Sunday, May 17, 2009

Asian Greens

Every year I love to try something new to try in the garden. Recently I've been on a greens kick, so have been trying new greens. I had originally picked three new greens to try, but after much self debate I decided on just two. Both are Brassica rapas and are what I would consider Asian greens.

The first is Komatsuna which is also known as mustard spinach. This is a green that is widely used in Japan. It can be used as a salad green or can be cooked. It is a quick growing plant that can be harvested in 35 days and in my area I should be able to grow it all summer long. I love greens that hold up in the summer. I figured it wouldn't get that big since it grew so fast. Not so at all. The leaves got huge quite fast.

The second is Tyfon, sometimes known as Holland greens. It was bred as a fodder crop because it grows so well and contains no mustard oil to spoil milk. In Pinetree's description it said that if you want to feed an army on the size of a coffee table, grow this. That was intriguing. I tried to find more info on it, but most people just say the same thing. It is a cross between stubble turnip and Chinese cabbage. It grows fast. It is fairly cold tolerant.

From the top down is Komatsuna, Tyfon, and Fun Jen (an Asian green I started growing last year). The holes in the leaves are from my ample slug population. The Komatsuna is fairly slug resistant. The slugs like it just fine, but have trouble chewing holes in it. I find the slugs mostly on the ribs of the plant. My Fun Jen is so easy for the slugs to eat. They quickly chew holes all the way through it. So Komatsuna wins the slug wars.

But beauty is not the most important quality of a garden plant. Taste is always number one. The loser in this war is the easier one to pick. I find most Asian greens to be slightly bitter. This doesn't bother me much and can add to the taste of the greens if the other flavors are right. Tyfon had the same bitter taste as the other two, but didn't have enough flavor to counter balance it. It was OK, but not great.

You know I love Fun Jen, or I wouldn't be growing it for the second year. Its taste was quite good. In salads it is perfect. It has a lettucey texture to the leaves which is fabulous. The ribs give it a good crunch. There isn't so much fiber to make chewing hard. It is like Chinese cabbage and can stand to be a salad all on its own without any other supporting greens. The other two are much more fibrous. They can go into salad, but the younger leaves are probably better for this and you want them to just play a supporting role, you don't want them to the be main green.

In cooking however Fun Jen falls down. Since it lacks a supporting fibrous structure it dissolves when cooked. So I reserve it for salads. The other two hold up to cooking quite well. When I cooked the Komatsuna I did it much like I would cook chard. I cut out the ribs and cooked them first since they take more cooking and then only stir fried the leaves just until wilted. This worked fabulously.

Komatsuna has a very interesting taste and a little bit of a bite. I wish I could describe the flavor. It is quite different from anything I've ever had before in greens. Most Asian greens taste fairly similar to me. Their difference is subtle. This difference is not. I'm thinking by the end of the summer I'm going to be in love with it, but I won't know until then. This is just the first taste.

As to yield, the Komatsuna and Tyfon seem to be fairly close. I was surprised that Tyfon hasn't out produced the Komatsuna since from its description it should feed an army. Well maybe, but so can Komatsuna. I have read that in some places in Asia they use it as a fodder crop too. Fun Jen is not up to the other two in yield, but still worth growing for early oriental salads before the Chinese cabbage is ready in another month. Two of each of these Asian greens were planted on April 7th. Their date to harvest all seems to be about 35 days. The Tyfon might be a bit qiucker. One of my Fun Jens is already starting to bolt. Not to worry, with most Asian greens the flower stalks make great stir frys. I should get another one started to replace it.


  1. Wow, thanks for this in-depth comparison! I like the flowers of bolted greens too but never thought to cook them. Is there no slug defense that works for your garden? Copper? Sluggo? Beer traps? Eggshells? I would be so upset if my greens had holes in them, for some reason I have been lucky there so far. Probably just jinxed myself though.

  2. Karen, I tend to hand pick my slugs. I have on rare occasion used diamontacious earth on them. I'm not in love with it since it isn't a very specific killer. For instance it can kill rove beetles that prey on slugs. I should look into Sluggo since iron phosphate is fairly innocuous, but I'd want to look more into it before I actually used it. BTW I've tried eggshells and beer traps and find them pretty ineffective. Hand picking works if you keep at it. Personally I don't mind a few holes. I can live with them. I do object to sharing the whole harvest with them however.

  3. Thanks, Daphne! I love a little bite in my greens (in fact, a lot of bite---I use super-hot Southern mustard greens, in moderation, of course, to add bite to my own salads), so Komatsuna's now on my list, and Fun Jen sounds delicious, too!

  4. Daphne, thanks for the great post about the greens. I love greens of all sorts and like to try growing new ones every year too. This year I'm growing Senposai, which is a cross between Komatsuna and regular cabbage. It grew so quickly that I hardly got to try it before it got HUGE and started to bolt. I'm trying another planting since I think I stressed it too much by letting it get potbound before planting out and then planted it them too close together.

  5. our friend Ben, Fun Jen doesn't have much of a bite. It is very mild for an Asian green. I think that is another reason I love it in salads. I like the ones with bites cooked more. But Komatsuna is great. It has a bit and has a great, unique taste.

    Michelle, Senposai was on my long list this year, but didn't make it to the short list. It might next year. I've found the quick greens (which all of these are) do poorly if you don't transplant them quickly. Mine were probably a bit late which is why my Fun Jen is probably bolting. They are so quick that they don't take it well when they slow down. I'm crossing my fingers that the Komatusna will survive for a while yet. I have one succession plant already in, but still I hope it acts more like mizuna in my garden and last a long long time. But if it doesn't last, I'll just do succession and keep the greens coming. Yum.

  6. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog. I was surprised Komatsuna grown in the West. We usually eat it with miso soup, a staple diet in Japan. If you do like Komatsuna, I suggest you try "Shungiku" and "Mizuna" (potherb mustard) which are not bitter, can be harvested in just over a month and make great salads. You'll find photos of these somewhere in my blog.

  7. Gururaj, thanks. It really isn't grown much here. I've never seen it at a grocery store. But that is the joy of gardening. You can find seeds for just about anything. I do grow mizuna and I do love it in salads. I had to look up Shungiku though. I'd never heard of it. Maybe that will be one of next year's new greens.

  8. I've had a lot of luck catching slugs with grapefruit rind halves. Just put them in the garden open side down and visit them occasionally during the night to collect the varmits. But my best "trick" is to protect the slug & snail-eating snail which tracks down its prey. You can tell it from destructive snails by its shell, which spirals out from its body to form a cone. Treasure these! Soon after I spotted one in my garden, a severe slug infestation that was here when I moved here (they were even crawling up the walls!) was reduced to a negligible problem.