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 🙂 


Before the Meiji era, at which time Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshogatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month, i.e. January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.

Azuki-no-okaisan at Torin-in

Azuki-no-okaisan at Torin-in

At Torin-in, a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex in Kyoto, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy visit Torin-in and receive the azuki rice porridge with a beautiful tray of shojin cuisine, as well as an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family. (Torin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, about whom I have written before. Details about how to participate in this even are given at the bottom of this post.)

At Torin-in there is a special Buddhist ritual performed on the morning of January 15th, which the public are welcome to join, where a little bit of the azuki-kayu is offered to all the trees in the garden of Torin-in, while sutras are being chanted.

Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)


Some azuki beans*
Water as needed
Rice ~ 1/5 cup per person
Round mochi ~ 1 per person

1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi

*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, that’s all well and good if you are an experienced cook! But if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento

Photo: Oagaritei