BOOKS AND TREES
This afternoon we were walking through the upper forest to get the last of the gettable taranome when we saw two elder sansai (lit: mountain vegetable) gatherers ahead of us on the forest path, looked like real experts even from a distance, they both had bags full of stuff. One of them was bending down the branches of a tall slender silvery tree so the other could pick off some buds. When we got up to where they were we asked what they were harvesting.
Sansai gatherers don't really like to share their secrets with stranger sansai gatherers, which is understandable, but we were clearly such rank amateurs that one of them took a pro-sansai gatherer's pity on us (while the other kept on gathering) and explained that this was a koshiabura tree (Acanthopanax sciadophylloides Franch. et Savat), that the buds were delicious as tempura, that the slightly opened leaf clusters were delicious boiled and served with a touch of bonito shavings and soy sauce, and that a side dish of koshiabura would cost a fortune in an exclusive restaurant. They also explained how to recognize the tree among all the others that looked sort of like it. (We didn't tell him that we've been seeking the koshiabura bush in vain for a couple of years now and had begun to think it must be extremely rare.)
So after thanking them and going our separate ways we went off looking for more of the tree, found quite a few just at the right stage and filled our bag with the pungent buds and leaves (sort of a mild celery/butterbur combo fragrance). When we got home, for lunch we had some of the larger leaf clusters boiled and topped with bonito shavings and soy sauce. Delicious mild flavor, with a unique and delightful semi-crunchy mouthfeel, sort of a cross between broccoli and spinach.
After lunch we looked at the book we'd gotten our only image from, compared it with what we'd gathered and seen: the stem in the photo was much darker and speckled, unlike the actual item, which moreover wasn't undergrowth, as we'd assumed from the picture, but a tall slender tree.
Once you get to know them, trees are more instructive than books about trees.