Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

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Myoga buds
Myoga buds
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Myoga growing
Ready for harvest
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Myoga lvs
Myoga growing outdoors
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Myoga Ginger

Are you old enough to remember when the first capsicums appeared on supermarket shelves and withered there because nobody knew what they were? I remember locals in the nineteen sixties referring to them rather nastily as “foreign muck” and “wog food”. Now of course, they sell in huge volumes in this country because we have whole-heartedly embraced their unique flavor and their many uses in our daily diet.
Now in the twenty naughties (is that the date or just a phase we’re going through?) we have another unique food plant awaiting discovery by New Zealanders. It has just as many different culinary uses as capsicum and an exciting future in our cuisine.
It is “Myoga”, Zingiber mioga.
Myoga is a native Japanese edible ginger that is a favourite in Japan and much sought after by Japanese Kiwis but almost un-known by everyone else. Unlike other edible gingers, you eat the unopened flower buds, not the rhizome. The buds are about thumb-sized, pinkish-bronze and deliciously crunchy like sweet, young, gingery celery heart if eaten raw and they can also be cooked in many different, delicious ways. Unlike the well-known ginger root in supermarkets, the flavor is very delicate and mild and adds a subtle gingery fragrance to many dishes, including soups, any kind of stirfry, many Asian-style seafood dishes, salads and Thai-style soups like Tom Yum goong. They are sensational shredded and fast-fried in tempura batter. They can be thinly sliced lengthwise and used in sushi, or halved and dipped in teriyaki sauce as an appetiser. Myoga can be finely shredded with lime juice as a stuffing for ripe avocado. And who knows what other new uses will evolve as local cooks try it out for themselves.
The flower shoots come up from the soil separately from the leafy stems and the pale yellow flowers open at ground level. The unopened buds are harvested just as they appear through the soil and before the flowers start opening. This starts in February in NZ and continues into April if you keep picking the buds, which stimulates continued production just like with beans or asparagus.
Myoga is easy to grow and very productive, thriving in any friable, composty garden soil. It doesn’t produce seed so can’t spread beyond the garden and become a pest although it is a perennial that is easiest to manage if kept in its own garden bed, separate from other vegetable crops. It is deciduous, losing its 90cm, leafy shoots in May and coming up again from the root mass in Spring. It is easy to grow anywhere in NZ because it disappears below ground by the time the frosts arrive, emerging again in September.
Because it is so new here, there seem to be no diseases or pests to attack it. It is a woodland plant in the wild as are most gingers, so it thrives in bright dappled light, although I have to say my own patch of it does very well in full sun.
Commercial growers use untreated sawdust as a mulch around the plants to suppress weeds and provide a loose clean medium for the growing buds. Research is already underway in NZ studying crop yields and the export potential of myoga back to Japan during the potentially profitable off-season which could well see the start of another valuable agricultural industry here. The issue of food miles may put a damper on this adventure.
But as a home garden crop, myoga has huge potential here, providing a nutritious, versatile vegetable through the Autumn months which could also be blanched and frozen whole for use in cooking throughout the year.
The main impediment to this happening is cooks and gardeners being too chicken to try out something new. My advice is to face the fear and give it a go!

(Text and photography copyright © Russell Fransham 2009)