Finally, Fuki[noto]

For 2 years I’ve observed the Giant Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) flourishing in the wooded edges surrounding the garden, having migrated there (I assume) by seed from the garden specimens. I soon learned that the buds and leaf stalks are consumed in Japan, but references to pre-processing steps, combined with my lack of familiarity with Japanese cuisine, beyond sushi and miso soup, intimidated me from attempting to eat it.

Petasites at base of large tree in the Dukes’ woods

This year I finally took the time to research how to prepare the buds, which are a “mountain food” known as Fukinoto in Japan. Over the years, the Giant Butterbur has jumped out of its spots in the garden beds to colonize wooded edges of the property. The buds have been emerging since January, and within the past week new leaves have begun to sprout too.

Young Petasites japonicus leaves emerging in the garden, beyond evergreen Yaupon Holly

I had a hard time restraining myself when I finally got out to harvest, having developed momentum by researching and printing recipes, discovering the name of the bitterness-removing process (aku-nuki), and having reason to believe it may not even be necessary for the fukinoto. Harvesting from just one of the property’s several stands of the Giant Sweet Coltsfoot (another English common name for the plant), I managed to fill my basket in about half an hour, skipping the majority of buds, which were slightly more mature (though, in the shade of the woods where I harvested, most were not as mature as the fully open blooms I selected from the sunny garden bed to accent my photo) than those I took.

Fukinoto harvest

I let the photo in the recipe guide my harvesting choices, choosing buds that seemed less mature than those in the recipe’s image. I’d found a couple of versions of Fukinoto Miso and opted to try this one.

The resulting gloop has an intense combination of powerful flavors: the acrid bitterness of the Fukinoto is not muted or tamed, so much as partnered, by the pungent miso and sesame flavors, and accented by the alcohol/ vinegar’s tartness and the sugar’s sweetness. I mixed it in to a bit of rice, as suggested, and ate a small appetizer-sized portion, knowing that the total amount of the single new-to-me ingredient reached maybe a tablespoon of volume.

The whole flavor impact is too much for me or my family to consume it in vegetable-portion quantities, but because we’re working to contain the spread of a number of non-native species proliferating in the woods around the garden and the Giant Butterbur is so incredibly prolific and seems likely to continue spreading, I harvested far more than these recipes call for. I figure, even if I don’t wind up using them all, there will be fewer seeds spreading the plant deeper into our woods the more blooms I prevent.

Fukinoto in the garden bed, too mature to harvest and likely to set and spread seed

I might’ve slightly over-indulged, but I found the rear roof of my mouth tingled uncomfortably, or at least distractingly, with the metallic acridity for quite a while after finishing my first serving. After the second, smaller taste, my mouth isn’t bothering me, but my stomach’s complaining a bit (it complains no matter what I eat, though, so not really a comment on the fukinoto).

I’m considering, if I manage to undertake another experiment, pre-boiling in salted water to remove some bitterness, and then making tempura – which I’ve never done, and haven’t had stellar success with other frying attempts. It seems like it’ll be a good fit.. maybe I will try some pre-boiled, and some battered with egg, as this cook indicates the egg can help cut the bitterness too.

If you’re curious about this plant and would like to try it, there will be plenty more opportunity later in the season, when it’s in leaf and the petioles (Fuki) can be harvested. Our upcoming Investigating Invasives series will include Giant Butterbur and many other useful plants that sometimes spread beyond their welcome in local ecosystems.

-Veri

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