Friday, 16 February 2018

Wasabi herb (Diplotaxis erucoides)

It is not very often that I find a vegetable that I am not familiar with.  Different varieties or new varieties yes, but I generally have grown and eaten similar things many times before.  This time I happened across something no new to me that the binomial name didn’t even sound familiar to me.  

It was a small an uninteresting looking plant in a nursery labelled as "wasabi salad herb" (Diplotaxis erucoides), the label claimed the plant tastes like wasabi.  I had never heard of Diplotaxis before, so I was immediately intrigued.

I really like wasabi, but it sounds difficult to grow and is very expensive to buy.  I have plans to attempt to grow it in the future, I have even marked out a spot where I think it should grow, but I am not ready to get one yet.  Most ‘wasabi’ paste in shops in Australia contains no actual wasabi but instead is a mix of horseradish, mustard and green food colouring.  I grow a purple mustard that is described as being as hot as wasabi, it certainly has the heat but to me it tastes like mustard.  That is not really what I am after.  I particularly like the complex taste of wasabi, I enjoy wasabi’s heat but would almost prefer that it was slightly less hot.  

While I was at the nursery standing in front of this so called wasabi herb plant I surreptitiously picked a small part of leaf, popped it in my mouth, and chewed it.  At first it didn’t really taste like anything, then the wasabi taste came through, then the heat.  It was nowhere near as hot as real wasabi, and the burn didn’t last long, but the taste was certainly there, as was some of the nose tingling goodness.  I couldn’t help myself, I bought a plant and took it home.  I didn’t really know what it was, I didn’t know how to grow it or if it would survive, but I figured I could work that out later.

When I got home I looked on the internet, Diplotaxis erucoides is also called wasabi arugula or wild rocket.  It is not terribly uncommon, and several online places in Australia currently sell its seeds, but for some reason I had never heard of it.  I have asked around some of the growers I know, none of them have grown it either.  Diplotaxis erucoides is reasonably common, but no one has ever heard of it, what fun. 
Wasabi herb flowers and developing seed pods
Unlike actual wasabi (Wasabi japonica) which is a perennial vegetable, this little wasabi herb is meant to be a short season annual.  They grow, flower, set seed, and die in less than a year.  They can set a decent number of seeds and the seeds are not too tricky to save or germinate.  I decided not to plant my wasabi herb into the vegetable garden in fear of making it bolt to flower and die, instead I grew it in its little pot and harvested its leaves.  I have harvested leaves and have eaten them on sandwiches which cheese, which taste amazing.

It was super easy to grow, I just watered it when I water everything else and picked the leaves when I wanted to eat them.  After I had this plant for a while, and picked and eaten most of its leaves, it stopped growing new leaves.  It  starting to send up a flower stalk.  Being an annual they tend to die after flowering.  Saving seeds was simple and growing from seed was also simple.  I imagine this would self seed easily and take care of itself if I found it somewhere suitable to grow.

I now have many little wasabi herb plants growing.  They don't appear to like the heat of summer, but they are surviving, some are flowering and should produce seed when the time is right.  If you like wasabi and haven't grown this little herb before you should give it a try.  If I have enough extra seed I should sell it through my for sale page.
I ate most of the leaves and then they started to flower

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