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What is ”Nanakusa-gayu,” which Japanese people eat after the New Year?

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

The Benefits of the ”Nanakusa(Seven Herbs of Spring) for Good Health

Do you know that Japanese people eat "Nanakusa-gayu" (rice gruel with seven spring herbs) on January 7th? "Nanakusa," the seven herbs of spring, are the young shoots of seven different plants that have sprouted in early spring when it is still cold. Nanakusa-gayu is an eventful meal in which the seven herbs of spring are mixed into easily digestible porridge, hoping that it will bring in the life energy of the young sprouts and allow the Japanese to live a healthy life year free from illness. This article will introduce the nutritious and healthy "Nanakusa-gayu" and the "seven spring herbs."

Table of Contents

1. What is Nanakusa-gayu? Why do the Japanese eat it?

2. Introduction to the Seven Herbs of Spring

3. How to make Nanakusa-gayu

4. Food of the region that does not eat Nanakusa-gayu

5. Summary

1. What is Nanakusa-gayu? Why do the Japanese eat it?

The "Nanakusa; seven herbs of spring" are the seven species that sprout in early spring: Seri, Nazuna, Gogyo, Hakobera, Hotokenenoza, Suzuna, and Suzushiro. The porridge eaten on January 7th with the seven spring herbs is called "Nanakusa-gayu." In Japan, it is said that there are five "Sekku" (seasonal rites) in a year, and the first Sekku of the New Year falls on January 7th.

Since ancient times, there has been a custom in Japan to prepare special meals for Sekku to wish for a good harvest and good health, and Nanakusa-gayu is one of them. At this time in Japan, the New Year's mood starts to calm down as the seven herbs of spring appear in sets at supermarkets.

The custom of eating Nanakusa-gayu has taken root in the Edo period (1603-1868). Since January 7th is the last day of the New Year's period called "Matsu-no-uchi," people began to eat porridge, which is gentle on the stomach, to rest their tired stomachs after days of New Year feasts. Each of the seven spring herbs has its benefits, and from this point of view, Nanakusa-gayu, which we eat to wish good health, makes sense as an event food. There is no specific time to eat it, but we usually eat it for breakfast.

2. Introduction to the Seven Herbs of Spring

The "Seven Herbs of Spring" are all plants that sprout in early spring, and their young green shoots let us know that spring is not far away. They are all plants that are familiar to Japanese people. Even today, aside from big cities, in rural areas where rice fields are spread out, you can find some of these plants growing wild along the roadsides.

The seven herbs are effective in increasing appetite, diuretic, relieving hangovers, antipyretic, expectorant, cough suppressant, and preventing skin rashes. It is the perfect food to eat after New Year's when people tend to overeat and drink heavily, and in winter, they tend to catch colds.

1) Seri(Japanese parsley): A perennial herb of the parsley family that grows wild in the mountains and fields throughout Japan. Its name is derived from its growth in a "seri=competitive" manner. Its name comes from growing like a "seri-katsu" (compete and win) and is therefore associated with good luck. It has a unique aroma that stimulates the appetite, and it also has a beneficial effect on the stomach and intestines. It is also delicious as a salad or as a boiled dish.

2) Hotokenoza(=buddha's seat): A perennial plant in the Chrysanthemum family. The name "buddha's seat" suggests that it is auspicious. It has a bitter taste, so after boiling in salted water, you should soak it in running water before cooking. We also eat it as a tsukudani (food cooked in soy sauce and Japanese pepper) or tempura. It is said to have stomachic and intestinal effects.