When Kiku entered the kitchen of the Bamboo Bathhouse on the 7th January, he noticed that the wall calendar announced the Festival of the Seven Herbs, or Nanakusa no sekku [七草の節句 ].
The air was filled with the fresh scent of herbs and Mama Kōjin was busy chopping at the kitchen table.
She explained that the day was also known as Jinjitsu [人日], literally ‘human day’ and celebrated as part of New Year. After the rich foods of the previous days’ New Year celebrations, and because there is little green around, the use of green herbs in a meal helps bring health and vigour into the beginning of the year, as well as some much needed vitamins.
The seven herb ingredients can vary from region to region, depending on what is locally available, but all are chopped and added to a rice porridge, to make seven-herb rice porridge [nanakusa-gayu). The traditional seven are:
Japanese Parsley [せり/seri ]
(oenanthe javanica: please note that this is a type of water dropwort, but most in this family are highly toxic to humans)
Shepherd’s Purse [なずな /nazuna]
Cudweed [ごぎょう/ gogyō, now more commonly known as hahakogusa /母子草]
Chickweed [はこべら / hakobera]
Nipplewort [ほとけのざ / hotokenoza, also known as tabirako/ 田平子]
White Turnip leaf [すずな suzuna]
White Radish leaf [すずしろ suzushiro]
As Kiku sat down to eat his warming bowl of nanakusa-gayu later on in the day, he felt thoroughly prepared to face the rest of winter and looked forward to the arrival of greenery in the spring.