout of civilisation melting down, the more essential a strategy of transition becomes. Too many people, too much poor land, degraded forests, ecosystems out of balance; great care is required to prevent a descent into another kind of misery.

Thinking Like A Forest[edit | edit source]

Trees are of course at the heart of things. How could it be otherwise? The human lineage began in trees. We have left our ancestors far behind but we are creatures of the forest still.

– Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Trees26

Here in these forested mountains forgotten (at least temporarily) by the fraught civilisation of the villages, towns and cities below, perhaps we run the risk of seeing things as too straightforward: Go home to the trees. Go and tend to the wild. Regenerate your own wild self by participating in the regeneration of wild land.

Small forest gardens designed as intensive forage systems can easily meet most material needs with foraging, gleaning and scavenging further afield making up the remainder. Forest gardens bordering, or nestled within more extensive forests will provide more hunting and gathering possibilities. “Guerrilla gardening” and “tending the wild” allow for manipulations of an environment that can be so subtle as to go unnoticed by the casual observer. In other words, more extensive “gardens” can be established on land one has no legal entitlement to.

As perennial forage systems forest gardens are horticultural, they have already left agriculture behind. Their sufficiency is due in part to the diversity of species and a mimicry of naturally occurring ecosystems but this can be taken much further by adapting ourselves to our garden homes: if you want to eat an agricultural diet then you will continue to need agriculture! Eating a diet that resembles that of our pre-agricultural ancestors makes feeding oneself from a forest garden that much easier.

Robert Hart, the early champion of forest gardening in temperate zones, saw in the tropical forest gardens of South East Asia and Africa much more than just efficient, low impact and beautiful systems for producing food. Of forest gardens in Kerala, India, Hart proclaimed “the way of life these forest gardens provide is secure, healthy, cooperative, constructive, and creative… This is true freedom. The family forest garden is the basic unit of society; it provides practical education for children and happy living, largely free from bureaucratic, political, or economic constraints.” 27 We envision forest gardens as the homes of new bands (extended quasi-kinship groups), territories for a reemergence of band societies.28 Places for deschooling ourselves and for unschooling wild children. Places for throwing off the shackles of wage slavery, for relearning old ways of being with each other and harmonising with the more-than-human world. Perfect places for behaving in an uncivilised manner.

These then are the broad themes that I am setting out to explore in Thinking Like a Forest: regenerating optimal habitat, restoring sustainable material culture and recreating human-scale societies. Further development of the conceptual tools of feral permaculture and a pattern language of uncivilisation is needed. And then there will be the reports of field experiments to file: the practical experiments and observations growing from the humus of this particular forest.

# For documentation of the first three years of Shikigami forest garden, and earlier accounts of travels in Asia see Shikigami: Where the Wild Things Are. 2010-2013. # Matthew Wood, ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Wildcrafting.’ Accessed 3/17/2014. # There are others we are aware of – and we imagine many who we are not aware of – whose approach to permaculture seems very similar. See, for example, The Rewilding School and The Human Habitat Project. # Wikipedia. Feral Organism. Accessed 3/13/2014. # David Holmgren interview on 21st Century Permaculture 2/2/2014. # Paul Shepard. 1998. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. p. 132 # While critiques of civilisation within permaculture are hardly original they remain fairly marginal. A couple of good examples by individuals well known within permaculture circles are Toby Hemenway. 2010. ‘How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, But not Civilization,’ YouTube, Accessed 3/13/2014, and Richard Heinberg. 1995. ‘The Primitivist Critique of Civilization,’ Anarchist Library, Accessed 3/13/2014. # Compare the Wikipedia entries on Rewilding (Conservation Biology) and Rewilding (Anarchism). Accessed 3/13/2014. An illustration of the ideological gulf that can exist between these groups is provided by UK journalist and advocate of rewilding George Monbiot in a talk about his book Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (2013, Penguin). Monbiot states that in a rewilded world we don’t have to “abandon our homes and our jobs and all the other wonderful things about civilisation.” (‘A New Future for Nature,’ a talk by George Monbiot at the RSA, London 6/6/2013 ). Anarchists, however, are more likely to view jobs as part of the rotten core of industrial civilisation. Employment being considered a thinly veiled form of modern servitude and the attainment, or holding on to, of a “home” as a primary reason for the rationalisation of this state of servitude. For a conversation where these two approaches come together within the context of permaculture see Ben Weiss and Wilson Alvarez, interviewed on the Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann, 2/18/2014 # Lewis Mumford. 1966. The Myth of the Machine. New York: Harcourt Brace. # Numerous ethnographers living amongst hunter/gatherers have remarked on their unwillingness to store food, a seemingly reckless disregard for “looking out for the morrow.” However, when your lived experience is that tomorrow there is no reason to expect that you won’t be able to go out and retrieve from your environment much the same as you did today then food storage is an unnecessary chore. For the semi-nomadic hunter/gatherer food shortages are ultra-localised and momentary, solved simply by moving camp. For the sedentary farmer however, investing all of her energy in a piece of land, crop failure can prove fatal. As Fernand Braudel has documented European history (until the 18th Century!, when the threat of starvation was outsourced to the colonies) is one of recurring general famines (Capitalism and Material Life. 1973. New York: Harper and Row. p. 39). Asia too has a similar history. # Wikipedia, Human Evolution. Accessed 3/15/2014. # For a discussion of the differences between wild and domesticated foods see ‘Wild Foods with Arthur Haines,’ The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann, 1/7/2014. # To borrow David Holmgren’s metaphor our “climb” has been to the top of a rather dangerous mountain on whose summit we are now teetering trying to figure out how to make the even more perilous descent. (David Holmgren. 2002. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Hepburn: Holmgren Design Services. p. xxx.) # For a sampling of the literature see John Gowdy, ed. 1998. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means': A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. # Stanley Diamond. 2007. In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. New Brunswick: Transaction. p.136. # Ibid. p. 164. # In primitive societies “private property” is usually limited to those objects necessary for an individuals participation in subsistence activities, a bow or digging stick for example, or other objects that every member of the society can easily manufacture themselves. Anything rare or especially difficult to make is more likely to be communally “owned.” For more on property and ownership in primitive societies see Marshall Sahlins. 2004. Stone Age Economics. London: Routledge. pp. 9-14; James Woodburn, ‘Egalitarian Societies’ (pp. 94, 99-102) and John Zerzan, ‘Future Primitive’ (pp. 272-273) in John Gowdy, ed. 1998. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means. # For an extensive list of characteristics of a “pleistocene paradigm” see Paul Shepard. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. pp. 171-172. # While it may be true, as is suggested by John Zerzan, that the origins of our undoing occur much earlier with the advent of symbolic culture, agriculture/domestication is nevertheless the opening act of civilisation. # Paul Shepard. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. p. 83. # Ibid. # Paul Shepard. 1996. The Only World We’ve Got: A Paul Shepard Reader. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. p. xiii. # “No ecosystem on Earth is the same as it was 12,000 years ago and most have changed much more recently; change is an inherent property of ecosystems. Human influence is omnipresent, from land-use change to climate change.” Emma Marris, Joseph Mascaro and Erle C. Ellis. 2013. ‘Perspective: Is Everything a Novel Ecosystem? If So, Do We Need the Concept?’ Richard J. Hobbs et al. ed. Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 345. # David Holmgren tells of how “traditional Aborigines in central Australia now see donkeys, rabbits and other introduced animals as mwerranye (Arrente for ‘belonging to the land’), even though they understand that these species were introduced by white people. While they are happy to use these animals, they see the mass extermination programs (Landcare) as immoral waste and disrespectful to individual and collective animal life.” David Holmgren. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. p. 6 # Speaking this word “resources” leaves a bitter taste in the mouth so it is time we reclaimed its original meaning. As M. Kat Anderson tells us this word “which now connotes ownership and production for profit, comes from the old French feminine past participle resourdre, which meant ‘to rise again’.” M. Kat Anderson. 2005. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 9. # Colin Tudge. 2006. The Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter. London: Penguin. # Robert Hart. 1996. Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape. White River Junction: Chelsea Green. p. 6. # “Band” is the anthropological designation for the simple human societies typical of hunter/gatherers, usually consisting of between 10 to 100 individuals.

Seri (Oenanthe javanica)

by Dion Workman on April 5, 2014, no comments

Seri (Oenanthe javanica) Seri (Oenanthe javanica)

Seri (Oenanthe javanica) is a water dropwort in the Apiaceae family. Some water dropworts are extremely toxic and seri also has a very poisonous “look-a-like” from a different genus. If seri is a new wild edible for you please read the Caution section at the bottom of this post carefully before harvesting and consuming seri.

Seri has a number of English common names: water celery, Japanese parsley, Chinese celery. The new spring growth of seri is considered such a fine vegetable that it was long ago brought under cultivation in many parts of its native range from east to south Asia, extending to New Guinea in the southeast. But cultivation of seri is hardly necessary – under the right conditions it will naturalise easily (all too easily perhaps, though it seems a very companionable plant and hardly likely to displace other species). The right conditions, as some of this plants common names suggest, are wet. Often it will grow in water – ponds, marshes, lake shores etc., – but it will also be found in merely damp places. In Japan, with its high humidity and more-than-ample rainfall, seri can be found growing just about anywhere below elevations of 3000 metres. Seri also likes to loll in the sun. It will be found in sunny clearings or in light, dappled shade. In this part of Japan (southern Izu peninsula) with its mild winters we harvest seri through winter and spring. In cooler climes it may be a spring only edible.

Seri has a long cylindrical and longitudinally grooved stem with leaves descending in size from the base of stem to the tip. It has bipinnate rounded leaflets with serrated edges. It produces white flowers in the summer that form umbelliferous inflorescences.

Seri (Oenanthe javanica) Seri (Oenanthe javanica)

As the English common names suggest seri has a taste reminiscent of celery, or more like something between celery, parsley and carrots. Every part of the plant is edible, leaves, stems, roots and seeds. Edible, delicious and very nutritious:

298 Calories per 100gProtein: 19.9g; Fat: 3.2g; Carbohydrate: 62.8g; Fibre: 12.8g; Ash: 14.9g;Minerals – Calcium: 1202mg; Phosphorus: 585mg; Iron: 32mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 192mg; Potassium: 4713mg; Zinc: 0mg;Vitamins – A: 24mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.64mg; Riboflavin (B2): 2.34mg; Niacin: 10.6mg; B6: 0mg; C: 149mg1

Seri is one of the “seven herbs of spring,” or Nanakusa no sekku, a tradition where a rice porridge containing select herbs (nanakusa-gayu) is consumed in early January. While there is some regional variation in the herbs associated with nanakusa no sekku, they always comprise species that are especially nutrient dense. Of course a tradition promoting the consumption of nutrient dense medicinal herbs, at a time of year when consumption of green leafy vegetables was usually low due to seasonal unavailability, would have had a very positive impact on the health of the Japanese. Indeed, it is said that the tradition of nankusa no sekku has its roots in a Chinese custom for “warding off evil.”2

The leaves in particular are rich in minerals and vitamins. Most often we eat the tender leaves and stems in salads but they are also commonly used in soups and as a pot herb. The roots are eaten cooked. I have read about eating the seeds of seri but I have not yet tried them. When I do I’ll post an update.

Medicinal uses of Oenanthe javanica

Seri is also used medicinally in Asia. All parts of the plant are considered purgative (depurative), febrifuge (reducing fever) and styptic (contracts tissues to stop bleeding). The ethnobotanical uses include the treatment of epidemic influenza, fever and discomfort, jaundice, haematuria (blood in urine) and metrorrhagia (irregular uterine bleeding).3 To use medicinally a decoction is made from the whole herb.

In the Forest Garden[edit | edit source]

If we were not so fortunate as to have seri growing wild throughout our forest garden I would most definitely be planting it. Great for inclusion in a water garden, around the edges of a pond, alongside a stream or anywhere the soil stays moist. Seri is perennial and is not frost tender though there are named cultivars that may be less hardy.

Caution[edit | edit source]

Several species of water dropworts are extremely toxic so it is essential to make a positive identification of seri. Though in Japan the greatest danger actually lies in confusing seri with dokuzeri (poison seri) a plant from a completely different genus (Cicuta virosa, Northern water hemlock or cowbane). Although considered a “look-a-like” dokuzeri and seri only vaguely resemble each other and therefore only a very inattentive forager would mistake one for the other. But herein lies the problem: the two species often grow intermingled. Having correctly identified a patch of seri if not paying attention to every single stalk that is picked one could easily end up with stalks of dokuzeri amongst the seri. If you compare the leaves in the illustration of dokuzeri below with those of seri above you will notice a clear difference in leaf shape. An even starker difference can be seen in the roots of the two species: Dokuzeri has roots that resemble bamboo shoots – if at all in doubt pull up the plant and check the root system.

Cicuta virosa (Dokuzeri). Illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler Cicuta virosa (Dokuzeri). Illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler

# Plants for a Future: Oenanthe javanica. Accessed 4/5/2014. # Wikipedia: Nanakusa no sekku. Accessed 4/5/2014. # A Barefoot Doctors Manual. 2003. Philadelphia: Running Press. p. 128.
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Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia)

by Dion Workman on April 3, 2014, 2 comments

Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia) Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia)

Here on the Izu peninsula and throughout northeastern Japan Parasenecio delphiniifolia (syn. Cacalia delphiniifolia) is known as shidoke (シドケ). Elsewhere in Japan it commonly goes by the name momijigasa (モミジガサ), or “maple umbrella,” a name suggesting a vague similarity to the leaves of the Japanese maple tree, momiji (Acer palmatum). It is also a reference to another plant, yaburegasa (Syneilesis palmata), or “torn umbrella,” to whose newly emerged shoots it bears a superficial resemblance. The “maple umbrella” and “torn umbrella” share a preference for the dappled or full shade of forests and both seem to do particularly well in sugi ('Cryptomeria japonica') plantations. In fact, often enough you will find the two species growing side by side. If one were to confuse the two species it would merely be an accident of culinary significance for both are edible though the shidoke, or momijigasa, is generally considered the better of the two. The yaburegasa emerges from the ground as a single stem topped by a single palmate leaf but begins producing multiple leaf stalks as it matures (usually after it has reached 15-20cm). The leaf is a dull green with purple-pinkish veins. Shidoke has shiny green leaves and veins of the same colour. Multiple leaf stalks emerge from the main plant stem.

Yaburegasa (Syneilesis palmata) Yaburegasa (Syneilesis palmata)
Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia) Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia)
In the Wild

Shidoke is a small herbaceous perennial plant growing to around 20cm in height though the flower spikes may reach heights of around 100cm. It prefers moist shady (partial to full) places in forests. It will often be found in large patches carpeting the forest floor. It has palmate 7-cleft, irregularly incised and toothed leaves. The upper surface of the leaves are a glossy vivid green while the undersides are a dull silvery-green. The stalks, also glossy, range from light green to a purplish-green. It’s white flowers appear in the late summer/early autumn. It is a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family. As far as I am aware shidoke is endemic to the Japanese archipelago.

shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia) Shidoke (Parasenecio delphiniifolia) carpeting the floor of a sugi plantation
Shidoke as Food

Shidoke is a vegetable of early to mid-spring. It can be found through summer but usually by late spring/early summer it becomes rather stringy. The whole above ground portion of the plant, the stalk and leaves, are consumed. With taller plants and later harvests the lower portions of the stalk may be tough. Above the point where a stalk breaks easily will usually be tender. Although on occasion I eat the plant raw when encountering it in the forest – and find it very pleasant raw – the plant is usually consumed cooked. Commonly it is boiled, then allowed to cool long enough so that excess water can be squeezed out with the hands. After which a little soy sauce may be added and possibly sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds or bonito flakes. The taste of shidoke is excellent though very unique – I can’t think of another herb to which I could reasonably compare it.

Food as Medicine[edit | edit source]

Shidoke contains the substance cacalol, a potent antioxidant and a potent neuroprotective.1 It also contains the bisabolene sesquiterpinoid endoperoxide which has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.2

In the Forest Garden[edit | edit source]

With its preference for moist shady places, great taste and potent antioxidant activity, shidoke is an excellent candidate for inclusion in a forest garden. With its spreading habit, given ideal conditions it may make a ground cover effective enough to suppress other plants. Shidoke grows wild at the Shikigami forest garden so I have no experience with propagation of this plant.

# Shindo, K. et al. 2004. ‘Potent antioxidative activity of cacalol, a sesquiterpene contained in Cacalia delphiniifolia Sleb et Zucc.’ Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry. 2004 Jun;68(6):1393-4. Tokyo: Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Agrochemistry. # Nishikawa, K. et al. 2008. ‘The bisabolane sesquiterpenoid endoperoxide, 3,6-epidioxy-1,10-bisaboladiene, isolated from Cacalia delphiniifolia inhibits the growth of human cancer cells and induces apoptosis.’ Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry. 2008 Sep;72(9):2463-6. Tokyo: Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Agrochemistry.
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Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia)

by Dion Workman on April 3, 2014, no comments

onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia) Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia), the Japanese walnut (Wikicommons)

In Japan’s mountainous forests Autumn is the season for chestnuts, acorns and walnuts (and wild boar fattened on chestnuts, acorns and walnuts!). The Japanese walnut (Juglans ailanthifolia) or onigurimi (オニグルミ) bears fruits that are generally a little smaller than those of Juglans regia, variously known as the Persian, English, Californian or common walnut. This Japanese walnut is not the heartnut (Juglans ailanthifolia var. cordiformis), the species to which the moniker “Japanese walnut” is most commonly applied. In English language sources I have seen the heartnut referred to as onigurumi but this is incorrect. In Japan the heartnut is known as himegurumi (ヒ メグルミ). Both the onigurumi and himegurumi are excellent food plants with beautiful wood and corresponding medicinal properties so all in all it doesn’t really matter. If you find yourself standing under one or the other either way you’re in luck. In the forests around here I am yet to come across a himegurumi but there is an abundance of onigurumi trees.

The onigurumi has a thicker shell than either the heartnut or the common walnut and they are harder to open and separate from the shells – but most definitely worth the extra effort. The onigurimi is richer in oils and flavour than its “common” cousin, possibly closer to the black walnut (Juglans nigra) of the northeastern United States. Forget about extracting whole nuts or even halves. A nicely weighted tool delivering a blow of just the right amount of force on the seam of the shell may break it cleanly into two halves however, extracting the meat usually involves scooping out small pieces with some kind of pick or skewer. Occasionally we will spend an hour or two shelling enough to fill a jar – best with friends lending extra hands and conversation – but often we eat directly from the shells. Cleaning out the crannies of a cracked walnut shell with a bamboo skewer is a deeply satisfying activity. A slow snack, to be sure.

Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia) Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia)

Earlier in the year, around June, we are on the lookout for windfalls of immature walnuts. We gather these young green yet-to-be nuts to make pickled walnuts. For this purpose immature nuts in which the shell has not yet formed inside the green husk are required. My uncle Bas, who taught me how to pickle walnuts, found the perfect spot for harvesting green walnuts near his home in the mountains of southern Aotearoa/New Zealand: a row of walnut trees growing at the bottom of a steep bank on a roadside. He could stand beside his parked car and reach right into the canopy picking as many green walnuts as he could possibly want to pickle. We have no such luck yet every year we manage to collect enough from the ground to make as many pickled walnuts as we could want.

Pickled walnuts[edit | edit source]

You will need: Green immature walnuts (I have pickled onigurumi and common walnuts but I expect any kind of walnut would work just as well) A skewer of some sort Rubber gloves (unless you don’t mind having your hands stained black) A glass, ceramic or food grade plastic container Salt Vinegar Honey

1. Put your rubber gloves on and wash any dirt off the walnuts. Discard any that are badly damaged. Small bruises can be cut out. 2. Skewer the walnuts to allow the brine to penetrate. Basically just poke a bunch of holes in the walnut. If your skewer meets resistance it probably means the shell has started to form inside which means the walnut is too mature for pickling and should be discarded. 3. Place the skewered walnuts in a container and cover with salt brine: 100 grams salt for every 1 litre of water. Make sure the walnuts are fully submerged in the brine. Cover the container and let sit for 7 days. 4. Change the brine and let sit for another 14 days. 5. Strain and wash the walnuts. Spread them out and expose to the air (but not the sun) until they blacken.

Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia) oxidizing after removal from brine Walnuts oxidizing after removal from brine

6. Add 200 – 250 grams honey to 1 litre of vinegar and heat the mixture. Place the blackened walnuts in jars and pour the hot honey vinegar over them. Once the vinegar has cooled screw on the lids and store the jars in a cool place for five to six weeks before eating.

Once pickled the walnuts will last for years if kept in a cool dark place.

Wild salad with pickled onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia) Wild salad with pickled walnuts

Onigurumi (Juglans ailanthifolia) in the Forest Garden

Juglans ailanthifolia like other species in this genus produces juglone, an allelochemical that can inhibit the growth of other plants. However there are plenty of species that are tolerant of juglone so this is certainly no reason for excluding it from the forest garden. American pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and persimmon (Diospyros spp.) for example, can happily live in proximity to onigurumi. The shade tolerant pawpaw can be grown as an understory tree tucked right in under the canopy of onigurumi while persimmons will prefer the extra sun at the edge of the canopy. Many common vegetables too have no beef with growing near walnuts, for example corn, onions, and squash to name but a few. In China I observed forest gardeners growing a wide variety of common vegetables under young walnut trees. As the trees grew larger and the shade cast by the spreading canopy widened the annual vegetables were replaced with shade tolerant medicinal herbs and fruits. Many perennial vegetables will grow untroubled in proximity to the walnut. The onigurumi is such a big part of my own diet that it is hard to imagine a temperate forest garden sans walnuts. Of course, they do grow to become large trees so if you’re really pressed for space you might just choose it leave it out of the garden and forage further afield for your walnuts.

												Yamaimo (Dioscorea japonica) 

by Dion Workman on March 1, 2014, no comments

Yamaimo (Dioscorea japonica) is a climbing vine with a green stem that twines to the right. Edible bulbils, greenish-brown in colour and up to 1cm diameter (occasionally larger), grow from the stem. Leaves grow in opposing pairs on the upper stem but alternately near the base. Leaves are triangular-lanceolate. Edible tuber is yellowish-brown in colour, long and cylindrical, up to 3cm in diameter and grows vertically.

Yamaimo’s natural habitat is forests or forest edges, on mountain slopes, in valleys, alongside streams and rivers or other places where an edge effect is created such as roads cutting through forests. It grows wild throughout much of China, Japan and Korea. It has naturalised in parts of the US.

Mukago (Dioscorea japonica Mukago, the aerial tubers, or bulbils, of Yamaimo (Dioscorea japonica

Yamaimo is known to the English speaking world as Japanese yam. The Japanese name means mountain (yama, 山) potato (imo, 芋). Discorea species are true yams, unlike the “yams” of Aotearoa/New Zealand which are actually oca (Oxalis tuberosa) or the “yams” of North America which are really sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). Yamaimo is best known and most widely sought for its large underground tubers but it also produces aerial tubers (bulbils), or mukago, which are a fine food in their own right. While it takes three or four years of growth for the underground tuber to reach a good size for harvesting the plant yearly produces loads of mukago. The mukago are the seed of the yamaimo so while harvesting take the time to press a few good looking mukago into the soil to ensure perpetual harvests.

Mukago[edit | edit source]

The mukago have a texture a little like satoimo (Japanese taro, Colocasia esculenta) and are fantastic in miso soups, as mukagogohan (steamed with rice) or just on their own boiled, steamed or even raw. They are small (up to 1cm diameter) so getting a decent harvest can be a slow and relaxing process if you let it be.

Not Mukago[edit | edit source]

Another Dioscorea species growing here looks very similar to Dioscorea japonica and has aerial tubers about the same size as mukago but these tubers are extremely bitter. This species develops its aerial tubers a little earlier than Dioscorea japonica so often by the time we begin harvesting mukago in late September/early October the bitter ones have already fallen to the ground while the mukago are still on the vines from which we harvest them. But this is not always the case and there are other surer ways of distinguishing between the species: the bitter-aerial-tuber Dioscorea species’ leaves alternate from the vine whereas the leaves of Dioscorea japonica grow from the vine as opposing pairs (though towards the base of the stem they may alternate). The aerial tubers of the bitter species are usually darker in colour (this may be the least sure way of telling them apart and, of course, you need examples of both species to make the comparison). Finally, the surest method of all, you can eat mukago raw so, if you’re unsure of which species you’re facing have a little nibble on one of the aerial tubers. If it’s not mukago you’ll be spitting in out so fast it’ll leave you in no doubt whatsoever.

Air Potato[edit | edit source]

We have attempted to introduce another Dioscorea species here, the Dioscorea bulbifera or air potato. The name says it all! The air potato does indeed produce aerial tubers the size of medium-sized potatoes. However we have not been successful in growing them as a perennial. As we have plenty of mukago around we have put the air potato aside for now – why go to the effort of growing annuals when the perennials are growing everywhere. Still, I do think that given a good location with a microclimate that is a tad warmer in the winter we might be able to grow the air potato as a perennial. Or else a global temperature rise of a couple of degrees should do it.

On the left is air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera and on the right, mukago (Dioscorea japonica) On the left is air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) and on the right, mukago (Dioscorea japonica)

I am yet to actually dig up a yamaimo tuber, partly because I know it is an awful lot of work. You have to dig down a long way and they tend to be located at the base of trees – the support for the climbing vine – so there are usually tree roots to negotiate when excavating the tuber. But they are very tasty! What I have done is planted a bunch of mukago on a small terrace (basically a bamboo retaining wall on a slope back filled with topsoil), where they can grow in nice soft earth, the vines climbing the trees on either side of the terrace, and then in a few years time when they are ready to be harvested I can just remove the retaining wall and easily harvest the large tubers. At least that’s the plan… In putting this plan in to action I did make a happy discovery: mukago store very well. I had selected some very good looking mukago to use as seed and I planted about half of them but left the other half sitting in a cup in a corner of the kitchen. I discovered them again almost five months later and they were in perfect condition!

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Itadori (Reynoutria japonica)

by Dion Workman on February 27, 2014, no comments


Itadori is indeed the dreaded Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica, syn. Fallopia japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum'). A search for this plant on the internet will return copious websites and blog posts instructing one, with language full of fear and alarm, on how to destroy it. However, buried deep amongst these screeds inciting violence will also be a few rare articles professing deep respect for this plants near magical qualities and possibly offering instructions on how to use it. On real pages of paper one can read of knotweeds wonders in a book whose title suggests a profound shift in perspective, Timothy Lee Scott’s Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological and Healing Abilities of Invasives.1 This is a plant that has much to teach us, a plant with rare gifts that should be of especial interest to us.

The shoots of itadori have long been consumed as a spring vegetable in east Asia. Given that the medicinal use of the plant is thought to go back two thousand years one would expect it has been eaten for at least that long. I suspect a lot longer. According to paleoethnobotanists working in Japan itadori is found near the sites of Jōmon settlements.2 People of the Jōmon period (12,000 – 300 BCE) were largely sedentary hunter/gatherers or hunter/gatherer/planters and it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have taken full advantage of such an excellent vegetable growing right outside their huts.

Harvesting Itadori Shoots[edit | edit source]

Itadori shoots are at their best when still tender, usually up to about 30 centimetres tall. Earlier rather than later in the spring too. You can harvest from taller shoots but usually it is still around the top 20 – 30 centimetres that will be tender enough to warrant harvesting. If you can snap the shoot easily with one hand it is tender. So, with larger shoots its just a matter of finding the place where it still snaps off easily.

itadori shoot (Reynoutria japonica)[edit | edit source]

You’ll typically find itadori in riparian ecosystems but also along roadsides, abandoned urban lots or “waste” spaces, i.e., damaged ecosystems – a point we’ll return to later. It is a perennial sprouting new shoots in the spring and will often grow to 3 or 4 metres tall over summer. Growing in thickets it produces an impressive amount of biomass every year.

Itadori is high in vitamin C and has the characteristic sourness of foods that contain high levels of this vitamin. It is also a good source of vitamin A, antioxidant flavonoids, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and manganese.3 The sourness is also an indicator of oxalic acid. Its tartness resembles rhubarb, which also contains oxalic acid – both rhubarb and itadori are members of the Polygonaceae family – and foragers in the West will often use it similarly, in jams and pies, for example.4 While westerners reduce the sharpness of itadori’s tang with sweeteners a different approach is taken in Japan where it is most commonly consumed as a savoury vegetable.

Japanese method of preparing itadori shoots[edit | edit source]

For freshly harvested itadori shoots: Discard large tough leaves. Remove the tough outer layer of the shoot. Boil the peeled shoots for a couple of minutes. Soak in water over night. This process significantly reduces oxalic acid in the shoots transforming the sharpness into a pleasant tang. Next day rinse the shoots and eat as is or cook with other ingredients.

Itadori (Japanese knotweed, Reynoutria japonica) sauteed in sesame oil with soy sauce, mirin and sesame seeds. Itadori (Japanese knotweed, Reynoutria japonica) sauteed in sesame oil with soy sauce, mirin and sesame seeds.

Itadori is prolific producer (why it scares some people so much) so if you’ve got access to a patch there’ll be plenty of shoots for consumption. Over harvesting is not an issue – if anything it stimulates the production of more shoots. There’ll be more than you can eat so its a good plant to preserve for leaner times.

Shikoku Island Traditional Pickled Itadori[edit | edit source]

The traditional method of preserving itadori in Japan, and still used on the island of Shikoku, is salting. It is not a fermentation as the large amount of salt used in the first step of the process will inhibit the growth of all bacteria and yeasts including lactobacilli. The finished product is very salty but the saltiness can be reduced before eating.

Peel the skin of the itadori, cut in to convenient lengths and layer in a crock or glass, enamel or food grade plastic container with generous amounts of salt (approx. 20% of the weight of itadori).

Place a weight on top so that all of the itadori is submerged in the liquid that comes out.

Pickled itadori (Reynoutria japonica)

To use remove some itadori from the container and soak in water for half a day, changing the water a couple of times, to remove some of the saltiness. Better still, if possible, is to leave it under running water (in a stream, for example) for half a day. It is delicious raw or cooked. As long as the itadori is fully submerged in its juices it should keep for a very long time.

Medicinal Uses, East and West[edit | edit source]

A literal translation of itadori would be pain puller or, removes pain. A name that clearly suggests something of its uses and the high regard in which it has been held. Plant people of Japan, Korea and China have traditionally used the roots of itadori as an anti-inflammatory and a laxative, in the treatment of hepatitis, jaundice, burns, boils, abscesses, bruises, snake bites, gout, fever, appendicitis, arthritis, rheumatism and much, much more.5 In traditional Chinese medicine the herb is said to invigorate the qi and blood, clear heat, reslove toxins, transform phlegm and stop coughs.6

Japanese knotweed, although new to western botanical medicine has been readily incorporated not least because it has proven to be one of the premier herbs in the treatment of Lyme disease.7 The herb not only acts to kill the Lyme bacteria but specifically addresses the central nervous system and neurological complications of infection.8

Also eliciting much interest is Japanese knotweeds high levels of resveratrol and, to a lesser extent trans-resveratrol, the compounds associated with the “French paradox,” which, as explained by Stephen Harrod Buhner, is that “they ate lots of cheese and still had really low cholesterol counts and little incidence of heart disease while we in the United States were dying like flies.”9 Researchers believe it is the resveratrol and trans-resveratrol found in red wine and particuarly pinot noir that accounts for the “paradox.” Resveratrol is a potent vasodilator and inhibitor of platelet aggregation. Resveratrol is still being extensively researched and according to Lee there are already over a hundred patents on the compound.10 Studies have revealed resveratrol to be antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, a preventative and treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease, and an effective wound healer.11

There is a lot more to Japanese knotweed than resveratrol though. The plant is broadly antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It is antitussive which, in combination with its antiviral action make it very useful in the treatment of SARS and other upper respiratory infections. Itadori is an angiogenesis modulator, meaning that it “stimulates the formation of new blood vessels and the healing of damaged ones in areas such as burned skin. But it also stops the development of new vessels and blood flow in areas where it should not occur, such as in malignant and benign tumor formation.”12 Thus, it is a tonic herb for the blood vessels.

While it would be possible to go on at far greater length about the wonders of Japanese knotweed as a medicinal herb I would like to move on to other, different wonders. For more information on medicinal uses I refer you to the excellent books by Lee and Buhner cited in this text and that exhaustively document the research and uses of the herb. However, there is one last thing I would like to draw your attention to before we move on. Japanese knotweed is specifically indicated for what might be considered invasive or emerging diseases: Lyme, West Nile encephalitis, SARS, hepatitis C, HIV.13

Ecosystem Medicine[edit | edit source]

Itadori’s ability to “pull pain” applies to the planetary body just as much as to the human body. Itadori can tolerate heavily contaminated soils growing where little else can. Not only can it tolerate soils contaminated with zinc, lead and copper it has been shown to actually clean soils of these toxic elements.14 It is little wonder then that knotweed is showing up in all manner of contaminated sites, from roadsides to heavily polluted streams and abandoned mines. As Timothy Scott Lee points out there is a clear overlap between the way the plant acts on the human body, “ridding it of deep infection and toxins, especially in hard to reach places” and its ability to clean deeply contaminated soils of heavy metals and other pollutants.15 To those that are alarmed by the “invasion” of Japanese knotweed I would suggest that the alarm might be misplaced. Rather than attempting to eradicate the medicine a more efficacious course may be to eliminate the cause of the disease. Everywhere on Earth novel ecosystems are emerging in response to human induced changes – from increased CO2 in the atmosphere to chemical saturation of soils. To think that we can subject the earth to such abuse yet have landscapes remain unchanged is to be ignorant of how living systems work. Ecosystems maintain equilibrium through dynamism, through constant adaptation. Severe external forces will likely lead to a reorganizing of the community of life forms. When equilibrium cannot be maintained and the system collapses it moves through successional stages back toward a state of equilibrium. Not only are we attacking the medicine we’re shooting the messenger too! We should be paying close attention to the way that ecosystems are restructuring themselves to deal with rapid environmental changes. We may just learn a thing or two about how to survive an environmental collapse of our own making.

Given that Japanese knotweed’s spirited shoots will grow through the tiniest of cracks in concrete or road surfaces, bursting them apart and mulching with a thick layer of biomass every autumn, one of its ecosystem functions may well be rewilding the city! Its extensive rhizomes, general growth habits and preference for stream side living reveal another of its important ecosystem functions: protecting areas prone to erosion, such as stream banks, and stabilizing areas where sediment has been deposited.

Considering all of the marvellous things this plant does you might just be tempted to grow it.

“Considered an invasive species, it is diligently attacked with evangelical fervor by Native purists who will often stop by your home, uninvited, to share their insights on eradication. The plant cultivates internal strength in any who grow it intentionally…”– Stephen Harrod Buhner, Healing Lyme

For those living in areas where it is considered “native” I would highly recommend growing it. It is an extremely valuable plant to have in a forest garden. However, if you have severe space restrictions or you live somewhere it is considered “invasive” you probably won’t have to look far to find it and there is always plenty to go around. It has naturalised throughout North America, Europe and New Zealand.

# Timothy Lee Scott. 2010. Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. # Gary W. Crawford. 1997. Anthropogenisis in Prehistoric Northeastern Japan. In Kristin J. Gremillion ed. People, Plants and Landscapes: Studies in Paleoethnobotany. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. p.95. # Accessed 2/24/2014. # For examples see Euell Gibbons. 1971. Stalking the Wild Asparagus. New York: David McKay Company. pp.110-113. or Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean. 1994. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Pants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. New York: Harper Collins. p. 293. # Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed 2/23/2014. # Timothy Lee Scott. Invasive Plant Medicine. p. 224 # Stephen Harrod Buhner. 2005. Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections. Silver City: Raven Press. # Timothy Lee Scott. Invasive Plant Medicine. p. 225 # Stephen Harrod Buhner. Healing Lyme. p. 107. # Timothy Lee Scott. Invasive Plant Medicine. p. 226 # Ibid. # Stephen Harrod Buhner. Healing Lyme. p. 110. # Ibid. p. 107. # Timothy Scott Lee. Invasive Plant Medicine. p. 227 # Ibid. p. 228.
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Koakaso (Boehmeria spicata)

by Dion Workman on February 27, 2014, no comments

koakaso (Boehmeria spicata)Koakaso (Boehmeria spicata) is a member of the nettle or Urticaceae family. Like its kin aomizu (Pilea mongolica), also common here, it is a non-stinging member of the family. The young leaves of koakaso make a decent salad green with a mild flavour that allows for their use as a bulk ingredient. Young, tender, light green leaves growing in shade are best. Older leaves can be used as a pot herb but are nothing to write home about.The leaves can be collected throughout the summer months.

Koakaso is a deciduous shrub, reaching 1 to 1.5 metres in height, and found at forest edges. It can be coppiced to ensure plenty of fresh young leaves. It is shade tolerant and as mentioned above produces better quality leaves for eating when growing in shade.

Boehmeria silvestrii (left: 1-2) and B. spicata (right: 3-6). Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5. Boehmeria silvestrii (left: 1-2) and B. spicata (right: 3-6). Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5.

Material Uses

Koakaso, like other members of the Urticaceae family, most famously stinging nettle, has been used for eons for its fibres. According to Bleed and Matsui archaeological finds made in the 1990’s reveal that during the Jōmon period (12,000 – 300 BCE) people in the Japanese archipelago were using koakaso fibres to manufacture clothing. The extracted fibres were woven into cloth on weighted warp-frame looms.1 Fibres are extracted from the stems of the plant.

# Peter Bleed and Akira Matsui. 2010. ‘Why Didn’t Agriculture Develop in Japan? A Consideration of Jomon Ecological Style, Niche Construction, and the Origins of Domestication.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 2010 17 pp. 356–370.
				Myoga (Zingiber mioga) 

by Dion Workman on February 27, 2014, no comments

myoga_Zingiber-mioga Myōga (Zingiber mioga)

Myōga (Zingiber mioga), a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) hails from the mountain valleys of China, Japan and Korea. Being a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine it is widely cultivated here. It can still be found wild or, once introduced to an appropriate site, let go wild. It is a great plant for forest gardens as it grows well in partial or close-to-full shade. It prefers moist soils.

In Japan it is often pickled or used in miso soup. The flower buds are the most commonly used part of the plant though the young shoots are eaten too. The flower buds grow directly from the rhizomes thus appearing at ground level – not on the above ground parts of the plant – so a bit of crawling around on the soil might be necessary. Always a good thing to do! The buds are scale-like oblong sheaths with reddish green bracts.

myoga_flowerbud_Zingiber mioga Flower bud of myōga (Zingiber mioga)

The flower buds are best harvested when still tight and before the flower has emerged. In the photo above the flower, or inflorescence (the drooping white part), is already visible so the bud is a little past its prime. It is still edible and good but as flowering progresses the bud opens up and loses its fine crunchy texture. If the bud is still reasonably tight the flower can be picked off and discarded.

A stand of myōga left alone will soon fill up the available space with a subsequent reduction in the number of flower buds produced. A bit of disruption to the soil now and then – something the wild boar usually do a reasonable job of – will increase the number of flower buds produced each year. If you don’t have boars in the neighbourhood just dig up some of the rhizomes in a few places in your patch and use them to establish a new patch or pass them on to someone else. The rhizomes are yellowish and usually just a few millimetres in diameter. Apparently there are varieties that flower in summer and others that flower in autumn but it seems that the myōga patches I frequent are liable to produce in both seasons. My guess would be that amongst the cultivars heavy summer or autumn croppers have been selected and the stands around here are wild or, at least too feral to be so disciplined.

Myoga pickles[edit | edit source]

Combine rice vinegar, honey or sugar and salt. Guess the amount of vinegar you’ll need to cover the quantity of myōga you have (when in a jar) and add sugar and salt to taste. Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and remove from heat. (If you use raw honey instead of sugar add the honey to the vinegar and salt solution after boiling, when it has cooled a little, so as to retain the maximum enzyme content of the honey). Cut the myōga flower buds in half and dip in boiling water for about thirty seconds to a minute, drain and place the myōga in a jar. Cover the myōga, while it is still hot, with the vinegar mixture then let the jar cool to room temperature before putting the lid on. Store in a dark cool place or refrigerate.

In salads or soups[edit | edit source]

Raw or pickled myōga makes for a tasty addition to salads. For either just slice the myōga thinly before adding. Fresh myōga is used as an ingredient in miso soup. Again, just thinly slice the myōga flower buds before adding to the soup stock.

Medicinal uses of Zingiber mioga[edit | edit source]

According to Christopher Wiart 1 myōga, or rang he, as it called in Chinese, is used in China to treat malaria, insect bites and inflammation of the eyes. Dr. Duke’s Ethnobotanical Database, while confirming these traditional uses includes two more; as an antidote for scorpion stings and a treatment for malacia (softening of tissues).2 Unfortunately, as yet, I have been unable to confirm which part(s) of the plant are traditionally used for medicinal purposes. Wiart goes on to explain that anti-inflammatory properties have been confirmed in studies of Zingiber mioga and that there is interest in the plants potential for treatment of cancer.3

# Christopher Wiart. 2012. Medicinal Plants of China, Korea, and Japan: Bioresources for Tomorrow’s Drugs and Cosmetics. Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor and Francis Group. p. 67. # Dr. Duke’s Ethnobotanical Database. Accessed 2/27/2014. # Christopher Wiart. 2012. Medicinal Plants of China, Korea, and Japan. p. 68.
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Aomizu (Pilea mongolica)

by Dion Workman on February 26, 2014, no comments


Aomizu (Pilea mongolica syn. P. pumila, Canadian clearweed), is another popular summer green at Shikigami. We eat it raw in salads and wild pestos. It is a member of the Urticaceae or nettle family (no stinging though) and the Japanese name aomizu or, green water plant, gives you a good idea of where to look for it. A small annual growing to about 10cm tall with a preference for shady, moist places. The leaves look and taste somewhat similar to koakaso (Boehmeria spicata), another member of the nettle family but, in my opinion, aomizu is far superior as a raw green. The taste of aomizu is refreshing and neutral enough to allow its use as a bulk ingredient in salads. However as the season progresses and aomizu approaches flowering it gains pungency and is best used in small quantities.

Pilea mongolica also has a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of acute gastritis, diabetes, urethritis, endometritis, and leukorrhea.1

# Hak Cheol Kwon, Kang Ro Lee and Ok Pyo Zee. 1997. Archives of Pharmacal Research, 20, Issue 2. Pharmaceutical Society of Korea.
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Inutade (Polygonum longisetum)

by Dion Workman on February 26, 2014, no comments

inutade_polygonum-longisetum Inutade (Polygonum longisetum)

Inutade (Polygonum longisetum) has become a popular summer green with us. Its a good thing I was already eating it before I researched the species or I might have been put off by Plants for a Future‘s “edibility rating” of 1 out of 5. No, that’s not true. I’m only ever persuaded not to ingest when the plant is considered thoroughly inedible or poisonous (and even then it may depend on just what kind of poison we’re talking about). The Plants for a Future website is a fantastic resource (as is the spin off wiki Practical Plants) but their edibility ratings are rubbish (and wisely have been dropped on Practical Plants). Of course, rating a plants edibility is highly subjective, inevitably culturally biased and depends an awful lot on how it has been prepared. Around here inutade is held in far higher esteem than that of mere “famine food.”

Polygonum longisetum. Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5. Polygonum longisetum. Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5.

Inutade is a mucilaginous annual herb growing to 30 – 60cm and one of the dominant ground covers here through summer. It shows a preference for shady moist locations. Look for it along stream banks or other shady places close to water. It grows throughout Asia. We eat the leaves and the tender tips of the stalks both raw and cooked. As you can see in the photograph above it has quite distinctive dark markings on the leaves. There are a number of related species that carry these markings also. There is one species here (possibly just a variant of P. longisetum rather than a separate species, though I am yet to determine this) with leaves considerably narrower than those pictured but very similar in taste to inutade. Another related species, that carries somewhat similar markings but has a very different leaf shape, is m'izosoba (Polygonum thunbergii) and it is extremely bitter. The leaves of inutade alternate from a single stem which ranges in colour from olive green to red. From the nodes, where the leaf attaches to the stem, fine white hairs grow.

mizosoba Mizosoba (Polygonum thunbergii)

A Simple Inutade Recipe

A simple method for cooking inutade is to boil the herb briefly in water. Drain and let cool until you can squeeze all the excess water out without burning your hands. Squeeze really well and get rid of as much water as possible then add a dash of soy sauce, mix well and sprinkle some dried bonito flakes or sesame seeds on top. This method of preparation will reduce the bulk of the herb greatly so make sure you begin with a lot more than you think you need.

				Fuki (Petasites japnoicus) 

by Dion Workman on February 22, 2014, no comments

Fuki (Petasites japonicus) Fuki (Petasites japonicus)

Fuki (Petasites japonicus), a popular wild edible in Japan, is known in English as bog rhubarb, giant butterbur or sweet coltsfoot. The large flower buds, or fukinotō,' are eaten from the end of winter through early spring. At other times it is the stems and leaves that are eaten. Fuki’s preference is for very moist shady sites but it tolerates a wide range of conditions and may even be found on sunny and relatively dry slopes. It grows in abundance in both rural and urban Japan.

Given that fuki’s preference is for shady moist nooks it is an ideal forest garden plant as it can be difficult to find food producing plants that can thrive in such a niche. It is a really stunning looking plant too. A colony of fuki with its large round leaves has a lush tropical vibe. It makes an excellent ground cover but it will grow vigorously in favourable conditions, spreading from rhizomes to form large colonies. A good dense ground cover under trees but it will likely swallow less vigorous herbaceous plants.

Preparing Fuki[edit | edit source]

Fuki must be pre-cooked. Discard the cooking water and keep the fuki soaking in fresh water until used. Traditionally wood ash (baking soda can be also be used) was sometimes added when pre-cooking. These processes remove the egumi (a particular, though rather difficult to describe, taste sensation indicating the presence of alkaloids which, in fuki and other members of the Petasites genus are pyrrolizidine alkaloids.1 It is a bitterness yet different from the bitterness of say dandelion or chicory). After pre-cooking the stems and leaves will have a pleasant mildly bitter taste. Fibres running down the length of the stems should be removed or the stems will be stringy. This can be done easily once the stems have been pre-cooked by peeling the very outer layer of the stem with a paring knife. Fuki is a very versatile vegetable lending itself to preparation in any number of ways.

Fukinotō, the flower bud of fuki Fukinotō, the flower bud of fuki

As with the the stems and leaves the fukinoto, the flower buds, must be pre-cooked [see note below]. The most common ways of preparing fukinoto are as tempura or fukinoto miso. For tempura the fukinoto is coated in a light batter and deep fried. To make fukinoto miso after pre-cooking the flower buds and soaking in fresh water, discard the water and chop the fukinoto coarsely. Place the fukinoto in a pot or pan and place over heat to evaporate excess water. Then mix the fukinoto with miso paste. The ratio of fukinoto to miso is really a matter of taste. Remember the fukinoto is bitter and the miso salty. I think around 1:1 is pretty good. Because fukinoto miso is very salty it is usually eaten as an accompaniment to rice – a small dollop of fukinoto miso is mixed with a mouth full of rice.

The bitterness of many spring wild edible plants stimulates the digestive system and helps flush out the residue accumulated through the winter’s heavier fare. The first fukinoto are a welcome sight reminding us of winters passing and the arising of spring.

# Accessed 2/22/2014. Fuki contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, accumulations of which may lead to liver damage and tumour formation. The traditional methods of preparation such as pre-cooking and soaking in fresh water or pre-cooking in water containing ash or baking soda should reduce the concentration of pyrrolizidine alkaloids to undetectable levels. However it is inadvisable to eat large quantities of fuki regularly.
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Gobo (Arctium lappa)

by Dion Workman on February 16, 2014, no comments

gobo Gobo (Arctium lappa) bolting to set seed in the second year

Gobō (burdock, Arctium lappa) may be more commonly associated with Japanese or Korean cuisine but it was also once – and not that long ago – eaten throughout Europe. It is a superb medicinal food and performs important ecosystem functions. It deserves respect. The long tap roots of gobō are deeply nourishing, packed with minerals and vitamins and phytochemicals that help the body absorb all of the goodness it contains. Gobō’s long tap root is indeed a deep earthy food.

Being so treasured in Japan gobō has been afforded a special place as a pampered and cultivated garden crop but through this process of domestication the plant has remained close to its wild roots – one of those plants that will never let itself be truly domesticated. Yet still, we prefer wild plants, plants growing where they choose, when they choose. Gobō is a tough and persistent character so if you don’t have it growing wild near by scatter some seeds, let it grow for its two-year life cycle until it sets its own seed then let its velcro-like burs (gobō burs were, in fact, the inspiration for velcro) carry the seed to a location of its pleasing and watch gobō go.

Arctium lappa Arctium lappa

We harvest the roots of gobō plants at the end of their first year from late autumn, through winter and into early spring. This way we get the root at its largest but before it becomes tough and stringy as it will during its second year of growth. Some folks, harvesting primarily for medicinal purposes, recommend digging up the roots from mid to late summer. As a vegetable we prefer to leave it in the ground until we need it. In fact, because of the high oil content of the root it is difficult to store.

Early spring harvest of Arctium lappa roots Early spring harvest of Arctium lappa roots

There are so many excellent ways to prepare gobō roots but the one I use most commonly is kinpira, a popular method in Japan used for root vegetables – most commonly gobō but also carrots or daikon radish, and a great way to cook yacon too – where the roots are julienned and sautéed in sesame oil with finely sliced chili peppers and served sprinkled with sesame seeds. Gobō has a slight harshness to its flavour that can be removed by soaking the sliced root in water containing a drop of vinegar for a few minutes.

The seeds of gobō are edible, nourishing and medicinal. They are also pungent and slightly bitter. I like to eat a few raw seeds now and then and add them to salads. If not being used primarily for their medicinal qualities they can be roasted or cooked in any fashion. I have heard that the new leaves in spring can be eaten as can the immature flower stalks, before the flowers appear, in late spring.1 I will make a point of trying these this spring and report back.gobo_seedIn The Book of Herbal Wisdom2 Turtle Island herbalist Matthew Wood, speaking of burdock, tells us that “the seed has the capacity to penetrate to the core, stimulating metabolism and digestion, promoting waste removal, moving waste products towards the periphery and out through the sweat pores, urine and stool.” The seeds have also long been used to reverse “unnatural” hair loss – the hair having an important relationship with the skin, the skin manifesting waste products inadequately processed by the kidneys. But Wood points out that the seeds are associated with the liver also, acting “on an overfull liver, which is incapable of handling all the waste products sent its way for processing.” Such bitter, liver supporting herbs – burdock, dandelion, dock, for instance – are often used to treat issues of heavy metal toxicity.3 Just as their long tap roots draw minerals up from deep in the earth so they reach deep into our bodies to draw out the accumulated toxins.

On a recent visit to Turtle Island Asako came in contact with poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and upon her return to Japan broke out in terrible blistering sores. While the herb of choice for treating poison ivy is usually jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which can often be found growing close to poison ivy, here we have neither poison ivy nor jewelweed. We turned to gobō for help, making decoctions from the leaves we swabbed the sores and kept her arms wrapped in whole gobō leaves while she slept. This treatment certainly seemed to help the process of eliminating the toxins through the skin, drawing out the poison, and assisting in a speedy recovery.

And what of gobō’s medicine for the earth? Its long tap root aerates the soil. Pushing through compacted soils before rotting in the ground it leaves a pocket filled with air and decomposing organic matter. This extraordinary tap root draws minerals up from deep down in the soil and accumulates them in its large leaves which, come winter, fall to the ground and decompose releasing the accumulated minerals back onto the soil surface. Its strength and ability to access nutrients beyond the reach of many other plants allows gobō to grow in terribly adverse conditions. It is a pioneer, preparing the ground for other less rugged characters. It is one of those plants that appears in the cracks of paved city surfaces, reminding us of how easily civilisation’s edifices could be toppled and proclaiming its readiness to get on with the job.4 Okay Gobō, lets go!

# Accessed 2/16/2014. # Wood, Matthew. 1997. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. pp. 137-151. # Scott, Timothy Lee. 2010. Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Rochester: Healing Arts Press. p. 155. # Appropriately enough, according to Matthew Wood, one of Arctium lappa’s old English names was “Herrif or Aireve, from the Anglo-Saxon hoeg (hedge) + reafe (robber) or refian (to seize). We can certainly appreciate the name Hedge Ruffian.” Wood, M. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. p. 138.
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Unfreedom Farmers (And Agricultural Counter-Revolutionaries)

by Dion Workman on February 15, 2014, no comments

'''In the Levant, it is said that it was a change in weather that led to a change in fortunes. Emerging from the long winter of an ice age it became warmer and wetter. Grasses – wild relatives of barley, wheat and rye – previously confined to mountain valleys with reliable rainfall and moist stream banks began moving down onto the plains. To the inhabitants, semi-nomadic hunter/gatherers, these wild grasses delivered directly to their campsites abundant, storable calories. A few weeks of intensive gathering could provide a year’s worth of staple food.

Surrounded by a good source of food that would store well, the Natufian nomadic inclination waned. Grain storage required storehouses and permanently inhabited sites for which the Natufians innovated circular houses and storage pits arranged as small villages.

But the weather changed again. The bursting of an enormous ice dam in North America interrupted global weather patterns throwing the world back into ice age-like conditions. Cold and dry again, the grasses retreated back up to the mountain valleys. The Natufians, however, had forgotten their own mobility. Too much had been invested in building their new world. Their population, over the many years of immobility and easy calories had become too large for the land to support a return to the semi-nomadic ways of their ancestors. In the absence of the grains the land around Natufian villages was rapidly depleted of animal and plant foods. They were desperate.

Natufians were not ignorant of the life cycles of the plants around them. Like all foraging cultures their connection to plants was intimate, their understanding deep. In this time of crisis they reached out and picked the fruit of knowledge. Clearing a patch of ground they took some of the precious grains they were now having to walk so far to obtain and pressed them in to the soil. They brought water, encouraging the grains to sprout. They nurtured the young plants, removed competitors, and tended them through to maturity. Once more golden grains ripened in the sun around their settlements. But from these seeds strange and bitter fruits would also be reaped.

In taking control of their food supply, these first farmers, vanguards of the agricultural revolution, simultaneously invented work. Earth was turned upside down – ploughing fields to grow one’s food was to turn over the notion of life as the gift of Earth and to see instead a wild, unreliable Nature that must be tamed through toil, from whom life must be wrestled. Cultivating fields to cull the wild, to order which plants will go where, to take the green chaos and straighten it into neat rows on pulverised earth, to become economic. To cultivate the mind, to weed out unreasonable thoughts, to conform, to come when the bell rings, develop a work ethic (or at least a belief in the inevitability of work – the devil does indeed find work for idle hands!), to become economic.

The primal anarchy of early human societies could not continue. Granaries necessitated cops and the degradation of the land bases propping up the emerging urbanity necessitated armies and wars of territorial conquest. Armies required provisioning which required a monetary system enabling efficient taxation. And all of this required bureaucracy. The State. Leviathan.

However, to every revolution its counter-revolutionaries, and to agriculture there have been many. ‘Why should we plant when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world’ was the objection of one !Kung San bushman of the Kalahari. The delayed return of the farmers’ work is barely comprehensible to the hunter/gatherer who lives firmly rooted in the present. Just as to the ‘economically rational’ the lack of concern for the morrow is equally incomprehensible. The farmer is threatened by scarcity where the forager sees abundance (even in the desert!). To make a farmer of a forager scarcity must become real. When there no longer are so many mongongo nuts in the world farming ceases to look like such a bad deal.

To every binary a tertiary. Forager and farmer represent points on a continuum, on which mixes of differing ratios can be found: Farmer/hunter, hunter/gatherer/planter, hunter/planter, farmer/gatherer. At one extreme, agriculture (the type of which forms the foundation of western-now-global civilisation) is totalitarian, seeking total control of the land and natural processes. The forger too has always participated in the creation of her environment yet, at the other extreme, with a degree of subtlety that often renders her actions invisible. She has always been a gardener even if only at the most fundamental level of depositing the seeds of favoured foods in excrement (fertilizer) within a short distance of the campsite. There are various forms of horticulture occupying the low-impact end of the scale where we find the foragers. Gardeners of such sensitivity that traditional forest gardens or ‘home gardens’ have looked like just so much jungle to the ‘trained’ eye.

It is to these gardens that another group of counter-revolutionaries look. Not the ones that have always resisted the onslaught of agricultural civilisation but ones from within that civilisation who see that freedom is not farmed, but foraged. Forest gardeners, feral permaculturalists, wild crafters, guerrilla gardeners – not so much interested in a sustainable agriculture as in making agriculture obsolete. They are participants in the regeneration of ecosystems in which subsistence can again be foraged. Their gardens, from which Leviathan has been banished, are for gainful unemployment.

This text was originally published in Freedom Farmers: New Zealand Artists Growing Ideas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2013. The publication accompanied an exhibition of the same name. Shikigami Forest Garden, Shizuoka, Japan, a film by Isobel Thom documenting our forest garden was screened as part of the exhibition and this text served as the catalogue essay for Thom’s contribution.

Kitsunenogoma (Justica procumbens)

Kitsunenogoma (Justica procumbens)

Kitsunenogoma (Justicia procumbens) is a very common plant in Japan. At Shikigami it is one of the dominant wild plants of the clearings from August through October. It will often be found in disturbed, fertile areas.

Kitsunenogoma means fox’s sesame. As the folk name suggests the seeds of this plant have long been known for their food value. However, despite the name the traditional use of the seeds of kitsunenogoma has been a little different from that of sesame seeds for the seeds of kitsunenogoma, according to Tanaka’s Cyclopedia of Edible Plants of the World (1976), are cooked and usually made into a flour. (This is one of the rare instances when I report on the use of a plant as food without having tried it myself. Eventually I will and I’ll update this post and report back on Fox’s sesame seeds.) I do regularly eat the leaves which when young and tender make a nice addition to salads or wild pesto or can be boiled or steamed. The best time to pick the leaves is when the plant is first emerging.

Kitsunenogoma also has a long history of use in Japanese folk medicine. For medicinal purposes the plant may be collected just as it begins to flower (as in the picture above). Kitsunenogoma is taken internally as a herbal infusion or externally by bathing in water infused with the herb. The folk uses of the fox’s sesame include the treatment of muscle aches, lower back aches (lumbago), nerve aches, arthritis and rheumatism – hence, bathing in a hot steaming infusion. Also traditionally used in Japan for colds, coughs, fevers and sore throats – hence, drinking a hot steaming infusion. In India it is used in the treatment of opthalmia or, inflammation of the eyes. Here the juice of the leaves is applied directly to the afflicted eye. In China the plant has long been recognized as alterative, anodyne, carminative, expectorant, diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative. In addition to the traditional uses found in Japan and India, in Chinese medicine the herb is used in the treatment of asthma, boils, cankers, swelling, intestinal worms, wasting diseases (marasmus), and for stimulation of the qi and circulatory system. Kitsunenogoma is yet another plant currently being researched for its anti-cancer properties. I wonder if any of those white-coated types will ever research the connection between cancers and our (self)exile from the green world?

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Kuri (Castanea crenata)

by Dion Workman on February 15, 2014, no comments


September brings the first irregular drops of the coming downpour. At first one or two chestnuts fall here and there. Day by day the frequency increases. The nuts get bigger, hitting the earth now with a deep thud and then…the heavens open.

K'uri (クリ), (Castanea crenata'), is a native of the Japanese forests though in its wild form it is usually referred to as yamaguri (ヤマグリ, 山栗) or mountain chestnut. A staple food of the Jōmon (14,000 BCE to 300 BCE) – and probably of the paleolithic peoples that inhabited Japan prior to the Jōmon period – yamaguri is still plentiful throughout Japan’s mountainous forests.1

Yamaguri wood was prized by charcoal makers who maintained extensive coppice woodlands in the mountains until the early 20th Century. In some areas charcoal production continued for much longer (on a very small scale until the present even) and as yamaguri logs were also used for growing shiitake mushrooms many remnant coppices are still marginally maintained or only recently abandoned. Charcoal production was the primary occupation in the forests surrounding Shikigami hence we have yamaguri in abundance.

According to Toyohiko Kagawa during the Meiji period (1868-1912) many yamaguri were cut down to provide railway sleepers (ties) for Japan’s expanding rail network.2 Thus many trees, if not already under coppice management, would have been coppiced inadvertently during this period. Another piece of kuri trivia that Kagawa tells us is that the Japanese name Yamato means ‘lots of kuri’and comes from the Ainu language in which yam means ‘chestnut’ and ato means ‘a lot.’3

But I get ahead of myself with all this talk of yamaguri for the wild yamaguri offers up its sweet nourishing nuts last of all. Before the yamaguri we have close to two months of offerings from all the cultivated varieties that are grown in Japan. The nuts of the earliest varieties begin falling around early September and for the remainder of the month and in to October we have the mid and late varieties. Two months of continuous chestnuts! These varieties have been cultivated not only to extend the harvest season but also to increase the size of individual nuts some of which are truly enormous. (The yamaguri nuts might be much smaller but they are equally, if not more, delicious.) Kuri have been widely planted across Japan and there are many abandoned groves waiting for the wandering forager or minimally maintained groves for the gleaner.


The chestnut is also a favourite food of inoshishi (wild boar) so groves can make for good hunting grounds. This association led Kagawa, in the 1930’s, to propose an agroforestry system comprising a canopy of nut trees (including those other favoured foods of inoshishi, walnuts and acorns) under planted with fodder trees and pigs and other livestock grazed underneath – a system he called three dimensional forestry. 4 Robert Hart, who with plants and prose inspired the whole modern temperate climate forest gardening movement, acknowledged Kagawa as one of his primary inspirations – although Hart was a vegan so, one would guess, probably not so excited by the whole pig thing.

Pigs or not the chestnut definitely deserves a place in any temperate forest garden for it crops annually whereas many other nut or mast producing trees will only produce in quantity every few years. This makes the chestnut one of the best choices for the replacement of grains. Chestnuts have a carbohydrate content comparable to that of wheat or rice and contain no gluten.5 Chestnuts are very versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked in a number of different ways including roasting, steaming, boiling. Below are recipes for couple of the ways we prepare chestnuts. The nuts can be dried for long term storage and make an excellent flour.

Drying Chestnuts[edit | edit source]

kuri_dryingSo far our experiments with drying chestnuts have not been entirely successful. But then we live in a very humid environment and, unfortunately, this includes inside our house so we experience difficulty storing many dried foods. At the time of the year we need to be drying chestnuts the atmospheric humidity does begin to ease off so if we’re lucky a good run of dry sunny days is possible. We are refining our method every year so hopefully within a year or two I will be able to report on how to successfully dry chestnuts for long term storage.

The first stage of our process works well. This is to soak the chestnuts (thick outer skin, the hull, on) in a bucket of water with a splash of vinegar. Remove any that float and leave the rest to soak for at least three days and up to one week. This weak vinegar solution will kill any larvae in the chestnuts and hinder the growth of molds. When we have dried batches without taking this step many have been eaten by worms, taking this step we have lost none.

Next we place the chestnuts in the sun (still with the brown hull on) for as long as it takes for the nut to shrink and harden in the shell, turning the chestnuts daily. The hull will still look pretty much the same but the nut inside will separate from the hull and reduce in size as its water content is lowered. This usually takes around one to two weeks of good sunny days. Squeeze the hulls now and then during the process to develop a sense of how they are progressing. If you don’t live in a ridiculously humid environment and have good dry and cool storage areas then this will probably be enough and the chestnuts should last for about a year.

Next year we will try something a little different. We will follow the steps above but peel the outer skin off after the nuts have begun to shrink inside (they are easier to peel without damaging the nut at this stage). Then we will continue drying and assessing when they are done by cutting open large nuts.

If you have experience drying and storing chestnuts in humid environments please do share.

Chestnut recipes[edit | edit source]


kurigohan[edit | edit source]

Chestnuts remain a highly regarded seasonal food in Japan. The most popular way of eating them is to steam them with rice, what is known as kurigohan – literally, chestnut cooked rice. To make kurigohan add peeled chestnuts to a pot of rice with a few drops of cooking saké. Bring to a boil then bring the heat down as low as possible and cook for about thirty minutes. It is best not to open the pot and definitely don’t stir the contents while cooking. When done gently mix the chestnuts and rice. The ratio of chestnuts to rice is up to you. Many people in Japan go quite lite on the chestnuts but, personally, I prefer chestnuts over rice so I usually use a lot. Also, while it is more common to use white rice for making kurigohan I usually make it with brown rice and it still tastes great (better even).


Shibukawani[edit | edit source]

Shibukawani is an exquisite Japanese delicacy – a soft sweetened whole chestnut rather similar to that other decadent chestnut invention the French/Northern Italian marron glacé. The difference is that with shibukawani the normally astringent inner skin of the chestnut (the shibukawa) is not removed, rather the astringent chemicals are leached out of the nuts.

Making shibukawani is a slow, fiddly, delicate process and for this reason not many people bother to make them anymore. But they are so, so worth it! Everyone loves shibukawani and if you don’t scoff them all yourself you can make yourself very popular by giving them away to people. (Modern life is truly upside-down when we no longer have time to do the things that make life worth living!)


Ingredients:Chestnuts (weight after removing outer shell) 1kgSugar 1kgWater 1LBaking Soda 2 heaping tablespoonsOptional: Rum, brandy 45ml (3 Tbs), or vanilla (1 stick)

1: Place the chestnuts in water and remove any that float then boil for 5 minutes. Remove from boiling water and once the shell is soft remove it taking care not to damage the inner skin. Take great care throughout the whole process not to damage the inner skin. You can get away with very light damage but nicks or breaks in the skin will likely cause the chestnuts to fall apart.

2: Put chestnuts in a large pot with plenty of water and add one heaping tablespoon of baking soda. Bring to a boil then lower the heat (violent boiling will damage the chestnuts) and simmer for ten minutes. Drain the water off and put the chestnuts in cool water. Gently remove the furry bits attached to the inner skin. Don’t worry if you can’t get all of the furry stuff off as this will become easier to remove along the way. If removing them risks damaging the chestnut just let them be for now.

3: Repeat step 2. With luck any remaining furry bits will drop off during this stage or will be easier to remove. Keep in mind that now the chestnuts are even softer so be extra careful not to damage the inner skin.

4: Repeat the boiling process again but this time without any baking soda, then drain the water and put 1 L of fresh water in a pot (without the chestnuts) and half of the sugar, then begin heating it to dissolve the sugar.

5: Once the sugar has fully dissolved, add the chestnuts and bring to a boil (again, being careful to not let the water boil too violently), and simmer for 10-15 minutes (without a lid). Take it off the heat, and leave overnight.

6: The next day, take the chestnuts out of the pot, add the remaining sugar to the syrup and heat to dissolve. Return the chestnuts to the pot, bring to a boil, simmer for 10-15 minutes (without a lid). Optional: Add the rum, brandy or a stick of vanilla. (Traditional shibukawani does not contain any of these and the traditional/plain version tastes great however, adding one these ingredients adds a bit of depth to the flavour. If I have a favourite it is probably vanilla.)

For long term storage, you must put them in sterilized jars with their syrup and seal them while they are still hot! Sterilize the jars by placing them in boiling water for 10 minutes, then put the hot chestnuts directly into the sterilized jars and fill as full as possible with syrup. Put lids on the jars but don’t tighten them. Put these in enough water so that the jars are submerged to around 80% of their height and bring to a boil. Once boiling close the lids tightly and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes. Once the jars of shibukawani have been removed from the water and cooled they should be stored in a cool dark place. They will store for over a year but once opened they should be consumed within a week. For this reason it is a good idea to fill a number of smaller jars rather than placing them all in one or two large jars.

# Professor Michiko Niimi of Nagoya University has extensively researched the use of chestnuts by Jōmon people. Published papers on this area of his research include:2006. The Taste of the Jomon Chestnut (Castanea crenata), Zooarcheology, 23. 103-111.2005. Did Jomon People Gather Chestnuts Everyday?, Zooarcheology, 22. 65-72.2004. The Investigation on the Annual Fluctuation of Nut Production of Wild Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata), Archeology and Natural Science, 23. 57-67. # Kagawa, Toyohiko. 1953. The Collected Works of Toyohiko Kagawa, Vol. 12. Tokyo: Kiristoshimbunsha. 376-380. (In Japanese) # Ibid. # Ibid. See also Accessed 2/4/2014. # Accessed 2/8/2014.
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Inubiwa (Ficus Erecta)

by Dion Workman on February 15, 2014, no comments

inubiwa (Ficus erecta)

Don’t be mislead by the Japanese folk name for this fruit – inu (dog) biwa (loquat) – for it is a wild fig bearing no resemblance in look or taste to either the loquat tree or fruit. The fruit does look a little like a small round fig though and split one open and the resemblance is unmistakable. When the Japanese folk name for a plant refers to an animal it often indicates that the plant is not highly regarded as a human food source – food only fit for dogs – but these plants would almost certainly have been appreciated by the paleo and mesolithic peoples of Japan.

Tasting a single fruit you might agree that this fruit does not have the characteristics we usually enjoy in fruit – sweetness or strong flavour, for example – but taste another…and another. Have a whole handful. Inubiwa is a lucky dip. One in five might be rather bland – but that leaves four out of five which, sufficiently ripe are sweet and juicy with a definite fig flavour. (Sufficiently ripe: a deep purple plump fruit. In the picture above the fruit on the left looks about just right while the one on the right has a while to go yet).

Sitting under a stream-side tree enjoying a bowlful of inubiwa with friends we speculated on the potential of inubiwa as a dried fruit. The consensus was that it would probably make a fine dried fruit as the drying would likely concentrate the sugars and intensify the flavour and, small as they are, it would be well worth experimenting with. As would cooking lightly, mashing and making fruit leathers. As this conversation went on one or another of us would return to the inubiwa tree and refill our bowl. After our third bowl, concluding that indeed inubiwa would likely make a fine dried fruit, leather or jam, there were no ripe fruits left on the tree for our experiment! But no need to wait until next year for another chance for the inubiwa has a long fruiting season. There is a first flush early in September then the fruits continue to ripen unevenly over a period of six weeks or more. Such a long uneven ripening of fruit is considered a disadvantage for commercial growers but in a forest garden (a home garden, as they are known in many parts of tropical Asia), this is often preferable. In warm temperate climates like ours, where it is possible to have fresh fruit year round, grazing can be a more appealing strategy than the work of dealing with gluts of produce.

Ficus erecta (5-8). Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5. Ficus erecta (5-8). Illustration from Flora of China Vol. 5.

The inubiwa is a forest edge understory small tree/shrub that I usually encounter at stream edges. In other words, it is not only shade tolerant but actually produces well (best?) in very shady and moist conditions. Not liking the extreme humidity of Japanese summers cultivated species of fig can be somewhat difficult to grow in forest gardens here but inubiwa, the Japanese wild fig, is made for the place!

Shii (Castanopsis sieboldii) by Dion Workman on February 15, 2014, no comments

Shii (Castanopsis sieboldiiCastanopsis sieboldii, known in Japan as either sudajii or shii, and to the English speaking world as either chinquapin or chinkapin is an indicator species of the forests here in eastern Japan. Although much of the broadleaf forest around us (and throughout Japan) has in the past forty or fifty years been replaced with the “economic” conifers sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) and hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa) the presence of so many shii trees scattered through the mountains reassures us that real forest can one day (soon) return. Every autumn these remaining shii — with the assistance of Risu (Squirrel) and Inoshishi (wild Boar) — plant the seeds of these future forests. The 20 to 30 metre tall trees scatter their donguri to be cached by risu and ploughed under the forest litter by boar.
Shii donguri Shii donguri

Donguri (団栗 ) refers to the nuts of oaks (Quercus) and beech (Lithocarpus), as does the English “acorn,” to which it is usually translated, but also to the nuts of Castanopsis species. All are members of the Fagaceae family. The donguri of shii are 1 ½ to 2 centimetres long and about ¾ cm in diameter. Unlike the acorns of most oak and beech species shii nuts do not contain tannins.1 Thus, they are not astringent or bitter and can be eaten raw straight from the shell requiring no leaching. While the taste of raw shii is not particularly fantastic — it is not bad either just a bit plain with a mealy texture — the fact that no processing is required is an advantage for leaching inevitably leads to a loss of nutrients — particularly if done by boiling in successive changes of water. For eating shii nuts straight the flavour is much improved by a quick roasting or boiling (of course, cooking too will result in some loss of nutrients but less than leaching then cooking). However, after roasting the nuts become very hard when they cool so don’t be tempted to cook up a big batch to snack on later but cook as needed. Otherwise the nuts can be used as an ingredient in other dishes either whole or ground as flour.

Asako roasting shii donguri Asako roasting shii donguri

Archeologists digging around in the middens of the Jōmon, the earliest known human inhabitants of Japan, believe they found the remains of “cookies” and “burgers” made with shii flour. Apparently a little over cooked on the camp fire the charred products went straight to the midden. Upon reading this I ground some shii into a coarse flour. I then ground some chestnuts and mixed the chestnut and shii flours in about equal proportions. A pinch of salt, some honey, a generous helping of onigurumi (Japanese walnut, Juglans ailathifolia) pieces and a bit of flour made from the root of yamaimo (Dioscorea opposita) were added. Next I poured in just enough water to create a stiff dough-like consistency. The yamaimo flour when mixed with water acts as a binder to hold the cookies together. I formed round shapes of the dough in my hands and cooked them in a covered pan over a low heat. And they were excellent! My Jōmon cookies were so good I tried variations combining dried kaki (persimmon, Diospyros kaki) pieces and seeds of various plants such as ōbako (plantain, Plantago asiatica) and senryo (Sarcandra glabra), plus different combinations of shii flour mixed with flours made from other types of donguri. All were good.

Jomon cookies Jōmon cookies

For the “Jōmon burger” I used minced shika (wild deer) meat mixed with the shii flour, onion and soy sauce. Again I added some yamaimo to help hold the burger together although for the burgers I used ground fresh root rather than flour made from the root as I did with the biscuits. The burgers were excellent but I suspect they would have been just as delicious without the shii!

Shii is a natural host of the shiitake mushroom and it is for shii that shiitake is so named. Shiitake (椎茸) means shii (椎, Castanopsis spp.) mushroom (take, 茸).2 The shii tree, along with various oak and beech species, has traditionally been coppiced in Japan to supply logs for shiitake cultivation and charcoal production. The trees also produce useful timber for building. Given all this if shii didn’t grow plentifully around here already I would be out planting them! An immensely valuable addition to any forest garden and especially so if that forest garden is in parts of Japan where shii is considered an indicator species of the ecosystem.

Shii (Castanopsis sieboldii syn. C. cuspidata var. sieboldii) is an evergreen tree of the Fagaceae family growing to around 20-30 m. The leaves are from 5-9 cm long and 2-4cm broad, leathery in texture, with an entire or irregularly toothed margin. The edible nuts (the donguri or, to be really technical, the calybium) of shii fall from the trees during autumn and early winter. Like other donguri the first flush of shii are usually being shed by the tree because of insect infestation or improper maturation. Also, following the first flush donguri that fall from the tree still fully enclosed in their “shell” (cupule) are usually no good for the same reasons (about 8 or 9 times out of ten in my experience). Partial enclosure in the cupule does not necessarily indicate such problems.

Shii donguri still partially enclosed within its cupule Shii donguri still partially enclosed within its cupule
Shii leaf Shii leaf
Shii leaf (under side) Shii leaf (under side)

# I base this claim solely on personal experience. Not detecting any trace of astringency or bitterness when eating shii donguri raw I am assuming no tannins are present. So far my research on shii has turned up nothing to contradict this assumption. However, there are tannin related substances (gallotanins) present in the leaves of shii. # Accessed 2/1/2014.
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Yamamomo (Myrica Rubra) by Dion Workman on February 15, 2014, no comments

yamamomo (Myrica rubra)'

Yamamomo (Myrica rubra) is variously known to the English-speaking world as Chinese or Japanese bayberry, red bayberry, yumberry, Asian bog myrtle, Chinese strawberry tree or waxberry. Of these last two names 'the former comes from a resemblance to the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and the latter because the fruit of other 'myrica species is coated in wax (from which candles can be made) and therefore they are known as wax myrtles or wax berries. However, despite sometimes being referred to as waxberry, the fruit of M. rubra does not have a waxy coating. A friend who lives without electricity and thus always interested in potential sources of candle wax, has been wholly unsuccessful, despite her best attempts, in extracting any wax from M. rubra.

The Japanese name, yamamomo (山桃), means ‘mountain (yama 山) peach (momo 桃)’ although there is nothing very peach-like about the fruits of yamamomo. But then neither is there much peach-like about the native plums which are called sumomo (which once meant vinegar, or sour, (su 酸) peach (momo 桃),1 although in nowadays sumomo is usually written 李 which obfuscates this older meaning). As far as I can see the only thing these other momo’s have in common with peaches is that they are round, stone fruits and usually red-ish.

The fruits of yamamomo are about 1.5 – 2 cm’s in diameter (there are cultivated varieties that have larger fruits however, according to local growers, the fruit is easily damaged by inclement weather at harvest time). The fruits grow in clusters and are dark red to purple when ripe. The tree is evergreen with leathery leaves and grey bark, reaching heights of 15 metres. It grows on forested mountain slopes (100 – 1500 metres) throughout southern China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the Philippines…2

The fruits are refreshingly tart and may be eaten fresh though often they are served in a sweet syrup. They also make wonderful wine (and if you can make wine you can, of course, make vinegar too). In both China and Japan they are used to make a medicinal liquor (steeped in báijiǔ in China and shōchū in Japan). See recipes below.

I have been told that, in the past, the seeds of yamamomo were also eaten in Japan. The seeds are “stones” like those of plums — although rather small they are very hard. I am yet to find out exactly how the seeds were rendered edible but I will surely update this post when I do.

Yamamomonoki (Myrica rubra)

The traditional medicinal uses of M. rubra by the peoples of east Asia include as an antidote for arsenic poisoning, a carminative, an anti-inflammatory, for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, dyspesia, nausea, excessive perspiration, psoriasis, and in the treatment of wounds, ulcers and sores.3

For the treatment of arsenic poisoning, wounds, sores and skin diseases a decoction of the stem bark is applied externally.4

The leaves have long been known to practitioners of Chinese medicine to be anti-inflammatory and recent studies have shown the juice of the fruits is also anti-inflammatory and effective in the treatment of ulcers.5

Yamamomo in syrup[edit | edit source]

yamamomo in syrupThe few recipes for sweetened yamamomo that I have seen recommended cooking the fruit for 5 – 10 minutes in the syrup but I find this makes the fruit too mushy and it loses its wonderful tart edge. They also recommended an equal weight of sugar to that of the fruit – I say half that amount of sugar is plenty. I suspect these people don’t even like yamamomo!

  1. Soak yamamomo in a salt brine for 30 minutes then rinse. This is to remove insects of which there are usually plenty.# Bring sugar (half the weight of the fruit) to a boil in enough water to cover the fruit.# Add the fruit and boil for just a couple of minutes.# Put the fruit in jars and cover completely with the the syrup and screw on lids.

After about 24 hours they should be ready. Kept in a cool place they should keep for a month. If, once filled and capped, the jars are covered with hot water and boiled for 20 – 30 minutes the fruit should keep for up to a year. For more on processing for long term storage see here. I have attempted a batch with raw fruit — the yamamomo was not placed in the boiling syrup but directly in the jars and the hot syrup poured over the fruit — however, it started to ferment within a few days. Still tasted great though.

After finishing the fruit the syrup is used to make a very pleasant summer drink. Pour a little in the bottom of a glass and fill with cold water.

Yamamomo Wine[edit | edit source]

yamamomo wineYamamomo fruits are coated in wild yeasts which, if treated right, will happily make alcohol for you. And they’re so easy to please! Place the fruit in sugary water and stir often. As simple as that. How much sugar you use will affect the vigour and length of fermentation and thus the strength (alcohol content) of your brew. For a strong wine, use more. For 2kg of yamamomo I use about 1.25 kg’s of sugar. To make a simple “country wine” to be consumed “green”:6

  1. Do not wash the yamamomo. You want to keep all the wild yeast on the fruit. Yes, there probably will be many tiny insects in the fruit but these will be strained out later. Place the fruit in the bottom of a container – a food grade plastic bucket or large glass jar will do nicely.# Dissolve the sugar in enough cold water to generously cover the fruit (5 to 10 cm’s is good). Pour this mixture over the fruit in the bucket.# making yamamomo wineStir. And stir often. The more you can stir your potion the better. I stir my concoctions anywhere from 6 to 10 times a day. At a minimum give it at least four good stirrings every day.# Between stirring keep your bucket covered with a lid, cloth or anything else that keeps flies and dust out.# After a day or two you should see bubbles or froth forming on the top of the liquid. Keep up the daily stirrings until the froth begins to lessen – hopefully this will take a couple of weeks.# When fermentation does begin to subside strain in to bottles and enjoy.

Yamamomo vinegar[edit | edit source]

Vinegar is essentially wine that has been overexposed to oxygen. Once the yeasts that converted the sugars to alcohol have begun to lose steam through lack of food acetobacter (acetic-acid-producing bacteria who were always present but until now held in check by the vigour of the yeasts) begin to dominate. 'It is a'cetobacter that will turn your wine in to vinegar.

So, to make vinegar follow the wine making steps listed above but rather than bottling the finished wine strain it into another wide mouthed container and keep covered with a cloth. Taste regularly and when it reaches the desired acidity (when it tastes like vinegar) bottle and cap. A vinegar ‘mother’ may have formed on top which you’ll need to remove before bottling. But don’t discard this. You can eat it, feed to it to your chickens or compost it.

Yamamomo Koubo[edit | edit source]

Given that yamamomo is abundantly covered in wild yeasts (kõbo) it can also be used as a yeast source for bread (and probably beer too). Place some fruit in a jar, cover with water and add some honey or sugar. Stir or shake the jar often (if shaking release pressure by opening the lid after shaking). When it begins to bubble vigorously it is ready to use. For bread, just add some of the liquid to your dough mix. A little experimentation may be needed to get the amount right.

Yamamomo shochu[edit | edit source]

yamamomo shochuSimply steep yamamomo in liquor for a month or more. Here in Japan shōchū is typically used, in China it is báijiǔ and in Korea soju. These are all white liquors usually ranging from around 35 – 60% alcohol by volume. Vodka would be an obvious substitute. If you’re concerned about little insects in your alcohol soak the fruit in a salt brine for 30 minutes then rinse. Place the fruit in a jar and cover with liquor of your choice.

If your focus is on extracting the medicinal qualities of yamamomo then what you are making is a tincture. Fill your jar with as much fruit as possible before adding the liquor. Let it sit for at least one month and keep it out of direct sunlight. Shaking it around a bit from time to time is not a bad idea either.

If, on the other hand, you just want to flavour some liquor for drinking then less fruit/more liquor can be used.

#スモモ. Accessed 7/19/2013. # Flora of China 4. Available online at Accessed 7/20/2013. # Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed 7/23/2013. # Plants for a Future, Myrica rubra. Accessed 7/23/2013. # Wang, S.J., et al., ‘Anti-inflammatory activity of myricetin isolated from Myrica rubra leaves.’ Planta Med 76(14), October 2010.Alajmi et al., ‘Some pharmacological actions of Myrica rubra.’ African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 7(9), 8 March, 2013. PDF from Accessed 7/23/2013. # For more on making country wines (or any other fermentation technique for that matter) see Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation. Chelsea Green, 2012.
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Shikigamiプロジェクト終了のお知らせ[edit | edit source]

私たちはShikigamiプロジェクトを終了することにしました。フォレストガーデンのコミュニティを作り、一緒に生活して一緒に仕事をし、必要 なもののほとんどを自給し、耐性を持ち、自立出来る状態を築きあげたいと常に考えています。ここで4年間暮らしてきて、私たちが望んでいることを達成する ための土地が十分ではないということがはっきりしました。そのため、ここでの生活を終了して次の場所に移ることにしました。

皆様からの多くのサポート、そしてワークショップに来てくれたみんなとの楽しい時間を本当にありがたく思っています。ここまでShikigamiで やってきたことを置いていかなければいけないのは非常に残念ですが、ここでの経験はとても価値のあるものになりました。そしてワークショップも、私たちに とってすごく勉強になりました。みなさんもワークショップでなにか得られたことがあったらうれしいです。

ディオンは現在、房総半島の大きな土地でのパーマカルチャーのプロジェクトに参加しています。日本を離れるまでその仕事に携わります。なので、 2015年の春にはそちらの方でワークショップを行えればと思っています。その時にはまたこのサイトに載せますのでよろしくお願いします。

私たちが引っ越す前にShikigamiを訪れたいと思っている方もいるかもしれませんが、今はここのフォレストガーデンにいた植物達をもっとずっ と生きていられる場所に移している段階です。ですのでもうここには、残念ながらみんなが体験することの出来るフォレストガーデンがありません。

終わりに、本当にみなさんのサポート、ありがとうございました!最初にShikigamiをギフト経済のかたちでやっていくという話をし始めたと き、日本ではそれは無理だと信用していなかった人も多かったのですが、ここまで4年間やってきて、分かったこと、日本でも可能です!そして、私たちが蒔い た小さな種がすでに日本でいくつかのフォレストガーデンに育っていっている。今後もっと増えていくことを期待しています。

															リソース 											グローバル ガーデナー 3  with ビル・モリソン 


グローバル・ガーデナー(都会編)with ビル・モリソン[edit | edit source]


フォレストガーデニング with ロバート・ハート[edit | edit source]


マーティン・クロフォードのガーデンを歩く[edit | edit source]


未来の農園[edit | edit source]


聖なる経済学(チャールズ・アイゼンシュタイン[edit | edit source]