Micro-Season: “The Water Dropwort Flourishes”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Water Dropwort Flourishes”, which is part of the mini season of Minor Cold

Minor Cold is the fifth of the six mini seasons of winter.  The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:

  • The Water Dropwort Flourishes (Jan 06 – Jan10)
  • The Springwater Holds Warmth (Jan 11 – Jan 15)
  • The Pheasant First Calls (Jan 16 – Jan 20)

The micro-seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai.  Each micro-season lasts about five days and highlights a slight change in the natural environment.  The micro-seasons are specific to the climate of Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable to others.  They can become a starting point for your personal exploration into the world around you.


The Water Dropwort

The water dropwort, also known as Japanese parsley or Seri, is a herb that grows in mountain streams and has become a part of the traditional Japanese diet. Water dropwort is soft and slender and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is said that water dropwort has medicinal qualities and can improve intestinal conditions, and prevent anemia and colds.(1)

This plant’s scientific name is Oenanthe javanica and it is a perennial plant that grows to about 1 meter tall.  Oenanthe javanica should not be confused with other plants in the Oenanthe family which can be extremely poisonous, such as water hemlock.(2)

Seri or Water Dropwort/Photo credit: Suzuki Farm
Seri or Water Dropwort/Photo credit: Suzuki Farm

The Festival of Seven Herbs

The water dropwort is one of the key ingredients in seven-herb rice porridge, which is also known as Nanakusa-gayu. This dish is part of the Festival of Seven Herbs and is a blend of rice and seven spring herbs. Besides water dropwort, the other herbs in this dish are daikon radishes, turnips, nipplewort, chickweed, cudweed, and shepherd’s purse.(3)

The Festival of the Seven Herbs is part of Japan’s five annual celebrations, which also includes the Doll Festival, The Boy’s Celebrations, The Star Festival, and The Chrysanthemum Festival.(4)


The Festival of the Seven Herbs occurs on the seventh day of the first month of the year and marks the end of Japanese New Year celebrations. The Jingchu Suishiji, a record of Chinese holidays from the 6th Century AD, recorded the custom of “eating a hot soup that contains seven vegetables to bring longevity and health and ward off evil.”  It is also said that this warm soup is a good way to give your digestive system a break after the holidays.

Seven herbs for the porridge/Photo credit: Blue Lotus
Seven herbs for the porridge/Photo credit: Blue Lotus

Japanese New Year Poems

There is a Japanese Anthology of Poems called Hyakunin Isshu.  This can be roughly translated into “One hundred people, one poem each”(5) .  Within this anthology, there is a poem about this time of year by Emperor Koko titled “Poem 15”

“Poem 15” by Emperor Koko

It is for your sake
That I walk the fields in spring,
Gathering green herbs,

While my garment's hanging sleeves
Are speckled with falling snow.

Emperor Koko was the 58th Emperor of Japan and his reign only lasted three years.  Emperor Koko died in 887.


And because I can’t close a article without a haiku, I have found a few by Buson and Issa that are related to this time of year.

The old calendar
fills me with gratitude
like a song.
-Yosa Buson
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
 I feel about average
-Kobayashi Issa
First Month--
recording the cash spent
on sake
-Kobayashi Issa

Sounds like Issa might need some Nanakusa-gayu to settle his stomach after that night with the sake!.  

Sake Bar: Media Studio Hong Kong
Photo by Media Studio Hong Kong on Pexels.com

Resources:

  1. Suzuki Farm: Seri
  2. Wikipedia: Oenanthe javanica
  3. Wikipedia: Nanakusa-no-sekku
  4. CotoAcademy: Nanakusa-gayu
  5. Wikipedia: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu
  6. One Thousand Summers: Hyakunin Isshu: poem 15
  7. Virgina.Edu:Ogura Hyakunin Isshu: Poem 15

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5 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Water Dropwort Flourishes”

Add yours

  1. Hey, Mark. This was interesting. I was unfamiliar with both water dropwort and the Festival of Seven Herbs. I like how so many “ancient remedies” promise to “ward off evil” with regards to the seven-veggie soup. 😀 If only, right? Loved the poetry included in this essay, too. Emperor Koko’s poem is brilliant (the snow-speckled sleeves). Those by Buson and Issa are good as well–I like the ho-hum attitude of Issa’s feelings about the new year’s arrival. All in all, another excellent essay with lots of intriguing cultural background. Well done, sir! 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Glad you enjoyed this. I think Issa’s haiku is quickly becoming one of my favorites. On an slightly related note, I learned that cold forged iron, such as horseshoes and railroad spikes, were also used to ward off evil. That is why many old cemeteries have iron fences. This was then adapted and these items soon became things that could be used for good luck. (Lucky horseshoe) I just find all this fascinating! I hope you have a good weekend. Talk soon,

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