Foraging Japanese Knotweed: A Controversial Delicacy
By Zoe Hughes, Wild Food Arran, 21st April 2023
Japanese knotweed, a plant with a notorious reputation for being invasive and destructive, has sparked a heated debate among foragers, environmentalists, and property owners. This seemingly unstoppable plant has been labeled as one of the world’s worst invasive species by the World Conservation Union. However, I would argue its edible and medicinal properties make it a valuable resource that should not be entirely eradicated. Japanese knotweed, or Reynoutria japonica, was initially introduced to Europe as an ornamental plant, however it quickly spread and became a significant problem due to its rapid growth and ability to damage roads, dams, and buildings. The plant can grow up to three feet per month and send roots down as deep as 10 feet, making it a formidable foe for those trying to control its spread.
Despite its destructive nature, Japanese knotweed has some redeeming qualities. Foragers appreciate the plant for its edible young shoots, which have a taste similar to green rhubarb. Additionally, the plant has been used as a food source for both humans and animals, and its tall, bamboo-like stalks can create a dependable hedge. In late summer, the plant’s fragrant flowers attract bees and other pollinators, providing a valuable resource for these essential creatures.
Japanese knotweed’s medicinal properties have also been recognized. Some believe that the plant may be a valuable source of medicine, and efforts to eliminate it could be depriving us of this potential resource. However, this argument is often overshadowed by the plant’s invasive and destructive nature.
The debate surrounding Japanese knotweed raises important questions about the balance between preserving valuable resources and controlling invasive species. While some argue that the plant’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks, others maintain that its destructive nature cannot be ignored. Foragers who choose to harvest Japanese knotweed must do so responsibly. It is essential to gather the plant from untreated areas and away from roadsides, as public works employees often use chemicals to control its growth. Additionally, foragers should only pick young shoots before they reach 12 inches in height, as they become stringy and fibrous as they grow taller.
The controversy surrounding Japanese knotweed highlights the complex relationship between humans and the natural world. While the plant’s invasive nature has caused significant problems, its edible and medicinal properties offer potential benefits. As we continue to grapple with the challenges posed by invasive species, it is crucial to consider both the positive and negative aspects of these plants and strive for a balanced approach to their management.