Monday, December 3, 2012

Mystery Vegetable

A couple of blocks north of me is a Korean family that makes intense passionate use of their very small front yard, with most crops grown in buried 5 gallon buckets....I wish they knew English so I could ask where the drill holes are! Recently I walked by and saw in container gardens what I was sure was a species/cultivar of Plantain (Plantago, not Musa) but the leaves dwarfed the wild European plantain that is a common lawn weed in Denver and that I always found WAY too tough and bitter raw or cooked. Plus these had leaves with small points and the growth habit was very upright vs. a ground-hugging rosette....but I felt 99% sure I recognized the club-like flower spikes as a plantago....that day there was no one home. Two days later I went back with my camera, but the plantains were pulled up and drying on a hedge. He and his wife CAUTIOUSLY came to the door, and relaxed a bit when they saw my interest was gardening. Due to our language barrier I did not learn the name of  it, plus what I saw was a mallow they were growing in a back corner, nor anything else. BUT....he pointed at the sun and the plantains,. made motions with his hands about "water" then listed some spices and oils as he tried to teach me the recipe. He gave me a few spikes of seeds too. After I gestured he let me taste what I feel 95% is Gynura procumbens, then gave me two big cuttings that I turned into four and am now hopefully rooting them to share...the flavor and texture was like Okinawa spinach but firmer and milder....I forget which species of Gynura that it is. After I took this pic of the drying plantains I obsessed for about an hour (who, me? obsess?) and feel fairly certain it is Plantago asiatica...I need to look up when to plant them here. I nibbled a piece of leaf raw that first visit...very tender and mild. The plants were EASILY 6-8 times bigger than the wild plantains in Denver, but had shrunk amazingly as they dried. OH what I could learn from those folks if only we could really talk! I left them my contact info on an index card, and will soon take them some envelopes of seeds in hopes they can figure out what they are. That is one thing I love about gardening....always a chance to learn, always barely scratching the surface!


  1. That's very cool. I've gotten some interesting things from Oriental acquaintances. There's a variety of Thai avocado that has fruit as big or bigger than cantaloupes... I propagated a couple from pits and they're now about 3' tall and looking great. One is already in the ground down at my South FL experimental food forest (I posted a video on that today.) I also got some bitter melon seeds from a woman at the Asian market. Talk about a weird vegetable.

    Unfortunately, I have no idea what the veggies you found are. My first thought was watercress but they don't look quite right for that - and the culture seems wrong.

  2. At this point I feel it is very likely Plantago asiatica.