Myoga, Japanese ginger flower buds, is not well known in the U.S. I’ll share with you my experience growing and eating this wonderful herb. The first time I saw Myoga was as a teenager visiting my Ojiichan and Obaachan (Grandpa and Grandma) in Japan.
Their house was at the base of a small mountain, which Mom always referred to as Jiichan’s mountain. Now, I don’t know if it was really his mountain or not, but he did own property there. During my stay we often went up the mountain to retrieve sustenance from the hatake, which was the family garden plot. It was not the same as hopping in the car and driving to the grocery store. I think it depends on the person’s attitude as to whether it was more or less convenient. It was certainly more natural and beautiful. From this teenager’s point of view it was a kind of an adventure and scavenger hunt. It was fun seeing what was growing and looking for what was ripe. (Hey! It was summer vacation and what else is there to do 4 hours from the city.)
On one of the excursions back from the hatake, Obaachan seemed excited to see something on the side of the trail. She stepped off the dirt path and started to poke around in the foliage. She bent down low to the ground and pulled away a few bulbous myoga buds. “See? This will be good in the miso shiru,” she said. And, it most certainly was. I loved it.
Though I was not able to have myoga for many years after returning home, I remembered it and missed it. I was only able to taste myoga at my mother’s house when she received it from friends. From such friends, she also received some plant shoots one year. I greedily took several for myself and planted them. Now, I look forward to myoga season every year. Toward the end of summer, I find these myoga buds peering through the earth, like buried treasure. It feels like Christmas to me.
Myoga -The Plant
The myoga plant is a ginger that looks similar to the culinary ginger above ground. Look here for a photo of my plants. Below ground, however, I’ve not found that myoga stores energy in large fat roots as one might expect. It does send out runners everywhere the soil is loose and moist. It can behave like a weed. Myoga took over the small plot by our front entry.
When myoga flourishes it looks more like a mass of tall grass. It was difficult to make it look ‘good’ in the front landscape. It’s also deciduous. The stalks and leaves brown and die back in the late fall. For almost a couple months a year there are many ‘dead’ plants at our front doorstep.
One year, I tried to eradicate it from there and move it to the backyard on a slope under some trees. I thought it would look prettier there. The backyard site I selected proved to be too dry and hard for the myoga. We did not eat myoga that season. Luckily, myoga is a persistent plant. Lingering shoots in the front offered a small, yet sufficient harvest the next year. I’ve decided to leave it where it is happy, regardless of how it may offend the aesthetics of the neighbors’.
Myoga flowers at the base of the plant. The buds emerge from underground. I find the buds at the base of the stalks, but I also often find them randomly in between plants. Look for the buds anywhere you may suspect the running shoots have traveled. My mother always tells me to pick the ginger using a knife, slicing the bud below the ground surface as in this video. But, you know, I don’t normally carry a knife, and I don’t want to bother getting one. I just simply use my hands and give the bud a yank. Works for me. I suppose because the soil is very loose where our myoga grows.
We live in Orange County in zone 10 of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, 4 miles from the ocean. I usually harvest the myoga buds all through August and early October. This year is a bit unusual, however. I wrote in my last post about how we are eating myoga already in July.
Myoga – Eating
Myoga is often eaten fresh or pickled. It can be used in any dish that calls for ginger, and will be milder. I used it as a condiment for soups, rice, and tofu (yum!). When I use myoga as a condiment, I garnish very heavily. My mom would always say, “Baka ni naru,” which means “you will become stupid,” or ” an idiot.” There is a Japanese wives tale that implies too much myoga kills brains cells. I found a nice explanation of this notion here, along with links to some myoga friendly recipes.
My mom enjoys myoga cut into shreds with a miso vinegar dressing. My favorite way to eat myoga is in miso soup at breakfast. Perhaps because it reminds me of when I first ate it that summer day in my youth. Have you had myoga, and how do you eat it?