(Editor's Note: this article was originally published on April 16, 2008)
When you talk to old-timers about the plants that they used to eat the shoots and stalks from, Udo (Aralia cordata) may be among those mentioned. This is one of those plants that, back in the day, was common in American seed catalogs. For whatever reason, it quickly fell out of favor and is relatively unknown by modern gardeners. The plant is simple and easy to grow and the shoots you can eat are really out of this world. So, if you are ready to try something new, let's look at growing Udo.
How To Grow
Udo is is one of the few shade-loving vegetables that you can grow in the home garden. It can be found growing in dappled shade or even in nearly full shade. This plant loves the little places most gardeners have given up on growing vegetables in. This great plant is not picky about its soil, growing in everything from rich and loose soil, to clay, to hard and rocky places. The plant does not a have a lot of feeding needs to keep it going. Compost helps, but it will keep marching on without help of any kind. All it really asks for is shade and moist soil. How easy is that? This plant will quickly grow to three or four feet tall and will grow just as wide. In areas north of zone 8 it should be treated as an annual but zone 7 and south it will come back year after year.
Beyond the knowledge that for so many years this has been eaten in both Japan and some hints of it being eaten in China, there is little information on when this wonderful plant moved from being just a wild plant to a garden staple. Used in both food and medicine in several places in the orient, this vegetable will delight you, just as it did the people from its homeland in centuries past.
In Chinese medicine, this wonderful plant is often used for pain. In fact, my first interest in this plant was piqued after hearing its potential use in the fight against arthritis. While I am still researching that angle, I have found that many Chinese doctors have been using this vegetable in its many forms for a multitude of problems for a very long time. This plant still holds so many possibilities for the modern world that the outlook is bright. While I would not throw out the arthritis medication yet, this plant might be a really great plant to try.
It is very hard to find information to cook udo other then raw in salads. Place the cut udo in a bowl full of cool water and a little salt. Peel the stalks and add to salads. It really is a tasty, and unique addition to salads.
*The information presented here is strictly for informational purposes. As always, you should seek advice from a health care professional before adding any herbal supplement to your regimen.
Thank you to DG member "arsenic" for the images in this article.