Ashitaba, which is the common name used in Japan, is botanically
known as Angelica keiskei or Angelica Keiskei Koidzumi. The
English translation of the Japanese word “Ashitaba” (アシタバ or
明日葉) is “Tomorrow’s Leaf”. Ashita means ‘tomorrow and ba
means ‘leaf.’ The name stems from the plant’s ability to quickly
regenerate new leaves after taking cuttings. This give an indication
of its potential for longevity of life.
Ashitaba is from the botanical species of Angelica, which derives
from the Latin for angel. The word keiskei is named for Ito
Keisuke, the 19th century Japanese botanist called the father of
modern Japanese botany.
Angelica keiskei is the only Angelica plant that exudes yellow sap
from the stem.
Ashitaba is indigenous to a small area called the Seven Islands of
Izu. Although traditionally referred to as the “Izu Seven” (伊豆七島
), there are in fact more than a dozen islands and islets. It is
endemic to Hachijō-jima island, which lies off the southern coast of
Japan. Ashitaba is also cultivated in the islands of Izu Ōshima,
Mikura-jima, Nii-jima, To-shima and parts of Honshū. It is also
commercially cultivated and harvested in Indonesia.
CULTURAL HISTORY of ASHITABA
Li Shizhen (Li Shih-chen; simplified Chinese: 李时珍; traditional
Chinese: 李時珍) was a medical doctor, scientist, pharmacologist,
herbalist and acupuncturist of the Ming dynasty. He lived from July
3, 1518 – 1593). His major contribution to clinical medicine was
his 27-year work, which is found in his scientific book Compendium
of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu).
The Compendium of Materia Medica is regarded as the most
complete and comprehensive medical and scientific book ever
written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. It lists all the
plants, animals, minerals, and other items that were believed to
have medicinal properties. It is the first written record of
The Compendium of Materia Medica was introduced into Japan
and presented to the Shogun by Razan Hayashi in 1606. Hayashi
Razan, also known as Hayashi Dōshun, was a Japanese
Neo-Confucian philosopher, serving as a tutor and an advisor to the
first four shoguns of the Tokugawa bakufu.
According to Japanese folklore and medicine, the yellow sap from
stems and stalks once used for external treatment of smallpox,
whereas the roots were used as diuretic, laxative, analeptic, and
galactagogue. Other uses for medical purposes would include a
remedy for bowel disturbances, arthritis, and immune diseases.
According to Chinese folklore and medicine, Ashitaba was believed
to activate Qi and Xue. In China it was used in the treatment of
menstrual problems, and was also believed to increase kidney yin
and yang qi. The Chinese also used it as a lactagogue to increase
The Japanese Neo-Confucianist philosopher and botanist, Kaibara
Ekken wrote in 1709 the book entitled Yamato honzō (Medicinal
herbs of Japan) which was a seminal study of Japanese plants. In
this book he descried Ashitaba using the name of ashitagusa (鹹草
), as “a powerful tonic drug.”
Ashitaba has been consumed as a vegetable and medicine for
many hundreds of years by inhabitants of Seven Islands of Izu . In
Japanese traditions, Ashitaba was used as a culinary staple, as it is
today. It was and is consumed as a vegetable, the leaves, roots
and stems eaten raw or cooked. Sometimes the roots are pickled.
There are many uses of Ashitaba in recipes, including in the
preparation of soba, tempura, socho, tea, and ice cream.