タラノキ Japanese angelica tree (学名Araila elata)

 私のお気に入りの山菜のひとつに「タラの芽」があります。名前のとおり、タラノキの新芽です。タラノキは英語でJapanese angelica tree(学名Araila elata)、幹をまっすぐ伸ばす落葉低木で、韓国や中国、ロシアにも仲間が分布しています。春の終わりから夏の初めにかけて、アファンの森を訪れる皆さんは、たいてい「タラの芽の天ぷら」はご存じなのに、肝心のタラノキがどういう植物かを全く知らない人の多さには驚くばかりです。米国にもよく似た種(学名Arailia spinosa)が生息していて、「悪魔の杖(devil’s walking stick)」の別名で知られていますが、今回、私は日本語の名前である「タラ」を使いたいと思います。







One of my favourite mountain vegetable (sansai) treats is ‘tara no me,’ or the buds an angelica tree, Araila elata. It is a small upright woody shrub, with similar species native to Korea, China and Russia. Visitors to our Afan woods in late spring or early summer usually know about ‘tara no me’ tempura, but a surprisingly large number of them have no idea of what the plant is like. There is a very similar species native to America, Arailia spinosa, that is called ‘devil’s walking stick’ but in this article I will use the common Japanese name, ‘tara.’
Tara can grow to several metres in height but the trunk rarely reaches more than five or so centimetres in diameter. The buds grow at the end of the long thorny trunk.
The bark is rough and grey in colour, with lots of prickly thorns. The leaves are the largest of all the trees and shrubs in our woods, growing to be 60 to 120 centimetres in length. A single leaf is comprised of alternate green branches with small green leaflets, these being 2-3 centimetres long. In late summer the tara grows large umbels, bunches of tiny white flowers. These in turn produce small black drupes or berries, each with a single seed. Birds love them.
Tara prefers lots of sunlight, so they grow when we clear woodland for replanting or when we have severely trimmed out densely growing leaves. After a few years, as the trees grow and take more of the sunlight, the tara dies out. However, as we always have ongoing work in the woods, we never run out of ‘tara no me.’
Personally, partly in order not to kill off the tara, I prefer to harvest young shoots that grow from the buds when the young shoots are still green and tender. I always leave some of the shoots for the parent plant. Sometimes I prepare tara shoots as tempura, but I also cook them with butter or olive oil, flavoured with salt and pepper, with a dash of white wine to steam them. Tara shoots are also good in Chinese style stir-fries.
Tara was introduced to the United States in 1830 as an exotic shrub, but birds spread the seeds and now it is viewed as an invasive species. I have never heard of Americans eating ‘tara no me’ (unless they had learned of this delicacy in Japan) but native Americans used their own ‘devil’s walking stick’ shoots as pot herbs. They also ate the black berries.

January 2019