Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hosta species

Hostas are herbaceous perennial species from the Asparagaceae family. Other common names include plaintain lily and funkia. In the British Isles they are usually grown as a leafy ornamental plant and are particularly popular for shady areas of the garden. Native to Asia, the hosta genus has around 45 different species and an estimated 5000 different cultivars.

An image of hosta leaves
Hosta species

Hostas are popular in Japan as a vegetable known as urui and prepared in a number of different ways including boiling in water and frying in a tempura batter. The term hosta is named after the Austrian botanist Nicholaus Thomas Host who was a botanist and physician to the Holy Roman Emporer Francis II.

Growing methods

Hostas will not necessarily grow true from seed and take some years to get established. Sow seed in the spring and barely cover the seed with soil. Ensure the soil remains moist. Plants will germinate within a few months. When seedlings have emerged prick them out and pot them on into individual pots. Keep them under cover for the first winter and then plant out the following spring or summer after the first frosts.

Hostas flourish in damp fertile soil, although will do well in most moist soils. They like a mulch spread around the base and this can prevent heave. They grow well in full sun or deep shade. They are in flower from August to September. Although we have read they don't do well competing with the shallow roots of trees our plants are doing well growing around the base of a large old beech tree.

Hostas are generally quite easy plants to grow. Very vigorous and clump forming, they provide a dense carpet crowding out other plants in the borders. Plants can be divided easily at any time of the year. Water well before hand and keep them well watered until they are established. Hostas will hybridize freely.

Slugs and snails love them. Since we don't use any poisons or traps in the garden, our hosta leaves always have a few holes here and there but it doesn't bother us over much. Rabbits and deer are supposed to be attracted to them but we have never found this to be the case. The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) in the UK say they are generally disease-free.

Raw edible parts

The shoots, leaf petiole, whole leaves and flowers are edible raw. The fresh leaves and stems are best harvested while young and tender. The older leaves become tough and fibrousy and may become bitter in flavour. Hostas can be used as a cut and come again plant and will readily re-grow their leaves after being chopped down to the base.

All hosta species are edible but H. montana and H. sieboldii are most popularly used for vegetables. H. plantaginea is grown for its sweet flowers. In Japan the species H. montana is also known as oobagiboushi. Ooba means large leaf and giboushi means a type of cylindrical column or ornament used on Japanese bridges. H. montana is found growing wild in the mountains and is also cultivated for the vegetable market. Urui is the word used to describe the young leaves of this particular species.

Hosta stems are often likened to asparagus. The leaves are crunchy and have a good green leafy flavour. Hostas are a good salad plant and should probably be a lot more popular as a vegetable in the UK than they actually are. Hostas are easy to grow, far easier than asparagus that's for sure. They make a good permaculture plant and understorey plant for edible forest gardens.