How to Grow, Harvest and Eat Hostas

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Robert Pavlis

It’s hard to find an ornamental garden without at least a couple of Hosta, but did you know hostas can be grown as perennial vegetables? Hostas, also called plantain lilies, have found their way into almost every garden in Zones 3 through 8, and for good reason – they’re resilient, beautiful, drought tolerant, shade tolerant, and low-maintenance yet not aggressive. For the same reasons, hostas make a wonderful addition to a perennial vegetable garden.

How to Grow, Harvest and Eat Hosta

How to Grow, Harvest and Eat Hosta, harvesting shoots, source: Practical Self Reliance

Hosta are an Asian Delicacy

Hosta are native to Japan, Korea and China and Hosta montana has been eaten for centuries in Japan. They’re called “urui” and grow wild in forests, riverbanks, and mountains. The entire plant of any Hosta species is edible, but the tender young shoots and unfurled leaves are considered the most delicious. Older leaves and stems are usually too tough and bitter. Hosta shoots taste like the lovechild between lettuce and asparagus, without any of the woodiness of the latter.

In Japan, hosta shoots and young leaves are sold at supermarkets. Blanched hostas, which are grown under buckets, in mounded soil or in dark greenhouses, are especially popular. Without light, the leaves and stems become much paler, thinner, and therefore more tender. Blanched hosta shoots are called yuki urui in Japanese, which charmingly translates to “snow icicles”.

Blanched hosta
Blanched hosta, source: Edimentals

How to Grow Hosta

To be honest, it’s extremely difficult to mess up planting and growing hosta – they can survive the most intense neglect and can grow in a wide range of soil types.

Plant Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

First, select a spot in part to full shade because leaves tend to get dry and crispy in full sun. Heavier shade is best for blue and deep green hostas, but some variegated and yellow-green hostas need more light to avoid reverting to their original, vigorous green state. Lighting is less important when growing hosta for food because we’re after the shoots and not the look of the leaves.

If you’re starting with a container grown plant, simply dig a hole the same depth as the container but slightly wider. Place the plant inside so the top of the roots is level with the soil surface, then fill with soil and water every day or two until it’s established. If you’re really keen you can amend the soil with some compost or manure. Alternatively, you can just divide any existing hosta you have, or harvest from plants already growing in inconspicuous areas on your property.

All species and cultivars of hosta are edible, though it’s said the best tasting ones are H. montana, H. fortunei, H. ‘Sagae’, H. sieboldii and H. sieboldiana. Flavors vary slightly between species and cultivars, so you may need to do some trial and error to see which one suits your palette. Lighter green varieties are generally preferred if you intend to eat the leaves. The larger the hosta, the larger the harvest, so aim to grow large or medium sized plants. There are miniature types (also called “mouse ears”) that you can try if you’re low on space or can only grow in containers.

How to Harvest Hosta

To harvest shoots, you can simply cut them off with a sharp knife or shears. It’s best to wait until the shoots are at least 5 inches long so that you can leave a couple of inches behind. Leaving behind part of the shoots ensures the plant can grow new leaves and get the energy it needs to overwinter and produce next year’s harvest.

When growing any kind of perennial vegetable, you’ll need to exercise some restraint when harvesting. You can harvest each plant one to two times per season, though larger and older plants might survive more harvesting. If you harvest the shoots too much, the plant may become smaller the next year, or fail to come back altogether. Having multiple plants to harvest from ensures you can enjoy this seasonal vegetable to its fullest.

It’s important to note that hosta can be poisonous to dogs and cats. Don’t feed your pets any of your harvest, no matter how much they beg!

Building Natural Ponds book, by Robert Pavlis

Hosta Maintenance

If you’ve grown hosta before, you know that maintenance is basically non-existent. You could do some weeding in the bare soil before the shoots come up, and between the young shoots to maximize yield. When the leaves unfurl, they’ll shade out the weeds growing around the base of the plant, so you won’t have to weed all summer long. Mulch helps keep weeds away until the plant is large enough to self-weed. Leaves left on the soil at the end of the growing season make a nice mulch.

They are drought tolerant and need very little additional water. You will only need to water them if there’s a period of extended and severe drought.

Eventually, the plants might start growing on top of each other, which can impact the size of the shoots and leaves. Hostas can be divided at any time from spring to fall by simply cutting the root clump and removing the part that you need to move or discard.

Bacon wrapped hosta shoots
Bacon wrapped hosta shoots, source Practical Self Reliance

Recipe Ideas

Hosta shoots and leaves can be used in a range of different recipes – raw, steamed, fried, roasted, boiled, and pickled. The shoots can be used in place of asparagus or broccoli while the young leaves can replace lettuce, cabbage or bok choy. Open leaves are more bitter so they’re more of a spinach substitute. Hosta has a mild flavor so the dish will mostly take on the taste of whatever seasonings or sauces you use.

A good starting point for those new to eating hosta is to use Japanese-style recipes: salads with miso-ginger dressing, tempura with dipping sauce, or lightly stir fried with soy sauce and sesame. Smaller, younger parts can be eaten raw or lightly cooked, whereas older leaves should be cooked longer (i.e. boiled or steamed until tender). The flowers make a nice edible garnish for salads, soups, and drinks. You can also substitute the green vegetables in your tried-and-true recipes for Hosta shoots and leaves.

Here are some recipes:

Hosta tempura

Bacon-wrapped hostas

Grilled hosta skewers

Hosta salad with balsamic reduction

Hosta with miso mustard dressing

Hosta pasta with spring greens

Hosta kimchi

Pan Seared Hosta Shoots with Ramp Butter

Written by: Marika Li

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

2 thoughts on “How to Grow, Harvest and Eat Hostas”

  1. I’d like to try this but unfortunately, slugs & snails also appear to enjoy the taste of hostas & I very much doubt my plants would survive the twin depredations of gastropods & humans.
    I’ve yet to find an affordable & effective slug deterrent/eliminator.

    Reply

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