A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.
I’ve been having a bit of trouble growing decent-sized Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis) tubers. This year’s harvest is an improvement on last year’s – but I need to do more to achieve the soil they desire, one which is light, well-drained and moist all year around. But I’ve found a less fussy alternative. Here is a bowl of marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) tubers.
Alan Carter from Of Plums and Pignuts sent me seed for marsh woundwort three years ago and it seems to grow quite well in clay soil in a dampish spot at the allotment. The larger tubers in the photo above are about 1cm wide and about 10cm long whereas I didn’t get many 6cm long Chinese artichokes from plants growing in the same soil.
As with Chinese artichokes, marsh woundwort tubers may contain stachyose, a carbohydrate poorly digested by humans, but might also contain more digestible carbohydrates as well. For an interesting read on the nutrition, history and potential of marsh woundwort as a food plant see this paper by Luczaj, Svanberg and Köhler. They found multiple references to its use as food in southern and south–eastern Poland (but little sound evidence that the tubers have been eaten in the past by people in Britain).
There is a mix of marsh woundwort and Chinese artichokes in the photo below (as well as some skirret, scorzonera and flowering rush). If you look for the plants which resemble mints, the marsh woundworts are the ones with greener leaves, greener stems, more lilac than pink flowers and duller sepals.
The difference in tuber size that I found is exaggerated in the following photo (as I have sold all the longer Chinese artichokes!) but it shows the difference in shape (Chinese artichoke at top and marsh woundwort tuber beneath it). I wonder if the more elongated marsh woundwort tubers can push through denser soil more easily.
The marsh woundwort tubers seemed a bit easier to clean. I would say that they have a very slightly bitter taste compared to Chinese artichokes when eaten raw. I don’t think I’d notice it in a mixed salad but if you don’t like any hint of bitter you might not want to eat them raw. Boil them for 5 minutes in water and all bitterness disappears.
I had them on toast for lunch. I added the cooked tubers to some chestnut mushrooms fried in olive oil and blended in some double cream and chopped garlic chives. After cooking gently for a few more minutes, I seasoned them with salt and black pepper and a little lemon juice.
Think potato! As with Chinese artichokes they don’t have a great deal of flavour but the seasoning, chives and mushrooms supplied plenty of that. It was a pleasing and filling lunch.