We have entered the micro-season of “The Water Dropwort Flourishes”. This is the first micro-season of the mini-season Minor Cold. All the micro-seasons within Minor Cold are:
- The Water Dropwort Flourishes (Jan 06 – Jan 10)
- The Springwater Holds Warmth (Jan 11 – Jan 15)
- The Pheasant First Calls (Jan 16 – Jan 20)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
To celebrate this season, we will learn about Water Dropwort and then read some haiku by Issa and Basho.
What Is Water Dropwort
The Water Dropwort (Oenanthe javanica) is also known as Japanese Parsley or Seri. This perennial herb grows to a height of about 3 feet (1 meter) tall and has thin, hollow stems and oval serrated leaves that grow in an alternating pattern. The Water Dropwort prefers to grow in damp areas next to mountain streams.(1,2)
Special care should be taken when foraging for Water Dropwort because many similar-looking plants from the Oenanthe family are highly poisonous. Poisonous plants from the Oenanthe family include Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and Fine-leafed Water Dropwort (Oenanthe aquatica).
Uses For The Water Dropwort
Water Dropwort has been used as a medicinal remedy in China since about 700 BCE and is said to assist in “reducing body heat”.(2) Some of the conditions that it has been used to treat include “chronic and acute hepatitis, jaundice, alcohol hangovers, abdominal pain, and inflammatory conditions”(3) In North Korea, Water Dropwort is used as an aid for liver function and in Papua New Guinea it is combined with wild ginger and ash salt as an antidote to poison.(2)
The tender leaves and stems of the Water Dropwort make it well-suited for salads and other raw dishes. The flavor of the water dropwort is described as “peppery and bitter undertones reminiscent of celery, parsley, or carrot tops.”(2) Water Dropwort is also used in grain bowls, as a side for seafood dishes, and in stews and porridges.
Nanakusa-gayu is a seven-herb rice porridge prepared for Nanakusa-no-sekku or The Festival of Seven Herbs.
The Festival of the Seven Herbs is held on January 7th and marks the end of New Year’s celebrations. The Festival of Seven Herbs is part of Japan’s five annual celebrations, which also include the Doll Festival, The Boy’s Celebrations, The Star Festival, and The Chrysanthemum Festival.(2,5,6)
In the traditional preparation of Nanakusa-gayu, on the morning of January 7th, the herbs for this dish are arranged on the cutting board facing the direction of good luck and then chants are said over the herbs. By performing this tradition, it is said that you will have good luck and health in the upcoming year.(5,6)
The other herbs usually found in the Nanakusa-gayu are shepherd’s purse (nazuna), cudweed (gogyō), chickweed (hakobera), nipplewort (hotokenoza), turnip (suzuna), and daikon radishes (suzushiro).(5,6)
If you are interested in making Nanakusa-gayu, check out Namiko Chen’s recipe on JustOneCookbook.com where she offers substitutions for some harder-to-find herbs and talks about the benefit of using a traditional Japanese Earthenware Pot known as a Donabe for the best-tasting Nanakusa-gayu.
The Festival of Seven Herbs, Nanakusa-gayo, and preparation of Nanakusa-gayo all have the potential to be seasonal terms in haiku. The New Year is also a relevant kigo for this season if you are following the Gregorian calendar. However, if you are following the lunar calendar, this might not be the case.
In The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words, Yamamoto, Kondo, and Higginson explain how the haiku community has worked with the differences between the Gregorian and lunar calendars.
“In the old lunar calendar, the 1st day of the 1st month coincided roughly with the beginning of spring, and hence the New Year’s celebrations and observances took place during the first two weeks of spring. Many season words today still carry both meanings for traditionalists. But with the adoption of the Gregorian commercial calendar in 1873, the haikai community decided on a compromise: Season words specific to celebrating the New Year moved into a special “fifth season” (roughly equivalent to 1-15 Jan), and those that pertained to early spring (roughly, Feb) stayed in early spring.”(8)
Therefore, if the New Year is referenced in haiku written after 1873, the author is talking about sometime between Jan 1- Jan. 15. However, if the haiku was written before 1873, a New Year reference is likely pointing to the start of spring, which would be in late January. (In 2023, that date would be January 23.)
With all this in mind, let’s read some haiku.
pounding the seven herbs doesn't drown him out... crow (translated by David G. Lanoue)
she pounds the seven herbs without singing... a wise old face (translated by David G. Lanoue)
no one calls it "seven herbs"... house in the trees (translated by David G. Lanoue)
governing the people-- picking New Year's herbs is also toil (translated by David G. Lanoue)
In Lanoue’s commentary for this piece, he explains, “Wakana (young greens or herbs) are picked on the sixth day of First Month–a traditional New Year’s observance. In this early haiku, Issa (at age 31) makes a bold statement about oppression of the poor by the government. Later in life, he learned to disguise dangerous criticism of the shogunate with figurative language (“Sir Horse” versus lowly “sparrows,” for example).”
Although not written specifically about Nanakusa-gayo, the next few haiku by Basho fit well with the season.
in all directions the chopped herbs are confused (translated by Jane Reichhold)
through gaps in snow, pale purple, sprouts of the udo (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
Udo (Aralia cordata), or Mountain Asparagus, is not one of the herbs in Nanakusa-gayo. Udo is often harvested for its roots in early spring so perhaps they are sprouting right now.
the First Day of the Year: I remember a lonely autumn evening. (translated by R.H.Blyth)
Since Basho lived between 1644 -1694, his haiku probably would have been referencing the New Year of the lunar calendar.
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references the New Year. This category is wide open. You can write about food or family traditions. Or you can write about what happens on the days after New Year’s, perhaps a New Year’s resolution, or a New Year’s hangover.
Here is a haiku that I wrote on my way back to work after a holiday break.
January 3rd all the Christmas cheer now discarded
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- Wikipedia: Oenanthe javanica
- “Water Dropwort”; SpecialityProduce.com
- Chuan-li Lu and Xiu-fen Li; “A Review of Oenanthe javanica (Blume) DC. as Traditional Medicinal Plant and Its Therapeutic Potential”; National Library of Medicine
- Wikipedia: Nanakusa-no-sekku
- “Nanakusa-no-sekku”: GetHiroshima.com
- Chen, Namiko. “Nanakusa Gayu (Seven Herb Rice Porridge)”. JustOneCookbook.com
- Yamamoto, Kenkichi Translated by Kris Young Kondo and William J. Higginson; The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words. The Haiku Foundation
Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s HaikuGuy.com. Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor: Gábor Terebess