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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 3 August, 2020
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Fancy something new in the kitchen?

Dine like a snail, smile like a warrior.

Fiann Ó Nualláin

MORE COMMONLY KNOWN as ‘hostas’ or ‘plantain lilies’, hosta sieboldiana is a perennial clump forming herbaceous plant loved by gardeners but often devoured by slugs and snails long before it gets to its full stunning potential in our gardens.

With broad and puckered, blue-grey foliage and dense racemes of bell-shaped lilac-tinged white flowers, it’s a true beauty. Hostas are often seen as level six in the game of gardening but in reality they just need some partial shade, shelter from cold and strong wind and moist but well-drained soil. They will produce better on slightly acid soils but are sturdy enough once established and will return year after year.

A delicacy for samurai and farmer alike

I grow hosta sieboldiana – I spray it with garlic water (a clove of garlic blitzed in a litre of tap or rain water) firstly to deter the slugs who can’t abide the sulphurous aroma and secondly because the sulphur improves the growth of my hosts too. I eat hosta sieboldiana – parboil it then sauté it in a little garlic oil – the irony is never lost but the flavour is amazing. It’s in the Asparagaceae family so shares some characteristics with asparagus. The young shoots have been harvested as an edible crop in Japan for eons – a delicacy for samurai and farmer alike.

Today in modern Japan you can sample that heritage in nori-maki sushi which is rolled with young hosta shoots that have been marinated in soy sauce and sugar to refine the interesting bitter bite of the foliage. Hosta petioles (stalks) are known as ‘urui’ in modern Japanese cuisine – they can be eaten raw in summer salads, boiled as veg or fried in tempura. The young foliage known technically as ‘hostons’ may appear in centuries-old recipes as sansai or oobagibooshi – the latter often being a variety of Hosta montana.

Not just edible, but medicinal 

Hostas are rich in vitamin C and chlorophyll is good for the blood but hostas also contain polysaccharides that boost our lymphocyte count so increase resistance to disease. Not just edible, also medicinal.

I often avail of the leaves and the stalks steamed as you would asparagus with butter and salt – especially now as they are right in season – but you can get more adventurous and marinate either in balsamic vinegar and agave syrup and stir frying with shallots. It’s amazing over freshly boiled potatoes – that’s my Irish twist on it _ or you can go Mexicana of course and rustle up a Poblano (mix the hosta with the spinach). If you are having friends over and don’t want agave to feel left out – there’s always tequila.

So while survival manuals and forage pundits may regard hosta as a ‘spinach alternative’ really it is potentially gourmet cuisine – for the most part ignored by western culinary culture. Yet in Greece you can find Hostakopita on the menu, a feta and-filo pie filled with hosta leaves. Delicious. So what’s stopping you? Get to it before the snails. (I would say have it with escargot but that really would be rubbing it in.)

Hostas are coming into their edible prime this month so go on, dine like a snail and with all that boost to immune system and vigour – smile like a warrior.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an advocate of gardening for health with a background in horticulture, nutrition, naturopathy and ethnobotany. His new book, The Holistic Gardener, published by Mercier Press, is available to buy now. 

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Fiann Ó Nualláin

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