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Mitsuba, a Japanese edible grown for so many reasons

May 29, 2012 | 11:36 am

Janice Kubo with her mitsubaFor Janice Kubo of West Covina, one garden essential is mitsuba, also called wild Japanese parsley (Cryptotaenia japonica). It looks like a flat-leaf parsley but is more like shiso, the Asian herb with a clean, wild flavor and few substitutes. The taste of mitsuba is chervil-meets-celery leaf.

All parts of the plant — seeds, flowers, roots — are edible, but the leaves are most commonly used. The name mitsuba means “three leaves” in Japanese, a reference to the way foliage appears in stems. The leaves can become bitter if cooked too long, so they are added as a garnish in miso soup, on top of rice bowl dishes or with stir-fry. They are put raw in salads or sushi.

Kubo was born in Chigasaki, within sight of Mt. Fuji in Japan, and mixed in with her Mexican primrose and chayote, her sunchokes and her tomatoes, are plants that reflect her culinary heritage. Kubo has 14 raised beds — nearly 100 edibles in all, from herbs to trees. An animator and graphics artist by training, she became an urban farmer by necessity, finding home-grown organic produce to be a solution for her son’s multiple food allergies (engagingly documented on her blog). The family gets 90% of its produce from the backyard.

Kubo got her first mitsuba plants in the produce section of her grocery. Mitsuba are shipped “live” with their roots encased in a foam medium to retain freshness. She and her mom replaced the foam with dirt and grew out those first plants to collect seeds. You can also find seeds or seedlings at Tabuchi Nursery, (310) 478-8338, or Hashimoto Nursery, (310) 473-6232, which are within a block of each other on Sawtelle Avenue in West L.A.

MitsubaKubo has two varieties going, one in the shade and one in the sun. They’re growing with cilantro, a good companion plant.

“The one in the sun is more bitter,” she said. This is an herb that likes the shade or tall neighbors providing protection from the direct sun.

If growing the plant from seed, it needs thinning, like carrots. The small shoots are delicious eaten as sprouts.

— Jeff Spurrier

The Global Garden, a look at our multicultural city through the lens of its landscapes, usually appears here on Tuesdays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page for gardening in the West.

Photos, from top: Janice Kubo holding mitsuba in her backyard in West Covina; a detail of the plant, whose name means "three leaves" in Japanese. Credit: Ann Summa

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