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Even though the Yama Udo plant is not a tree, it can grow up to nine feet tall. Its edible shoots are long with a width of approximately one inch. The exterior of the Yama Udo shoot is covered in a tough layer of green to white skin and bristles that should be peeled prior to using. Its internal flesh is tender and white with a crisp texture and distinctive flavor that is similar to that of celery and fennel with nuances of lemon.
Greenhouse grown Yama Udo are available in the late fall and spring months. Wild Yama Udo are available starting in spring and lasting through the early summer.
Yama Udo, also known as Udo, Japanese Spikenard and Mountain asparagus, is an herbaceous perennial and a member of the Araliaceae family. In Japan Yama Udo that grows in the wild is known as sansai or mountain vegetables. In addition to the shoots the young leaves of the Yama Udo plant are edible as well.
Yama Udo have antioxidant properties and contain chlorogenic acid that may help prevent cancer as well as suppress melanin caused by sunburn. They are rich in aspartic acid which has been shown to help boost the immune system. Also the diterpene aldehyde in Yama Udo can improve blood circulation and aid in the treatment of fatigue.
Yama Udo can be added to salads, stir-fries, marinated dishes and soups. They can be sautéed, grilled or dipped in tempura and fried. To cut their slightly bitter flavor, soak them in water with a splash of vinegar for thirty minutes prior to using. Yama Udo are best used soon after they are harvested, however, if you need to keep them for a few days, wrap in moistened newspaper and keep in the refrigerator. For long term storing they can also be parboiled and frozen for future use.
Yama Udo are used in a Japanese expression, "Udo no Taiboku Hashira ni Narazu" which means "great trees are good for nothing but shade", a nod to its long yet soft and non woody stems. In Japanese culture, Yama Udo is also used in an expression to talk about a person who is tall and big, but useless. In Japan a medicinal tea is made using Yama Udo leaves that have been infested by the pupa of the Japanese beetle.
Yama Udo are native to Japan, Korea and eastern China and they are often found on the slopes of wooded embankments. They grow in the Kanto area of Japan, such as Gunma prefecture, Saitama prefecture and Yamagata prefecture.