Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Japanese knotweed

1.  When I was a child in the 1952-54 period I lived at the top of Denmark Hill [London Borough of Southwark] the fields we used to play on were the remains of Lord Bessemer’s estate.  Japanese knotweed grew in various places.  When it was summer we used to chew the stems; we called it wild rhubarb.  In the winter we used to smoke the dried stems [Nunhead, London, June 2016].

2.  I grew up in Desborough, Northamptonshire, in the 1920s … In our garden was a large clump of Japanese knotweed, our ‘sugar cane’. We pulled off the maturing flowers, pretending they were sugar [Robertsbridge, East Sussex, June 2003].

3. When we were children, in Sea Mills, in Bristol, about 25 + years ago, we used to call Japanese knotweed wild rhubarb. It grew in huge spreading clumps alongside our local stream, the River Trym. We used to eat it on a daily basis. We snapped the stem and ate the flesh on the inside by running our teeth up it. It tasted like rhubarb, hence our name for it. We would eat several sticks a week. If we were thirsty we would eat the fleshy innards of the stem as it was refreshing. Sometimes there would be fluid in the stems, presumably produced by the plant. Very rhubarby! We even took it home and dipped it in sugar. I don’t remember anyone ever being ill from eating it, but we were very hardy kids and used to eat lots of stuff growing in the local woods [anon., July 2002].

Image: Clapham Junction, London Borough of Wandsworth; February 2014.