How to Find and Identify Japanese Knotweed: A Wild Spring Edible

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How to Find and Identify Japanese Knotweed

Last week I posted the above pic (without the text) on my Fearless Eating Facebook page and asked, “Anyone know what these are?”

Fifty-seven comments later, only a handful knew.  Many people said asparagus.  And more than a few said bamboo.

But as you can see, it’s something called Japanese knotweed.

You may never have heard of Japanese knotweed, but there’s a good chance it’s growing right in your backyard.  It’s actually an invasive plant from Japan (go figure!) and it’s become so widespread that most people consider it a pesky weed.

But as wild spring edible enthusiasts like to say, “It’s KNOT as weed!”   It is in fact, edible.

And today I’m going to show you how to find, identify and cook Japanese knotweed.

My Favorite Thing About Japanese Knotweed

But first, let me tell you my absolute favorite thing about Japanese knotweed.  And that is, that unlike other wild spring edibles, you really don’t have to worry about killing yourself!

You can eat it raw and there’s really not a poisonous relative that you can mistake it for (at least not one that I’m aware of).

It has a tart, sweet flavor sorta like rhubarb.  Some people say it has a faint hint of lemon as well.  It makes a great little snack when you’re out hiking in the woods with your dog.

But you can also cook it and eat it as a side vegetable or add it to other dishes.

How to Find Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed grows in disturbed soil, along the edges of fields and in wet areas, especially along stream and riverbanks…

identify japanese knotweed along stream beds

And roadside and trailside…

identify japanese knotweed along roads and trails

When it first appears in late-April, the shoots very much look like asparagus.  But when it starts growing, it grows FAST.   So NOW is the time to get it!   By mid-May, at least here in the northeast, its tender stalks will grow into hardy, bamboo-esque woody ones that grow well over ten feet tall.  The pics above are beyond the point at which you want to harvest it.

Here’s a pic with Lipton to give you an idea of a good height at which to pick it.  Some of those smaller ones off to the left are just about right, about one to two feet.  Even shorter stalks than that would be good.  Probably the minimum height to pick would be around six inches.

dogs can identify japanese knotweed too!

At that height the stalks are very supple.  Just pinch them at the base and they will easily snap in half.   Once they get beyond three feet or so they start to become more fibrous and are no longer tender and edible.

As you can see,  Lipton agrees that it tastes quite good…

identify japanese knotweed by taste

Another good way to find and identify Japanese knotweed is to look for last year’s dead stalks which very much resemble bamboo.  The new spring shoots will often emerge right at the base of last year’s growth…

How to Identify Japanese Knotweed

Same idea here but check out how tall those dead stalks are.  They’re probably around twelve feet high.

Young and Old Japanese Knotweed

And if you have a dog, they’ll love chewing on those stalks!

Crunch Japanese Knotweed Stalks

How to Identify Japanese Knotweed

So here’s some freshly picked Japanese Knotweed…

identify japanese knotweed at home

As you can see, it really does look asparagus.

And here’s a close up of the stalks so you can see a few more defining features.  The first is the reddish maroon specks that cover the stalk…

identify japanase knotweed by the coloring on the stalks

And the second is that unlike asparagus, the stalk is actually hollow…

identify japanese knotweed by the hollow stalks

How to Prepare Japanese Knotweed

Oh and speaking of asparagus, though Japanese knotweed looks like asparagus, you should know that it doesn’t really taste like asparagus.

But you can prepare it very much like asparagus though know it’ll cook a lot faster.

Trim the leaves that branch off the nodes.  A light saute of about three to five minutes is all you need or you can boil or steam it for a few minutes as well.  Top it with some butter and salt.

Personally, I think it’s a tad on the tart side to eat as a side vegetable.  But it think it complements other things well.  I’ll add it to soups, chop it up with some scrambled eggs or saute it with some potatoes for breakfast.  It also makes a great addition to salads.

And, unlike asparagus, it’s FREE!  And you can’t beat that.

So the next time you’re out walking the dog, walking in the woods or maybe just walking out your back door, look around for some Japanese knotweed.

Because now you know… it’s KNOT a weed.

How to Find and Identify Other Wild Spring Edibles

Of course, learning how to find and identify Japanese knotweed is just the tip of the iceberg.   There’s hundreds more, many of which grow right in your backyard like dandelions and mint.  However, many of them are not easy to identify.   And unlike Japanese knotweed, many of them have poisonous relatives!

So it’s good to learn from someone with experience initially.

Wild edible walks are a great way to learn from experienced guides and they’re very popular this time of year.   Just google “wild edible walk” along with your town or county and you’ll probably find a few.

Once you gain some experience, you want to have some handy resources as well.

Here’s a few recommended guides to help you out:

The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer.

Click here to check it out on Amazon.

Edible Wild Plants book

Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos (highly recommended if you’re new to foraging).

Click here to check it out on Amazon.

Backyard Foraging book

And of course, there’s that thing called the internet too!   I called on some of my fellow food bloggers to share their best wild edible posts.  You’ll see that many include recipes as well.

I’ll kick things off with my own p0st (and one of my all-time favorites).

How to Find, Identify and Cook Fiddleheads by Yours Truly

Ramps and Wild Leeks by Learning and Yearning

What to Do with Stinging Nettles by And Here We Are

15 Edible Plants to Forage in Your Own Backyard by And Here We Are

Perfectly Purslane by Attainable Sustainable

How to Use Dandelion by Small Footprint Family

Onion Flower Fritters by Pantry Paratus

Wild Garlic and Cashew Pesto by Keeper of the Kitchen

Anticipating the Wild Spring Edibles by Homegrown and Healthy

Wild Violet Muffins by Farm Fresh Eats

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Comments

  1. WHILE YOU MAY FIND IT TASTY THIS IS ONE OF THE WORST INVASIVE NON-NATIVE SPECIES AND PUSHES OUT OUR NATIVE CATTAILS AND SWAMP FAUNA. I LIVE ON A DIRT ROAD IN THE WOODS AND THIS KNOTWEED ABOUNDS ALL AROUND. EVERY TIME I GO OUT IN THE TRUCK I LOOK FOR ANY NEWLY SPROUTED ONES SO THEY CAN BE ELIMINATED. SO YOU MAY WANT TO THINK TWICE ABOUT HAVING THIS WEED ANYWHERE NEAR YOU UNLESS YOU WANT A BAMBOO FOREST. JUST AN FYI,

    RANDI

  2. Cathy Williams says:

    EXTREMELY invasive! In my area, it’s called bamboo, which is why some people identified it as such. Never knew it was edible, though.

  3. “The plant that’s eating BC”.

    “The threat is real: in the U.K., a single plant can lower house values.”

    You need to read the June 22, 2015 edition of Macleans.

  4. Jon bundin says:

    Never mind eating it, destroy it before it takes over every where, the Japanese have found a way to destroy us without another war

  5. Rebecca Potter says:

    Don’t say “chill” – it can cost thousands to eradicate…. On the A1 widening recently they discovered knotweed and buried it in concrete….! It also has to be declared on legal documents when selling property.

  6. Japanese Knotweed has one of the highest contents of Restverastol of all plants. People are paying $30-$35 per pound for dried/powdered knotweed root. Interesting how these invasive plants also contain medicinal qualities. Japanese Knotweed is one of the best natural core ‘cures’ for Lyme disease. Wish I knew where to find some of it growing (non sprayed). I’d dig the roots to give people for Lyme treatment.

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