You've probably seen matcha but may not have heard about another beneficial Japanese plant.
We're talking about Ashitaba ("tomorrow's leaf"), the Japanese angelica plant with just as many (if not more) health benefits as our beloved green tea powder.
Here's a fun fact: the Ashitaba leaves can regenerate within 24 hours of harvest (which is why it's known as a longevity herb in Japanese medicinal folklore).
The health benefits don't stop there.
Ashitaba supports the rejuvenation of the body's cells, blood, and digestive system, as well as improving skin and mood.
The plant is rich in vitamin B, having significant levels of B6 (known for sleep regulation) and B12 (an important vitamin for nerve function and is usually found in meat, which makes this plant even more special).
It also has a ton of antioxidants, found in the polyphenols of the sap.
Plus it's yummy in salads, soups, and casseroles, or it can be mixed in water or blended in smoothies.
Best of all, the herb can be dried and made into a tea.
You can get it in health food stores (especially the powdered version), but why splurge when you can grow it yourself?
Especially given the number of health benefits, growing your own Ashitaba plant may be the best way for you to get all of those nutritious ingredients without breaking the bank.
This is why we've created this guide to show you what you need to do to grow your own Ashitaba plant, and keep it thriving.
1. Inch by inch, row by row, all I need is...
You're going to need a shovel, compost, and either pruning shears or garden scissors.
If you're planning on planting the seeds, you'll need the Ashitaba seeds as soon as they are harvested (which will be in the late summer or fall).
If you just want to replant an already grown or young Ashitaba plant, you're one step ahead.
You also actually don't need fertilizer for this plant, compost will work (and is green!).
You'll also need the perfect spot to plant it, which we'll discuss in the next section.
2. Ashitaba Growing Zones
Ashitaba is actually a very hardy plant once you get it past that seedling phase. Ideally you want to be growing it in a humid zone 8-10 environment with rich soil if you want a thriving plant but because of it's natural resilience you can push it.
Ashitaba plants are hardy up to zone 4 if you mulch them heavily in the winter and protect the roots from freezing. If your growing above zone 6 it will require a bit of TLC to keep the plants alive but it can and has been done. I would definitely suggest starting them in a gallon pot indoors and when they start really getting that growth move them outdoors in the spring.
3. The perfect spot
When it comes to sowing the seeds or planting the tree, you want a spot that's partially in the shade.
This is because in order for the Ashitaba plant to grow and thrive it needs to be in a damp, shadier place.
If your indoors this can be achieved by placing the plant near a window and spraying it with a mister daily to simulate a damp atmosphere.
Outdoors if you're in a humid climate than just plant it where it gets reasonable shade from nearby trees or structures.
So, the soil needs to be rich and well-drained, since the plant must be watered often.
However, the location shouldn't be completely cut off from the sun, as the plant needs to get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
4. From the seed
Once you get the seeds (which should be as soon as they're harvested), refrigerate them for one month.
Then, make sure you plant them in cold, damp conditions; that's when you'll see the most growth.
Don't worry if you don't see growth during the hot and dry months, as that's not their prime conditions.
Now, give it/them lots of water (to maintain their dampness), and put a couple of inches of mulch on top—this is their food, and helps preserve the soil's dampness.
Remember that the mulch (or compost) should be renewed once a month for the best conditions.
5. Get your pruning shears or garden scissors ready
Snip the flower umbels before the Ashitaba plants bloom.
This is especially important if you want your tree to be perennial (live more than 2 years).
6. Water, water, water
This has been said but needs to be repeated again because it's very important.
The soil needs to damp at all times.
This means frequent watering, which is why you need drainable soil; you don't want to drown your plant (or for it to get moldy).
7. A word about composting
Not only can you grow your own tree, but you can make your own compost too!
To do this, place a crate in a sunny area.
The usual compost mixture includes brown (i.e. wood chips, shredded newspaper) and green (i.e. grass clippings, kitchen excess) plant matter, with some moisture for the good bacteria to flourish.
Remember to place some awkward pieces like a few large rocks on the bottom of the crate to generate better airflow.
Once the bulky compost pieces are in the crate, add an even amount of green and brown matter so the bacterial growth is healthy.
You're 75% there! Here are some maintenance tips so your compost is extra healthy (and your Ashitaba plant will be beautiful):
- Make sure you mix the compost every week or so.
- Add new brown and green matter to freshen up the mix.
- Also, check the moisture levels: too dry and you'll be stuck waiting forever; too much water and you're looking at a man-made swamp.
- Lastly, avoid these common mistakes when it comes to making your own compost.
8. What you should expect with your Ashitaba plant
You probably won't see any blooming within the first year.
But expect to see it in the second year, mainly during the spring or early summer. They also only produce new seeds by annually but when the plant is flowering the whole plant becomes more bitter and isn't exactly enjoyable to consume.
Once you have a mature plant you can start taking leaves from it daily and watch them spring back to life sometimes by the next morning.
At our farm we cut back the plants heavily to get the chalcones that are in abundance from the stems and then let them regrow. Maintaining a healthy plant can be hard work but the results are rewarding.
9. What your Ashitaba plant will look like
At full maturity, the shoots should be around 5 feet, with flower stalks.
The stems should be ridged, the leaves lobed, and the flowers will be small and white if you let it bloom. Also if you cut a branch or trunk you should see a little chalcone seep out of the wound.
If it's been two years and your Ashitaba plant still isn't blooming, you may need to make some adjustments such as watering it more frequently and giving it a little more compost.
The plant attempting to bloom is an important sign of health and we believe letting it go through its natural cycle is worth a little down time on the plant in order for it to rest and thrive naturally. This does mean that you are constantly regrowing and replanting because they live a natural 2-3 year lifecycle but the results are worth the extra effort.
10. Can you eat Ashitaba?
The simple answer: yes, you can.
When eaten raw, it actually tastes a lot like bitter celery.
As we've mentioned, there's a load of health benefits associated with consuming this plant, however, angelicas do have a carcinogen.
WebMD states that Ashitaba may relieve these conditions (however note that there need to be more studies on this herb): heartburn, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout, constipation, allergies, cancer, smallpox, food poisoning, and many other conditions. Though they do say it's not recommended to eat it if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
In terms of dosage, there are many things that need to be taken account of such as the user's age, current health, any other medications he/she is taking, and any other conditions he/she may have. But the traditional saying is 1-2 leaves daily for general health.
Ashitaba is a beneficial herb, and growing your own Ashitaba plant can help improve your life.
If you want to try out some of our own Ashitaba try our Kenko Raw Ashitaba Tea. It is a great easy to use alternative and while you're waiting for your plant to grow you can still enjoy all its benefits.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about Ashitaba, please contact us—we'd love to help out!