Japan’s Gifts of Herbalism Adventure

On a recent and very first trip to Japan, my number one objective for a souvenir was procuring a suribachi, a Japanese style mortar and pestle, suggested by Rosalee De La Forêt in her herbal-doubling-as-a-cookbook, Alchemy of Herbs, as one she liked. I love Japan, its people and especially its design aesthetic, so the book prompt immediately intrigued me. Since most of my family has lived there, one was born and raised there, and all speak the language fluently (I’m learning it), ties to the Land of the Rising Sun are strong.

The mortar and pestle is used to grind herbs. I could have purchased a very nice suribachi online; however, since I was going to be visiting Nihon, I wanted the tool to come with an adventure!

Visiting southern Japan in Fukuoka, I happened upon a kitchenware store. Numerous pots and pans and other gadgets adorned the shelves. Practical. Useful. Chef’s tools. So I asked the lady at the counter and sure enough, they had several suribachi to choose from. She prefaced her guidance to the right department, stating that suribachi are a very old method and not used that often, yet they had so very many in stock, right in front of the store entrance. I was given instruction on how to clean them, as the grooves tend to need a toothpick for finishing touches. Not low maintenance? I knew it and yet, it did not deter me. I was on a quest. My first Herbalism quest. And I was successful!

First the bowls, or mortar, then the very special pestles were displayed. I was sold the minute I saw the little tree branches that served as a pestle. They still had the bark on them! Other than some shaping on either end, they served as a perfect example of great Japanese design that honors nature. In this instance it was not just a nod, but nature herself. The pristine white mortar coupled with the branch-like pestle reminded me of the barren, ethereal trees in winter on Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan across from Siberia, where abundant snow is called yuki (雪)…

Fuki, or Giant butterbur.

…which is not to be confused with fuki, or Petasites japonicus, also known as butterbur, giant butterbur, great butterbur, Japanese sweet coltsfoot and bog rhubarb, among others. It is in the Asteraceae family, one of, if not the largest, with 1,620 genera and 23,600 species according to one source, and 483 genera and 4653 taxa by another. Also known for my good friends, Daisy and Marigold (Calendula officinalis), this member of the Asteraceae family grows prolifically on Hokkaido, seen  along roadsides and especially near boggy soil or bodies of water. On my travels I kept seeing this giant, primordial-looking plant. I knew I had to investigate. On a riverside hike I saw a very large area growing this plant in abundance. I fully expected a brontosaurus or other dinosaur to emerge, chomping on the massive herb, wondering why I had happened upon its mealtime. At a maximum span of five feet across, I believe fuki could indeed match size for size with the appetite of a hefty dino.

According to many articles and databases on the herb, much is not fully understood on the plant’s toxicity, despite being promoted as a culinary herb or vegetable in Japan and its historic use in both Western Herbalism and in the East as medicinal, particularly as an analgesic. I look forward to further discovery.


The heart of Botaniscape™ and budding Herbalist, Lori McClellan sees the Art of Herbalism as her lifelong connection to Nature manifested most fully—another exciting medium and source of abundant joy. An Author, Artist and Poet, creating as Loretta Boyer McClellan, her works as a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; conscious PR, brand, graphic design, and communications; and as an Arts instructor, journalist and artist, “sized the canvas,” so to speak, for a fruitful life of expression, connection and inspiration. Author of The Nature of BEing: A Healing Journey, The Misthaven of Maine Series, and Dodging Raindrops: Poems and Prose of Beauty, Peace and Healing, Lori creates from a place of pure love and devotion. Writing, meditating, painting, and her relationship with Nature and all beings, most tangibly through Herbalism, are her connection to the Infinite. 

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