(EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to an editing error, the Foraging Foodie column was not included in the April 22 Outdoors section. It will resume its normal print schedule - the fourth Sunday of each month -?in May.)
Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), a member of the buckwheat family, was introduced in the late 1800s as an ornamental. Its stems resemble bamboo and can reach over 10 feet tall, carrying big, smooth, triangular leaves with delicate, creamy white flowers in summer.
The young shoots, growing from rhizomes in spring, are bright green with light pink sheaths and dark red speckles.
Japanese knotweed can be found along roadsides, creek beds in town where they once were planted for their beauty and they can be found in abundance along river banks.
Once the pink tips of the fast-growing shoots are peeking through the ground, the exciting waiting game begins. Up to 8 inches is the perfect harvesting height, as taller shoots can become too woody.
Some sources say they can grow 3 inches a day, but I find that "my" shoots in a nearby town grow a bit slower. In about two weeks, I might be able to fill up my basket.
If only it was safe to grow this plant in my garden so I could check on them every day, but that could cost me my house.
Native to Japan and specifically to the volcanic regions, it's one of the first plants to push through the lava rock after an eruption. And that is just the aerial part of the plant.
The roots are the biggest problem. They can reach 65 feet wide and 10 feet deep and have no trouble breaking through foundations or retaining walls, causing extensive damage to buildings. The plant spreads prolifically, thriving near water.
In the United Kingdom, where Japanese knotweed used to be a popular ornamental, it costs the government well over $200 million a year to control and remove it.
Cutting the stalks only takes care of the foliage, not the roots.
Herbicides will do the same but also contaminate your soil, water and the edible shoots. There may, however, be some good alternatives in the near future; experiments in the UK with a certain type of fungus and insect have shown promising results though the impact on other species still is unknown. So far, the best results are obtained by excavating the entire root system, removing even the smallest root pieces.
On a more positive note; the roots contain resveratrol, an antioxidant touted as "the fountain of youth," bees love the flowers and the shoots are a great food. They taste a bit like rhubarb and can be eaten raw or cooked. They make a great ingredient for pies, sauce, wine, soups and salads, and I've heard that the dead stalks make good flutes.
The shoots in "my" patch are closer to 6 inches, but I have visitors this weekend so I better harvest them so I can make a pie.
Coming in May: Get the rub on stinging nettles.