Sunday, February 8, 2015

Spring in winter - opening the pickle jar

Last night we had some snacks. Except I called them zakuski, because the Russian sounds better with smoked fish, pickles, and clear, hard liquor. And because I had just written about them for Edible magazine. And because there is still snow in heaps on the ground.

With the pickled field garlic buds (lower right, and very good!) I also opened a jar of the long Japanese knotweed pickles I made last April. Their brine included a little allspice, and the flavour worked well. They were still very crunchy, which is why they make excellent pickles. They lose their fresh green colour in the pickling (and in any cooking), but I'm used to that, now.

Above, a sliced version left (with chile), and the tubes, right. 

Here they are, just emerging, in April. They are one of the first plants to show signs of life in the brown woods.

Above, a good example of which shoot is good to harvest: the fat one. The skinny one will be fibrous.
The width needs to be sturdy in relation to height.

I found good patches of Japanese knotweed - Polygonum cuspidatum - all over New York last year. I look for stands where the previous year's tall brown canes are still upright sticks. If they are missing the chances are good they were sprayed with glyphosates in the summer.

99.9% of the time knotweed is viewed only as a noxious invasive plant, which it is, in the US and Europe. But it's high time it was also recognized as an excellent vegetable. Viewing it as food would turn the expensive-to-control weed into an income booster for landowners and collectors, would spare the environment - that means the water we drink - the effects of mass glyphosate (Round-Up) use, and would also help to control the plant by creative mechanical means: harvesting the shoots repeatedly until the rhizome's energy source is depleted.

When they are very tender, I use the whole stem. Older stems I peel, and I discard the joints between each hollow section, as they can become tough. Raw, they are at their most sour. In heat they are far more mellow.

Easy Japanese knotweed soup (recipe in my book), with field garlic oil. The cooked flavour is reminscent of sorrel, and works very well with anything creamy, from dairy cream to coconut milk (see my lamb and knotweed curry) to the creamy texture of a pureed potatoes.

No books I've read mention eating the tips of the stems, once they are quite tall (4 feet). Last year I started using the tips where the leaves were still furled. Sauteed, they are a crunchy, tart vegetable with more texture than the young stems, that dissolve in heat. Good as a sside, dish, or in an omelette.

I think we'll still find knotweed in Inwood Hill Park on the walk I have scheduled for April 25th. So some along on that wild foods walk to see the beast in its habitat.

Have you eaten Japanese knotweed? Would you?



  1. I never knew the first thing about Japanese knotweed until I read your blog, but based on what you have written here and in your book, am looking forward to finding it in the park near my home. Even with your clear instructions, however, I'll undoubtedly make mistakes in cooking, so will be starting to look for it as soon as we see green. ;-) Mary

    1. Louisville, Kentucky. Checked to see if we have Japanese knotweed, and what I could find said it had been noted in several counties in Kentucky -- hope mine is one of them. A Frederick Law Olmsted park is just down the street, so cross your fingers. I have no foraging experience and very little talent in the kitchen, but hope springs eternal . . .

  2. I have not eaten knotweed, but I would, and plan to this spring. I thought I would have to trek out to the state park to find any, but - after reading one of your posts describing the whole plant, I realized I am surrounded by it here is the 'burbs! I will keep an eye out for shoots on one of the nearby roadsides and scoop some up. Some areas are sprayed in mid-summer, but some are ignored - I'll head for those!

  3. Sorry to go off subject but your book is inspiring me to plant some seeds for greens. I am in Rhode Island so I imagine I need to wait a bit longer than you ( right?) Also, I have very little sun in my garden so I am going to try to grow the greens in containers I can move around following the sun. I am wondering if you can advise me on what kind of containers I should be using. Do you start your seeds in smaller pots and move them later? I have never done anything but flowers and tomatoes in containers and I need all the help I can get. Thanks Marie.

    1. My whole life is off-subject, so no worries. And I am very happy to hear that my book is inspiring some more gardening!

      Yes, RI will warm up a little later than NY. Look up your last frost date... But I'm guessing late April might be good to sow. The seed packets always tell you, but greens are quite tolerant of cold.

      Is there one spot in your garden that receives more sun than others? Can you tell me in hours more or less how much it receives?

      Many greens dislike being transplanted so it is better to sow them where they will grow up. They also can handle more shade than we think, but that is relative. Start observing (and if your space is like mine it will receive more sun when the sun is higher in the sky, too).

      Microgreens might be a way to start - Botanical Interests sells mixes whose tiny leaves you harvest with scissors when they are still very small. It's best to have a couple of pots planted with them, the second pot sown a week or so after the first.

      Fava bean greens are good in salads as well as cooked, and are quite tolerant of some shade. Nasturtium also can take some shade and are good and spicy. Chervil (if you like anise flavours) prefers some shade. Cilantro, too. With larger lettuces and spinaches, it will be more of an experiment, though I tended to harvest them small, always...

      Pots can be any size, but with greens I've done better with decent depth - about 14". While moving pots is an admirable way of sunning your plants, long-term, you might get tired of it. If you really will move them maybe you can find some wheels (it will drive up the cost, of course). Here's what I found in a quick search:

    2. How kind you are Marie, thank you.
      To answer your question, I don't think I get any more than 5 hours of sun anywhere in my garden. Less and less every year it seems as the trees are getting taller.

  4. Marie,
    Love this section on cooking, and indeed eating, Japanese Knotweed. It strikes me that there is a lot of mis information around this plant. People assume that it is dangerous rather than just persistent. I think you should start an international campaign. Eat your Problems, Eat the Knotweed. Just an idea.
    Justin, London, UK


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