What plant were they picking, and why?
April 11, 2010 4:50 PM   Subscribe

What plant did the elderly Asian ladies collect by the riverbank, and what will they use it for?

We went walking by Four Mile Run, a stream in Arlington, Virginia. Where the trail crossed the stream, we came upon three elderly Asian* ladies, who were collecting these plants from the stream banks, using little scissors to cut them close to the ground. It looked like they were only selecting the most tender shoots, not just grabbing all the plants in the area. Each one was carrying a full grocery bag of them.

We tried asking the ladies what the plants were and what they were for, but none of them spoke English. I have been trying to look the plant up online since, with no success. Any idea what this plant is? Is it edible? It it used for cooking or as a medicinal plant? I would love to know more. Thanks!

*I never heard them communicate among themselves, so I couldn't tell what country they were from.
posted by gemmy to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mugwort?

Koreans use it in a few dishes, especially songpyeon, the Chuseok rice cakes. It's also used in hanyak (herbal medicine).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2010

That's good to know; I'm apparently horribly allergic to mugwort, and didn't know it could be found in Korean food.
posted by amtho at 5:08 PM on April 11, 2010

Response by poster: That's got to be it. I knew someone here would know!
Thanks much, Joseph Gurl!
posted by gemmy at 5:21 PM on April 11, 2010

amtho, just so you know, it can be found in Japanese food, too. It's called yomogi and it's pretty common, especially in spring.
posted by misozaki at 5:41 PM on April 11, 2010

Ha! I live in Korea and saw some old ladies doing just this near the river behind my apartment. I was also wondering what was up. It's nice to know they don't leave their old customs behind
posted by GilloD at 9:07 PM on April 11, 2010

Mugwort has a reputation for promoting vivid dreams when put in your pillow case.
posted by hortense at 10:36 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: Yea, it looks like mugwort to me too. It's spring time, so prime time for "namul" harvesting in Korea/for Koreans (besides things like bean sprouts or seaweed, the list on the wikipedia page should give you a good idea of the types of things that are gathered in fields and in the wild). My mom used to do the same thing too when we lived on a military base in Alabama when I was a kid. Since the general American population doesn't really eat a lot of namuls, Koreans have been able to find abundant sources of the stuff that are relatively untouched if you happen to live in a less urban area. Even a local park if you're in the suburbs or your backyard (as my mom discovered in Alabama) can be a source of namul.

My parents live in Arkansas at the moment, and even now she calls me about all the things she finds to eat that her neighbors didn't even know were edible foods. She'll call and say, "Oh, so I made a bunch of [insert namul name here] today. I was walking by someone's yard and they had a HUGE patch of it, so I ringed their doorbell and asked if I could take some..." or "I drive by this neighborhood all the time and somebody had a big persimmon tree and nobody was eating it, so I stopped the car and asked them if I could pick a couple..." My mom's also told me about how there's someone in the Korean community whose managed to find a large patch of naengi that grows somewhere in the woods, but the family keeps it a secret from everyone else so that they can hoard it and will only share if they feel benevolent.
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

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