A perennial vegetable you probably have in your yard
You know hostas? Those broad-leafed, perennial plants landscapers so often put in shady spots, or on the edges between gardens and lawns? Well, it turns out hosta shoots are edible. You can hear the surprise in my voice when I first learn this from my friends Dave Scandurra and Marina Matos of West Barnstable.
Dave and Marina are landscapers, but they call themselves edible landscapers — they specialize in yard you can eat. I’ve had hostas growing in my home garden since I was a kid, but I always thought of them as ornamental — this is the first time I’ve ever imagined them as a vegetable.
"We've eaten the shoots before the leaves unfurl it kind of tastes like asparagus. You can like boil it in a change of water and then roast it, or just roast it. It can have a certain bitterness, but it's really good, especially when you get them while they're still very young," Marina said.
Apparently, hostas are a popular edible perennial in Japan. In that country they’re known as urui, which means snow leaf or icicle, and they’re cultivated in the same way as white asparagus — with growers mounding soil around the young shoots to produce long, pale green, stalks or growing them in darkened greenhouses. These young shoots are used for salads, pickles, and stir-fries, or cut up as veggies for soups, sushi, and rice dishes. It turns out hostas are in the same botanical family as asparagus, and like asparagus, can be cut down in the spring and then grow back again.
"It doesn't affect the foliage, when you cut it one time, it will still come back in full swing," Marina explained.
"Yeah, you can get a good a good harvest off of the Hosta and not compromise any of the looks of it," Dave said.
This totally amazes me. Hostas are native to northeast Asia, and while taxonomists disagree on exactly how many species are in the genus, there may be as many as forty-five. All hosta species are edible, and Stephen Barstow, the author of a book on edible perennial vegetables, has written that when he visited Japan, the main species grown and sold at food markets there was called Hosta montana. This varietal is said to have large, glossy dark green leaves and pale lavender flowers — which sounds like pretty much every hosta you see in gardens around here. Last spring, I tried eating them, and I’m totally hooked. I cut the shoots while they’re still fairly young and tightly wrapped and about as tall as a spear of asparagus. And our actual asparagus came up at the same time, so I first roasted the hosta shoots and the asparagus spears together. The combination was amazing — crispy and sweet and full of that fresh green springtime flavor.
Chef Alan Bergo who wrote a cookbook called the Forager Chef’s Book of Flora describes hostas as a little bit like rolled-up lettuces, and I think that description is spot on. He makes a hosta kimchi with the shoots, napa cabbage, daikon radishes, ramps or green onions, and chili paste that sounds incredibly flavorful and has a beautiful combination of red and green colors. But he says his favorite way to eat hosta shoots is to simply sear them hot and fast with some oil or butter and salt and pepper in a cast iron skillet. That is how I’m cooking mine too: the thin, tightly rolled pale green shoots get addictively crispy with heat, olive oil and salt and I like to have them for breakfast with a runny egg and a piece of skillet toast.
Eating hostas has made me start looking at local yards in a whole different way. Instead of ornamentals, now when I see hostas, I see a delicious new perennial vegetable — something I look forward to just as much as asparagus. And in my own yard, I see a hosta patch I want to keep expanding.
Alan Bergo's recipe for Seared Hosta Shoots:
And for Hosta Kimchi:
And if you could also add a link to learn more about Edible Landscaping:
And here's a link to author Stephen Barstow's writing on eating hosta shoots: