Meet Japanese Knotweed, Rhubarb's Wilder Cousin
Would you believe us if we told you that there's a plant that grows in the wild commonly mistaken for a weed that's quite like rhubarb? Or that you've probably walked past it a million times along the canal without realising that it could be used in the kitchen! Read on to discover the delights of Japanese Knotweed..
What is it?
Japanese Knotweed, a herbaceous plant something like a cross between asparagus and bamboo. It has purply-red/green shoots that positively scream evil hell plant, but lovely big heart-shaped leaves and fluffy white flowers. Japanese knotweed is essentially a botanical pest, an invasive species that out-competes its native competitors and can even break up concrete. Oh and it’s also edible, and apparently pretty good for you.
Why haven’t I heard of it until now?
Since its introduction to Ireland in 19th century, Japanese knotweed has damaged walls, roads, infrastructure and riverbank flood defences, killed off or endangered native species, and even grown in thickets dense enough to wreak havoc on wildlife trails. In the UK it recently came to fame for adding a few extra million to the cost of the construction of the Olympic Stadium. A quick google will reveal more knotweed-removal or management sites than information, and definitely more than recipes, but the increasing popularity of foraging is bringing it to tables everywhere.
Is it good for me?
Though there’s not that much verifiable nutritional information out there about this hated plant, Knotweed apparently contains lots of antioxidents, vitamins A and C and other minerals. Much is made of its high levels of resveratrol, which has some tenuous links to lower cholesterol levels and reducing heart disease.
How much will it cost?
Unknown/free – not freely available in shops, but available through foraging yourself, or in restaurants/suppliers that source their produce that way.
What can I do with it?
Japanese Knotweed is pretty much just like rhubarb, though apparently a little more bitter, so it is used in much the same way. You can only cook the young tender shoots and stems in Spring: as they grow they become hard and inedible. These need to be boiled and can be just eaten as a vegetable, or even better, they make fantastic sweet jams, compotes, chutneys and pies. It’s also an absolute favourite of bees, and the mild honey made from bees who feed on its nectar is known as bamboo honey.
Where can I get it?
Almost anywhere in the wild, but look especially at riverbanks. Get in touch with foraging groups such as Nadúr Collective for advice. Or for the cooked product, some restaurants around town use it in their cooking. Seven Social, which is now unfortunately closed, had some amazing knotweed pastry dishes which had won several awards.
Have a forage this weekend, and see what you can whip up with Japanese Knotweed!