This invader could pep up your rice dish


March certainly came in like a lion on Sunday, with gales and torrential rain showers, but on the whole the winter has been another mild one.

This was borne out by two kingfisher sightings within a week recently on the mill lade near my house.

It was something I haven’t seen there for a few years, so after the severe winter of 2009/10 which decimated numbers locally, it was good to welcome them back on home ground.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago having seen the first oystercatchers arriving on my local stretch of river. Well, at the weekend, it appeared that the main invasion had taken place.

On two consecutive days, I counted 44 on the island on the Ettrick Water just below Murray’s Cauld – I’m sure that’s up on previous years.

While out braving the conditions on Sunday, I decided to check out the colony of Japanese Butterbur, which has been established on the banks of the Yarrow for many decades.

Petasites japonicus, also known as fuki, bog rhubarb, or giant butterbur, is an herbaceous perennial plant.

It is native to Japan, where the spring growth is used as a vegetable. I only know of a couple of sites where it grows in the Borders, the other being on the banks of the Tweed near the Yair Bridge.

It is in full bloom just now and the plants at Yarrow seem to be thriving.

I counted around 120 flower spikes.

They looked quite spectacular as there was nothing else in bloom around them and they were pushing through bare river silt and growing right into the water.

They looked for all the world like starfish on a beach.

Despite the fact that they contains some dangerous chemicals, they are used in the Far East for food.

The traditional preparation method for this vegetable involves pre-treating with ash or baking soda and soaking in water to remove harshness (astringency), which is a technique known as aku-nuki – literally “harshness removal”.

The shoot can be chopped and stir fried with miso to make Fuki-miso which is eaten as a relish, thinly spread over hot rice at meals.

The bulb-like shoots are also picked fresh and fried as tempura.

In Korea, it is steamed or boiled and then pressed to remove water.

Isn’t it amazing what exotic species can be found on our doorstep!