The coming of spring in Japan means the sprouting of so-called sansai, or ‘mountain greens’. This is a generic term referring to edible wild plants that grow in the mountainous countryside, that locals pick and prepare in a variety of traditional dishes such as tenpura, boiled, grilled, wind-dried or in this case, made into confectionery. Collecting and eating sansai is not for everyone; this year a man in Hokkaido was mauled and partly eaten by a bear, many people get lost in the thickly forested mountains and probably worst, not all varieties are edible, with some being fiercely poisonous or containing carcinogenic compounds. One variety of sansai that is both palateable and easy to gather is called yomogi (Artemisia princeps). When the young leaves are crushed between the fingertips, they release a wonderful sweet menthol-type aroma. It just so happens one day in the grounds of my workplace, in Saitama Prefecture, I came across a huge patch of these plants growing, with nobody seeming to notice. I picked a bunch and decided to make the traditional spring confectionery known as kusamochi.
PS please note…if you are reading this and fancy a go at something similar, please remember that young yomogi bears a striking resemblance to the plant known in Japanese as yamatorikabuto (a variety of monkshood), which is a deadly poison when consumed. If you cannot tell the difference between the two, make sure you go with someone who can!