Eats Shoots and Leaves

Hi blog.

Spring is in full swing, with the leaves out on virtually every tree.  Unstable weather is with us as storm clouds suddenly appear and disappear.

The first part of this post was seeded several years ago when we visited the wife’s family out in the countryside and her cousins went to harvest some shoots from what looked like a spiky sapling.  I wasn’t able to get a photo at the time and so the idea for the post went into hiatus.

That hiatus thawed when I was riding to work recently and spotted someone harvesting shoots from a spiky plant.  A couple of photos on the way home ensured the seeds of this post germinated.

You wouldn’t guess that this plant is the main star of this post, would you? The taller of the two trees was about 2 metres in height.

The plant in question is the Japanese angelica-tree or Korean angelica-tree (Aralia elata), known in Japan as the taranoki (楤木 of 桵木).   This tree can reach heights of up to 10 metres, but typically grows between two and four metres tall.  It is a slender tree covered with a rough grey coloured bark and spines.  The pinnate leaves grow to between 50 cm and 100 cm, with individual leaflets about 5 cm in diameter.  Each of these leaflets also have spines along the veins.  (This page has lots of close up photos of A. elata, especially of the individual parts)

With so many spikes, it is hard to imagine this plant being any use at all.  However, for a few weeks in spring it produces tender shoots with no spines, which may be harvested and eaten.  In Japan, the most popular way of eating the shoots – called taranome (楤芽) – is as tempura.

A shoot, too small to be harvested.

When harvesting from wild plants, especially those on public land, it is important to leave side shoots, otherwise the tree will die.

Some of the spines covering the trunk.


The second part was inspired by events last year when I helped harvest bamboo shoots.  I didn’t have any chances to take photos that day.  However, I was prepared this time around and managed to sneak in a couple of shots.

A partially dug bamboo shoot.

Bamboo shoots are best harvested just as the tip breaks the surface, but these can be hard to find.  There certainly weren’t as many as last year, and it appears that some wild pig had beaten us to some.  (I didn’t get a photo of the pig’s diggings as it was virtually indistinguishable from where the humans had been digging!)

The harvest wasn’t as good as last year.

Several kinds of giant bamboo are harvested in their shoot form, so I can’t tell you the species.  All I know is that the bamboo rice was pretty good!



This entry was posted in Suburban wildlife and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Eats Shoots and Leaves

  1. Intriguing information – so that’s Angelica. My mom used to use it as a decorative form (green diamond shapes) on top of puddings – like jelly, trifle. But haven’t heard of it in years and had no idea of it’s origin. Fresh bamboo shoots must be delicious – we get the imported canned stuff which is pretty bland. Love the title, sans punctuation!

    • wildinjapan says:

      Thanks for the shout!
      Canned or bottled bamboo shoots can be improved by putting them in rice water ( i.e. water that has been used to wash rice and drained off ), adding a sliced red pepper and bringing it to the boil.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s