Nanakusa – Seven Herbs

The festival of nanakusa-no-sekku 七草の節句, Seven Herb Festival, is celebrated today throughout Japan. On the seventh day of the first month, seven wild spring herbs are eaten in a rice porridge, called nanakusa-kayu 七草粥.

This custom dates back at least to the 6th century in China where it was recorded as one of the significant seasonal traditions in the Jingchu Suishiji, and is one of the five key seasonal traditions celebrated in Japan.

Traditionally, on the sixth day of the first month, people would go into the countryside and forage for seven medicinal herbs. On the morning of the seventh day, the herbs would be prepared whilst facing the direction that was deemed lucky for the coming year, and a spell would be recited for good health and longevity.

Although there are many regional variations on what seven herbs to use, the list has become somewhat standardised to include: seri 芹 (water dropwort), nazuna 薺 (shepherd’s purse), gogyō 御形 (cudweed), hakobera 繁縷 (chickweed), hotokenoza 仏の座 (nipplewort), suzuna 菘 (turnip), and suzushiro 蘿蔔 (daikon). At this time, packages of the seven herbs can be found prepacked in supermarkets. Buying the readymade packet of fresh herbs is probably better than foraging by yourself because without expert knowledge many of these early spring herbs can be mistaken for ones that are in fact highly toxic, such as seri which looks identical to the hemlock water dropwort but which is fatal if eaten!

Although these particular herbs are considered medicinal and therefore most appropriate for eating on this day, in fact, all herbs have some medicinal properties and therefore it really doesn’t matter which seven herbs you choose to mix into your okayu. Okayu is made by cooking one part rice to five parts water, cooked on a low heat for about 30 minutes and then left to rest for 10 minutes before adding the fresh herbs.

I hope you all enjoy a year of good health and good fortune 🙂 

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