Eating hostas

One of my favourite seasonal treats from the forest garden are the hostas. No, no spelling mistake: hostas are really edible. In fact, they are a near perfect forest garden crop. Woodland is the natural habitat of many hosta species, so they like moist soil with plenty of organic matter and tolerate a considerable amount of shade. A friend tells me that they have a positive allelopathic relationship (i.e. they secrete chemicals that help each other) with apples, and since the research on it is published in Russian I’ll have to take her word for it. Hostas are no novelty nibble: they have the potential to be a major productive vegetable.

hosta clump

The best part of the hosta is the ‘hoston’, the rolled up leaf as it emerges in the spring, although many varieties are still pretty good even once they have unfurled. The best way of cooking them depends on the size of the hostons. Small ones are delicious if you fry them for a few minutes, then add a little light soy sauce and sesame oil. The slight bitterness of the hostons complements the saltiness of the soy sauce very well. Similarly, they go very well in stir fries. The chunkier hostons are better boiled briefly and used as a vegetable. In the picture below, the hostons on the right are bound for frying, those on the left are for boiling.

hostons

Hostons are best cropped by gripping them firmly near the base and snapping ones off the edge of the clump. If you can snap them off right at the base they will hold together as a whole instead of falling apart into individual leaves. The short leaf scales around the base are bitterer than the larger leaves so they are worth removing. It is much easier to harvest the hostons if the crown of the plant is a little above ground level when it is planted.

Later on, the open leaves can be used as a general pot herb or substituted for spinach in recipes like ‘hostakopita’. The flowers and flower buds are also edible: the Montreal Botanical Garden lists all species as edible and Hosta fortunei as the tastiest.

It seems to be an open question whether every single species of hosta is edible and therefore whether it is a good idea to try any unidentified hosta that you may happen across. The only species I have eaten regularly myself is Hosta sieboldiana. Martin Crawford lists H crispula, longipes, montana, plantaginea, sieboldii, sieboldiana, undulata and ventricosa, which covers all the common ornamental species. Plants for a Future add H clausa, clavata, longissima, nigrescens, rectifolia and tardiva and list no known hazards for the genus as a whole. On the basis of that I’m happy to try any hosta myself, but if you’re going to do that, remember to try only a small piece first and test for a skin reaction by rubbing a piece on your skin before putting anything in your mouth.

Picture by ‘dcarch’ on the Seed Savers’ Forum

For more on eating hostas, there is a discussion and some astonishingly beautiful pictures of hosta dishes on the Seed Savers’ Forum. There was also a very useful article in Permaculture Magazine No. 58. It isn’t online unfortunately, but you can buy the back issue if you are really keen. A fellow wordpress blogger has also been writing about eating hostas here.

In Japan, hostas are prized as sansai or ‘mountain vegetables’, a class of plants that are usually gathered wild from the mountain and are considered to be particularly strong in vitality. There’s a great blog post about sansai at http://shizuokagourmet.com/sansai/.

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12 thoughts on “Eating hostas

  1. Immediately after reading about hostas, I went down the road to an abandoned garden and picked a few shoots which I have just eaten, first I chopped the tender stems and added them to a salad, then I chopped up the rest of the leaves and stems and stir fried them and then topped a dish of vegetables and rice with them.
    Raw, they have a very nice crunchy and juicy texture, but hardly any flavour, and cooked they just blended in with the rest of the dish. However, I don’t know what kind of hosta it was, it’s just green with no marking on the leaves.. But worth a try anyway!

    • Hi Jemima. Thanks for telling me about your experiments. I’d have to admit that the soy sauce plays a large role in my favourite hosta dish. The hostons supply texture and bitterness rather than a strong, distinctive flavour. On the other hand, I’m quite pleased to have some mild-tasting plants in the garden which can act as a carrier for other flavours. A lot of forest garden plants do tend to be on the strong side :-)

  2. In Japan, the most commercial hosta is H. Montana, or so I’ve read. The best cultivar among these is ‘Snow Urui.’ (Urui is the commercial vegetable name for hosta because giboshi –or whatever they used to call it was too long.) I am trying to find a source for the ‘Snow Urui,’ but I haven’t found much.

  3. Wow! I have been growing & enjoying Hostas for years and never knew they were edible. Thank you for the information!!

  4. Great article. I didn’t realise Hostas were edible to (non-gastropods) until I heard on a local radio gardening.programme. I’ll have to propagate some under the apple trees. Furthermore they won’t bolt.

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