The Edible Chrysanthemums


Edible chrysanthemums have been bred to have less scent and bitterness than the ornamental flower varieties. Chrysanthemums have been used as an ingredient of herbal medicines, tea and alcoholic drinks for longevity since ancient times in China. Edible chrysanthemums were introduced to Japan from China in the Nara period (710-794). The custom of eating chrysanthemums spread among common people in the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan.


Research shows the flowers of chrysanthemums are rich in vitamins, minerals and carotene, and their leaves and stalks contain abundant vitamins, carotene, calcium, and chlorophyll. The flowers, the leaves and the stalks have an effect on lowering cholesterol, decreasing the neutral fat level in blood, preventing high blood pressure and suppressing tumors. Vitamin C and E contained in chrysanthemums are also good for beautiful skin and anti-aging. The leaves contain components to get rid of phlegm and relieve coughing.


Small flowers of edible chrysanthemums are used as sashimi-no-tsuma (garnish for raw fish), so it is called tsuma-giku. These small chrysanthemums are used for dishes such as sashimi (thin slices of raw fish) not only as garnishes but also for their detoxifying properties. If you put petals of them in soy sauce for sashimi, you can enjoy their unique scent. Aichi Prefecture has a 90% share of edible small chrysanthemums.


Dried edible chrysanthemums are one of the local specialties in Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture. I bought them in Hasshoku Center, a famous market, when I visited Hachinohe. The petals of big edible chrysanthemums are removed and dried, and they are scattered on sashimi and are also ingredients for ae-mono (Japanese style salad of chopped vegetables and other ingredients such as seafood seasoned with various seasonings) and su-no-mono (a cold dish seasoned with vinegar and other seasonings). People use them after boiling for a short time.


Shungiku (garland chrysanthemum) consists of leaves and stalks of edible chrysanthemum which have a characteristic flavor. Shungiku, in season from November to March, is the most delicious and nutritious though it is sold at greengrocers and supermarkets all year round. How to cook shungiku is to put it in boiling hot water with a pinch of salt for a short time and then put it in cold water or drained in a colander and fanned to cool down lest it should lose its vivid green color. Boiled shungiku is chopped and seasoned with soy sauce and topped with thin slices of dried bonito to make ohitashi. Chopped boiled shungiku is mixed with seafood or chicken and seasoned with ponzu (soy sauce with citrus juice) or soy sauce to make su-no-mono and ae-mono. Goma-ae (chopped food seasoned with sesame) and shira-ae (chopped food dressed with tofu) of shungiku are popular side dishes. Tempura of shungiku is also delicious.


Having nabe-mono (a hot pot dish cooked varies ingredient with broth or soup in a pot or a pan at the table) with your family, a large or a small group or even by yourself seems to be a great idea to survive a chilly winter in Japan. One of the reasons we Japanese like nabe-mono is its versatility. Shungiku is perfect with almost all nabe-mono because it tastes good and adds nutrition and a green color. Its unique flavor is effective to reduce the strong smell of seafood and meat.


Lately, as a result of selective breeding, some kinds of shungiku called “salad shungiku” are softer and milder; therefore, they can be ingredients of dishes without heating such as salad and pickles. I believe even a picky eater who doesn’t like the smell and taste of shungiku should try “salad shungiku”.

2013年(平成25年)の重陽の節句の夕食です。9月9日はまだ残暑が厳しいのですが、季節を先取りして秋らしいメニューにしました。日本の秋の食材の代表選手と言えば秋刀魚です。塩焼きにして、大根おろしを菊の形の小皿に入れ、酢橘を添えました。 鴨のスモークのスライスには菊の葉と花びらを添えました。イカ素麺を菊の葉と花びらをさっと湯がいて刻んだものを混ぜ、ポン酢で味を付けました。重陽の節句は栗の節句ともいわれ、栗ごはんがしばしば食べられます。秋が旬の野菜の南瓜、薩摩芋、エリンギを煮物にしました。無病息災を祈りながら、日本酒に菊の花びらを浮かべた菊酒を飲みました。

This is the dinner for Choyo-no-sekku in 2013 (Heisei 25th yr). Though it was still hot on September 9th, I prepared an autumn-like menu ahead of season. The representative autumn ingredient in Japan is sanma (mackerel pike or Pacific saury). I grilled sanma after sprinkling a pinch of salt and served it with daikon-oroshi (grated Japanese radish) and sudachi (a kind of Japanese citrus fruit) in a small chrysanthemum shaped dish. I served slices of smoked duck with leaves and petals of chrysanthemum. I mixed ika-somen (noodle-like squid sashimi) and chrysanthemum leaves and petals which were boiled for a short time and chopped and seasoned with ponzu. Choyo-no-sekku has another name, Kuri-no-sekku (the Chestnut Festival), so kuri-gohan (rice with chestnut) is often eaten. I made ni-mono (vegetables simmered in broth seasoned with soy-sauce, salt, and sugar) of vegetables in season such as pumpkin, sweet potato, and king rumpet mushroom. We drank Japanese sake with chrysanthemum petals while praying for our sound health.


Western cuisine has a tendency to be arranged on a big plain plate. On the other hand, Japanese cuisine is usually served in varieties of vessels. The ingredients and arrangements of traditional Japanese cuisine emphasize seasonality and deserve to be called an art. The dishes and bowls in chrysanthemum shapes or with chrysanthemum pictures are often used especially in flowering time, autumn.


Chrysanthemums are often used as a motif of Japanese sweets. These are nerikiri in a chrysanthemum shape. Nerikiri is a Japanese sweet which is the mixture of shiro-an (sweetened white bean-paste), gyuhi (soft and delicate rice cake), tsukune-imo (Chinese yam), mijinko (powder of glutinous rice), or flour. A sculptured wooden model, a pair of scissors, a spatula, and food coloring are used to make a Japanese sweet of flowers and sceneries of each season.


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