I seem to have a thing for parsleys (curly and flat-leaf parsley, parsley root) and growing unique flavors in my garden. Mitsuba was one of those new-to-me herbs to grow myself, but a familiar flavor because I’d tasted it in Japanese dishes. Also called Japanese honewort, Japanese wild parsley and white chervil, mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica) is pretty easy to grow from seed. In this article, I’m going to explain how to grow this flavorful ingredient in your own garden.
It’s hard to describe the flavour of mitsuba. The best I can do is it tastes a bit like celery leaves, with maybe a hint of flat-leaf parsley, with a bit of the citrusy tang you get from cilantro. At first nibble, it also reminds me a bit of shiso.
The origins of this wild herb
There are two types of mitsuba, named after the regions of Japan where they are found in the wild: Kanto and Kansai, the latter being the most common. Though it’s often referred to as a Japanese herb, mitsuba is also found in other parts of East Asia, like China and Korea.
Interestingly there is also a native mitsuba found in North America. Cryptotaenia canadensis is found in woodlands and is apparently very similar in flavor to the Asian varieties. It is also part of the carrot family (Apiaceae).
Though mitsuba is often grown as an annual herb, it is actually a perennial, hardy down to USDA zone 4—between -30°F (34.4°C) and -20°F (-28.9°C).
Besides its culinary uses, mitsuba is a source of various vitamins and minerals, and is used to reduce inflammation.
Choosing a location to grow mitsuba
Mitsuba prefers moist but well-draining soil and partial shade. My mitsuba seeds were direct-sown in a raised bed that gets a bit less sun and they took forever to germinate. I thought perhaps they needed more sun, despite the recommendations, but they did eventually germinate, albeit slowly. Since then, I have discovered that they prefer soil that has warmed up in spring, so I think I planted my seeds too early. My plants were actually better the second year.
Before sowing your seeds, prepare the planting area by amending the soil well with compost. Once your plants are established, mulching your planting area can also help the soil to retain moisture.
Starting mitsuba herb seeds indoors
Sow mitsuba seeds indoors about four to six weeks before your region’s last frost date. They’ll need a warm place to germinate. Consider using a heating mat. Sow seeds in cell packs filled with dampened potting mix. Simply sprinkle them onto the surface. Germination can take anywhere from seven to 14 days.
Be sure to harden off seedlings before planting them in the garden once all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up enough to plant heat-loving veggies, like tomatoes and cucumbers.
Sowing mitsuba seeds outdoors
If you’re going to direct-sow your mitsuba seeds in a veggie garden or raised bed, wait until soil temperatures have warmed up in the spring and all danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds about a quarter of an inch (6 cm) deep. Once the plant is well established, it can be quite cold tolerant.
When plants are about three inches (7 cm) tall, thin them so that they’re about six to nine inches (15 to 22 cm) apart. Use the thinned stalks as microgreens. Speaking of which, you can also grow mitsuba as microgreens.
Caring for mitsuba plants and harvesting tips
Full sun and flowering can both cause the plant to have a more bitter taste. Too much sun can also burn the leaves, causing them to turn yellow. Treat the herb as you would cilantro, continuously harvesting to prevent it from flowering. All parts of the plant—the leaves, stems, and roots—are edible.
To harvest a small bunch for eating, use herb scissors to snip mitsuba towards the base of the stalk when stems are anywhere from six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) tall. The leaves can wilt quickly, so soak it in a sink of water before wrapping it gently in a damp paper towel and storing in a plastic bag in the refrigerator (if you’re not using it right away).
Mitsuba is used in many variations of Japanese cuisine. You’ll often see it used as a garnish or ingredient in miso soup and other broths, tamagoyaki (Japanese omelets), rice bowls, like donburi, dumplings, and sushi rolls. You can also trim it into salads or use it in a salad dressing or stir fries. Cooking mitsuba for too long can affect its flavor, making it taste bitter. If you find a recipe that lists mitsuba, now you’ll know what you need.