During Twixtmas – that weird time (and this year it seemed even weirder) between Christmas and New Year – I received a lovely festive greeting from one of my dear friends in Japan, Sachi Tanabe (@schtnb) who works at Ikor No Mori (@ikor_no_mori), a garden in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, in Japan.
Gardens and garden connections are so special. During 2020 and now, going forward into 2021, they are even more so. I met Sachi in 2018 at The Beth Chatto Symposium on Ecological Planting in the 21st century at the University of Essex.
Sachi knows of my love of herbs and recently we had talked about a Japanese recipe – Nanakusa Gayu – the seven herbs of spring. Sachi had included in the envelope a roll of washi tape with the seven herbs of spring as the motif.
She told me that the seven herbs were Japanese parsley, shepherd’s purse, cottonweed, chickweed, the foliage of white Japanese turnip, the foliage of daikon and greater henbit or Japanese nipplewort. These are all finely chopped and added to a rice soup or porridge.
In her card Sachi explained that the seven-herb porridge is eaten on 7 January and is a way to detox and rest the digestive system after all the festivities!
For more information on the origins of the custom and accompanying music and rituals check the Wikipedia reference for Nanakusa-no-sekku. It is not only useful for this early-in-the-year detox and cleanse but good fortune is also linked to it. As Sachi explained, the herbs were each chosen for their restorative properties.
“Japanese parsley (Oenanthe javanica) improves your appetite, shepherd’s purse was a popular herb back in the Edo period, cudweed prevents colds and helps relieve fevers, chickweed is full of vitamin A which is good for the eyes as well as curing stomach aches, nipplewort is full of fibre, turnips with vitamins and radish aids digestion and cold prevention. You have to respect the knowledge our ancestors had. A perfect way to starting a cleansed new year!”
I began to think about comfort food and the different staples that had played a part in my growing up. Rice and boiled chicken was always on offer in our house following any digestive upsets and as the household was half-Jewish, chicken soup was another time-honoured digestion and emotion restorer.
After the richness of festive meals, herbs and fresh greens are what I always need. So I decided to give the seven-herb rice dish a try. The timing of 7 January, which here is just after Twelfth Night and the customary putting away of the tree and all signs of Christmas, seems just right.
I knew that I couldn’t replicate the Japanese herbs in Sachi’s list so I turned to my garden and also took advice from the blog of a Japanese home cook, Nami.
Nami listed water dropwort, shepherd’s purse, cudweed, chickweed, nipplewort, turnip and daikon radish, but she also suggested substituting with fresh green herbs that were more easily to hand.
The seven herbs I used were fennel, chervil, chickweed (such a good feeling to pick and eat this hardy little weed!), watercress, coriander, chives and African blue basil.
The watercress and chives were from the supermarket but the others are all growing in my greenhouse, the garden or (chervil and coriander) in my new Vegepod (@vegepod_uk_ireland). Although my choice of herbs was dictated by what was available in the garden and from the supermarket, they fulfil the spirit of the seven-herbs of spring in that they aid digestion, have restorative properties and vitamin content.
I wonder what you are eating to refresh and restore your palate and digestion this year…
Thank you 🙂 Tomorrow’s home-foraged lunch will feature nettle, cleavers, three-cornered leak, lemon sorrel, beetroot leaves (they’re not tops as there are no beetroots underneath them), oregano and saved fennel seed.
How are you going to prepare the assorted leaves and seeds… salad or hot dish?
Chop medium fine and last-minute stir into vaguely curried sweet potato, split green peas and whole barley. The same tradition as Greek horta, I guess. Apart from the curry.
Ooh sounds delicious… enjoy…. I have just bought a sweet potato, might try similar later in week!
Hurrah. Now you’ve started the year with revisiting the blog keep it going!
Thanks for the encouragement Andrew. Hopeful that I will keep it going!
This is just what’s needed at the moment! We are all in need of a pick-me-up like never before! I have all the above, apart from the basil which looks so pretty. I have mint, which I will add as my substitute -rather than not doing it at all. We have plenty of rice, which we love. Thank you for sharing this Japanese custom. It’s really fascinating to see what other countries do at different times of the year.
I am sure mint will be a good substitute… and I will have a basil plant for you for during the year…. I found it a good-tasting dish and of course, I like the freshness of the herbs. I also use many of these herbs, finely chopped, in a lunch-time omelette!
I love the idea of a herbal ‘ reset’ to revive our jaded systems. Very glad you didn’t consider using Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) which is possibly our most deadly indigenous plant. Do you think the Japanese use this name for a different plant. Anyway you’ve certainly got me wanting a dish of green and herbal goodness.
Thanks for your comment Marysa. The plant you mention also has the common name of water hemlock…. which may give a clue to its deadly nature. Caution should always be taken to identify plants correctly when picking from the wild, and from gardens!
Hope you enjoy your dish of herbs and rice, whatever you decided to include…
What a lovely read Barbara!
I’m pleasantly delighted a single item that managed to fit into an envelope has inspired you to restart your blog 🙂
Re: water hemlock, I believe the original herb we use is “seri” (Oenanthe javanica), which has a lovely refreshing taste (and obviously not toxic). A cross between a mint, parsley, and celery in taste?
Hallo Sachi, thank you for your comment; it was a lovely item to find in an envelope and I enjoyed discovering more about the Seven Herbs and the custom. Also the rice porridge was delicious…!
Thanks also for your note about the Latin name and description of the taste of the herb ‘seri’.
I am conserving my washi tape for special uses… thank you for it!
The seven herbs of spring sounds so cheerful and what a lovely beginning to 2021. Lovely post Barbara and most interesting.
Thanks Sandy. I love using herbs in my cooking and this was a tasty dish!