Nanakusa-no-sekku

The Festival of Seven Herbs or Nanakusa no sekku (Japanese: 七草の節句) is the long-standing Japanese custom of eating seven-herb rice porridge (nanakusa-gayu) on January 7 (Jinjitsu).

Seven spring flowers

The nanakusa (七草/七種), or more specifically, haru no nanakusa (春の七草/春の七種), spring's seven flowers (or herbs), are seven edible wild herbs of spring. Traditionally, they are:

Image Traditional name Modern name English
芹 (せり seri) セリ seri Oenanthe javanica
薺 (なずな nazuna) ナズナ nazuna
ぺんぺん草 penpengusa
Shepherd's purse
御形 (ごぎょう gogyō) ハハコグサ (母子草) hahakogusa Cudweed
繁縷 (はこべら hakobera) コハコベ (小蘩蔞) kohakobe Chickweed
仏の座 (ほとけのざ hotokenoza) コオニタビラコ (小鬼田平子) koonitabirako Nipplewort
菘 (すずな suzuna) カブ (蕪) kabu Turnip
蘿蔔 (すずしろ suzushiro) ダイコン (大根) daikon Radish

There is considerable variation in the precise ingredients, with common local herbs often being substituted.

On the morning of January 7, or the night before, people place the nanakusa, rice scoop, and/or wooden pestle on the cutting board and, facing the good-luck direction, chant "Before the birds of the continent (China) fly to Japan, let's get nanakusa" while cutting the herbs into pieces. The chant may vary from place to place.

The seventh of the first month has been an important Japanese festival since ancient times. The custom of eating nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) on this day, to bring longevity and health, developed in Japan from a similar ancient Chinese custom, intended to ward off evil. Since there is little green at that time of the year, the young green herbs bring color to the table and eating them suits the spirit of the New Year.

Musical accompaniment

StandardHiraganaRomajiTranslation
唐土の鳥と、
日本の鳥と、
渡らぬ先に、
七種なずな、
手につみ入れて、
亢觜斗張となる
とうどのとりと、
にほんのとりと、
わたらぬさきに、
ななくさなずな、
てにつみいれて、
こうしとちょうとなる
tōdo no tori to,
nihon no tori to,
wataranu saki ni,
nanakusa nazuna,
te ni tsumi-ire te,
kōshitochō to naru
China-land's birds and
Japanese birds,
earlier than bring on their coming,
seven species wild herb,
I pluck them to the hand and
it becomes Neck, Turtle Beak, Dipper and Extended Net.

Seven autumn flowers

The spring-time nanakusa are mirrored by aki no nanakusa (秋の七草/秋の七種), meaning autumn's seven flowers. They are listed below:

Image Traditional name Modern name English
女郎花 (おみなえし ominaeshi) オミナエシ ominaeshi Patrinia scabiosifolia
尾花 (おばな obana) ススキ susuki Miscanthus sinensis
桔梗 (ききょう kikyou) キキョウ kikyou Platycodon grandiflorus
撫子 (なでしこ nadeshiko) カワラナデシコ kawaranadeshiko Dianthus
藤袴 (ふじばかま fujibakama) フジバカマ fujibakama Eupatorium fortunei
葛 (くず kuzu) クズ kuzu Pueraria lobata
萩 (はぎ hagi) ハギ hagi Lespedeza

The seven flowers of autumn are bush clover (hagi), miscanthus (obana, Miscanthus sinensis), kudzu, large pink (nadeshiko, Dianthus superbus), yellow flowered valerian (ominaeshi, Patrinia scabiosifolia), boneset (fujibakama, Eupatorium fortunei), and Chinese bellflower (kikyō, Platycodon gradiflorus). These seven autumn flowers provide visual enjoyment. Their simplicity was very much admired: they are small and dainty yet beautifully colored. They are named as typical autumn flowers in a verse from the Man'yōshū anthology.

Unlike their spring counterparts, there is no particular event to do anything about the seven flowers of autumn. The autumn flowers are not intended for picking or eating, but for appreciation, despite each one is believed to have medical efficacy in traditional Chinese medicine. Tanka and haiku theming hanano (花野, lit. flower field), meaning fields where the autumn wildflowers are in full bloom, have a centuries-old history.

Cautionary note

The Japanese parsley (Oenanthe javanica) species of the Oenanthe (water dropworts) genus is closely related to and easily confused with toxic water hemlock. Although accidental poisoning is rare, caution should be exercised when dealing with oenanthe species. As Oenanthe javanica is not found outside of Asia unless specifically cultivated, wild-growing varieties of water dropworts should be considered lethal, even in small amounts.[1]

References

  1. Ball, M. J. (May 1987). "Hemlock Water Dropwort Poisoning". NCBI. Retrieved 28 Oct 2019.
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