Myoga (ミョウガ)

Myoga is a term that refers to a herbaceous perennial belong to the family Zingiberaceae, genus Zingiber (scientific name: Zingiber mioga). Myoga has been used as a food.

Myoga originated in East Asia (in the Temperate Zone). Although it is sometimes found in the mountains of Japan, Myoga is considered to have been imported from the Asian continent and grown in Japan because it's normally found only in areas in which people have lived in the past, there is no wild species and the chromosome is abnormal (the basic number x=11, 2n5x55). The spikes and stems of sprouts are used for food. Myoga is monoecious, and the perfect flowers carry both pistils and stamens. However, because they are pentaploid the number of chromosomes is rarely the same as that of their parents, even if fertilization is made. Therefore, reproduction is generally accomplished by underground stems through trophozoite multiplication. However, they infrequently bear fruit in the summer or autumn, when it is hot. Stem-like objects over the ground having leaves are called pseudostems because they bear no flowers at their ends.

Myoga as a foodstuff

Spikes, which are normally called Hana-myoga or Myoga, each include three to 12 flower buds. Therefore, this portion is sometimes also called the Karai (flower bud). However, the sprouts, which have been etiolated and become pink-colored in the weak light, are called Myoga-take. While Hana-myoga can be harvested in late summer and early fall and enjoyed as an autumn foodstuff, Myoga-take is a foodstuff of spring.

They are welcomed by people because of their special fragrance and pink color. They are used as a spice for soba, somen, etc. In this case, they are used as a condiment vegetable. Additionally, they're used as an independent foodstuff for other foods, such as tempura, su-no-mono, miso soup, etc. Myoga is a summer vegetable. Farmers frequently grow Myoga as a spice in shady places together with Sansho (Japanese pepper) and Mitsuba (Japanese honewort) in their fruit orchards, gardens or homestead woodlands.

The fragrance component is a-pinene. The pink color component is malvidin, a kind of anthocyanin that is a water-soluble plant pigment. The malvidin combines with a molecule of glucose in a plant to become malvidin monoglucoside.

Although it is said that people tend to lose the ability to remember things if they eat Myoga, it contains no such component. Conversely, it has recently become cler that it contains a fragrance component that increases the ability to concentrate. Myoga contains large amounts of organic components, such as nitrogen and potassium, and a large amount of vegetable fiber (crude fiber).

Origin of the name

When Shoga (ginger) and Myoga were imported from the Asian continent, those with a strong fragrance were called Senoka (strong fragrance) and those with a weak fragrance were called Menoka (weak fragrance). It is said that the term "Senoka" has since changed to "Shoga" and the term "Menoka" has changed to Myoga.
Significantly, there is folklore on the origin of the name, as follows:

Handoku SHURI (the original pronunciation of his name in Sanskrit was Pantaka Chura), a disciple of Buddha, was instructed by Buddha to wear a nametag because SHURI frequently forgot his own name. However, SHURI forgot the fact that he was wearing the nametag, and at last he died without remembering his own name. After his death, an unfamiliar plant was found growing beside Handoku SHURI's tomb. The plant was named after SHURI's effort to remember his own name, being called Myoga, of which the two Kanji characters (茗荷) literally mean "to carry a name."

Although this story, together with the above story of losing the ability to remember, has become popular as folklore called "Myoga-yado," the authenticity has not been proved academically.

Others

A station in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo Prefecture, is called Myogadani Station. The name originated from the fact that Myoga was actively grown in areas around the station until the Edo period.

In order to survive in the struggle for lands, many samurais in the Sengoku period preferred to use a picture of Myoga as their symbol on the battlefield, because the pronunciation of the term Myoga is the same as that of the term (冥加), which means luck. Variations of the Myoga symbol, such as Kage-myoga and Nabeshima-myoga, are famous.

In some parts of Japan, cakes containing Myoga are still eaten, such as Myoga-mochi (Gifu Prefecture) and Myoga-manju (Kumamoto Prefecture).

Major production areas

(Hana-)Myoga

Kochi Prefecture (year-round cultivation in plastic greenhouses)

Gunma Prefecture (open cultivation)

Akita Prefecture (open cultivation)

Myoga-take

Miyagi Prefecture (branching cultivation)