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Common Name: Bian Dou Cai
Sanicula chinensis is a perennial plant that can grow up to 0.60 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food.
Although no mention has been seen for this species, the leaves of at least two other members of the genus contain saponins[
Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish and make them easy to catch[
E. Asia - China, Japan, Korea.
Woods in low mountains all over Japan[
]. Shady slopes along roadsides, mixed forests or stream banks at elevations of 200 - 2300 metres in most of China[
We have very little information on this species and do not know if it will be hardy in Britain, though judging by its native range it should succeed outdoors in most parts of the country. The following notes are based on the general needs of the genus.
Succeeds in any moderately fertile well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade[
]. Strongly dislikes poor thin soils[
]. Prefers a loamy or calcareous soil[
Young leaves - cooked[
]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Seed - we have no information for this species but the following notes are for the related S. europaea.
Stratification improves the germination rate. If possible sow the seed in the autumn, sow stored seed as early in the year as possible. It is best to sow the seed in situ in a woodland soil under trees
If seed is in short supply it is probably wise to sow it in pots of woodland soil in a shady place in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a shady position in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
Division in spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer.