May 2012

Seven Spring Herbs 七草の節句,

Welcome to our 7 herb porridge event. We will forage and cook to celebrate our Japanese friends, our shared humanity and in fact a series of special events taking place in Japan over 3 – 5th May.

May 3 Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日, Kenpō Kinenbi?)

This national holiday was established in 1948, to commemorate the day on which Japan’s postwar constitution took effect.

May 4 Greenery Day (みどりの日, Midori no Hi?)

This national holiday is celebrated as a day to commune with nature and be grateful for its blessings.

May 5 Children’s Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no Hi?)

This national holiday was established in 1948, as a day on which to esteem the personalities of children and plan for their happiness. 

“The seven traditional greens are seri, nazuna, gogyou, hakobe, hotokenoza, suzuna, suzushiro. We had to memorize these in school as I recall – and I guess I still remember them! I’m sure they were used originally just because they grew in the Kyoto area in January.  Other possibles that I have used here is:

Flat leaf parsley leaves Baby spinach leaves Mache or lamb’s lettuce (Nüsslisalat in Swiss-German) Arugula (rucola/rocket) leaves Daikon radish sprouts Swiss chard leaves Dark green kale Turnip greens Collard greens Beet greens (the red parts add a bit of color) Dark green cabbage Komatsuna Sprouting broccoli leaves Dandelion leaves”

The seventh of the first month has been an important Japanese festival since ancient times. The custom of eating nanakusa-gayu on this day, to bring longevity and health, developed in Japan from a similar ancient Chinese custom, intended to ward off evil. Since there is little green at that time of the year, the young green herbs bring color to the table and eating them suits the spirit of the New Year.

Renri and Jinjitsu – cultural links between Japan and China

Renri (Chinese:人日, literally Human Day) refers specially to the 7th day of zhengyue (正月, the first month in the Chinese calendar). According to Chinese customs, renri was the day human beings were created. It is celebrated not only in China, but also other regions influenced by Chinese culture

In Japan, Jinjitsu (人日, jinjitsu?), literally “Human Day“, is one of the five seasonal festivals (五節句, gosekku?). It is celebrated on January 7. It is also known as Nanakusa no sekku (七草の節句, nanakusa no sekku?), “the feast of seven herbs”, from the custom of eating seven-herb kayu (七草粥, nanakusa-gayu?) to ensure good health for the coming year.

It is said that on the morning of January 7, or the night before, people place the nanakusa, (which I think are the herbs?), the rice scoop and the wooden pestle on the cutting board and facing the good-luck direction, chant, “Before the birds of the continent (which is China, the mainland) fly to Japan, let’s get Nanakusa” and cut the herbs into pieces. The chant may vary.

Nanakusa-gayu is a type of Congee

– a type of rice porridge popular in many Asian countries. Despite its many variations, it is always a thick porridge or soup of rice which has usually disintegrated after cooking.

In other Asian cultures, it is also called kanji (Tamil/Malayalam/Tulu), pakhal bhat (Oriya), ganji (Kannada/Telugu), juk (Cantonese, Korean), cháo (Vietnamese), deythuk (Tibetan), chok (Thai), kayu (Japanese), lúgaw (Filipino), “Bubur” (Malay) or jaou (Bengali) which is derived directly from the Chinese character zhou (粥, which means gruel in Mandarin).

Nanakusa-gayu (七草粥), simple saltiness

                                                                                                Ingredients for four servings:

  • 1/2 cup Japanese rice
  • 3 cups water
  • salt
  • the 7 herbs
  • ginger finely cut


First, put the rice, washed and drained, in cold water in a deep pot and leave it for 30 minutes. After, put the pot on medium fire and bring to a boil. Then lower the fire and leave to boil for approx. 30 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Add the herbs shortly before the rice being ready.

The nanakusa are seven edible wild herbs of spring. Traditionally, they are :


Traditional name

Modern name



芹 : せり seri


Water   dropwort


薺 : なずな nazuna

Nazuna or Penpengusa (ぺんぺん草)

Shepherd’s   Purse


御形 : ごぎょう gogyō

Hahakogusa   (母子草)



繁縷 : はこべら hakobera

Hakobe (蘩蔞)



仏の座 : ほとけのざ hotokenoza

Koonitabirako   (小鬼田平子)



菘 : すずな suzuna

Kabu (蕪)



蘿蔔 : すずしろ suzushiro

Daikon (大根)


There is considerable variation in the precise ingredients, with common local herbs often being substituted.

Today, we are going to replace the herbs with those that are abundant in South London right now,

Yarrow, dandelion, nettle, salad burnet, ladies bedstraw and cleavers, dock, chickweed, clover

Gather your own 7 herbs










The Street Food book

This book is a month by month calendar for foraging in an urban environment including what you can find and way of cooking that reflect cultural diversity in London. It’s about world food, community building, and imaginative, holistic connective work.  The book connects both urban spatial awareness and nature awareness and new recipe creation of world-wild food.


This recipe will be part of a month focussing on  Asian dishes. Upcoming Street Food workshops include the following:

April: Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia


  • Japanese 7 herb porridge Nana-kusa-gayu
  • Spring herb Vietnamese rice wraps
  • Braised burdock and mushroom, or sautéed burdock root
  • Japanese knotweed Dorayaki & aduki bean ??
  • Pan fried plantainroot with shepherds purse sprinkle


May: Central and Eastern Europe


  • Wild sorrel soup and eggs
  • Nettle souffle
  • Dandelion and elder fritters and hawthorn flower syrup
  • Elderflower and Strawberry jam
  • Drink: Elderflower cordial


June: West African


  • West African mallow and crain crain  stew with fufu
  • Akara balls and nasturtium ata sauce
  • Gorse coconut biscuits
  • Drink: Nettle and ginger beer


July : North African and middle east


  • Khobiza or bekkoula with mallow
  • Stuffed lime leaves
  • Poppy seed and mallow cake (Morrocan)
  • Drink: Cleavers coffee

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