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Botanical Name : Zanthoxylum piperitum
Synonyms : Fagara piperita
Common Names : Japanese pepper, Japanese pricklyash, or Sansh (Japanese)
Habitat :Zanthoxylum piperitum is native to E. Asia – N. China, Japan, Korea. It grows in scrub and hedges in hills and mountains in Japan.
Zanthoxylum piperitum is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft). The tree blooms in April to May, forming axillary flower clusters, about 5mm, and yellow-green in color. It is dioecious, and the flowers of the male plant can be consumed as hana-sansh, while the female flowers yield berries or peppercorns of about 5mm. For commercial harvesting, thornless varieties called the Asakura sansho are widely cultivated. Around September to October, the berries turn scarlet and burst, scattering the black seeds within.The plant is not self-fertile.
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The branch grows pairs of sharp thorns, and has odd-pinnately compound leaves, alternately arranged, with 5?9 pairs of ovate leaflets having crenate (slightly serrated) margins.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.
Easily grown in loamy soils in most positions, but prefers a good deep well-drained moisture retentive soil in full sun or semi-shade. A very ornamental plant, it is hardy to about -15°c. Flowers are formed on the old wood. The bruised leaves are amongst the most powerfully aromatic of all leaves. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Self-sown seedlings have occasionally been observed growing in bare soil under the parent plant.
Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Stored seed may requires up to 3 months cold stratification, though scarification may also help. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Germination should take place in late spring, though it might take another 12 months. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers, removed in late winter and planted into their permanent positions.
The finely ground Japanese pepper, kona-zansh?, is nowadays usually sold in sealed packets, and individual serving sizes are included inside heat-and-serve broiled eel packages. While red chili pepper is never used on eel, otherwise, in many usages, the Japanese red chili pepper, or the shichimi blend of peppers can be used in lieu of Japanese pepper alone, according to taste: e.g., to flavor miso soup, various noodles in broth or dipped in tsuyu, Japanese pickles (tsukemono), teriyaki or fried chicken.
Young leaves and shoots, pronounced ki no mé or ko no mé (Japanese: lit. “tree-bud”) herald the spring season, and often garnish grilled fish and soups. They have a distinctive flavor and is not to the liking of everyone. It is a customary ritual to put a leaf between cupped hands, and clap the hands with a popping sound, this supposedly serving to bring out the aroma. The young leaves are crushed and blended with miso using pestle and mortar (suribachi and surikogi) to make a paste, a pesto sauce of sorts, and then used to make various aemono (or “tossed salad”, for lack of a better word). The stereotypical main ingredient for the resultant kinome-ae is the fresh harvest of bamboo shoots, but the sauce may be tossed (or delicately “folded”, to use a pastrymaking term) into sashimi, clams, squid or other vegetable such as tara-no-me (Aralia elata shoots).
The immature green berries, blanched and salted, are called ao-zansh? (lit. “green sansho”). The berries are traditionally simmered into dark-brown tsukudani, but nowadays are also available as shoyu-zuke, which is just steeped in soy sauce. The berries are also cooked with small fry fish and flavored with soy sauce (chirimen jako[ja]), a specialty item of Kyoto, since its Mount Kurama outskirts is a renowned growing area of the Japanese pepper.
The thornless variety Asakura sansho derives its name from its place of origin, the Asakura district in the now defunct Yokacho[ja], integrated into Yabu, Hy?go.
Wakayama Prefecture boasts 80% of domestic production. Aridagawa, Wakayama procuces a specialty variety called bud? sansh? (“grape sansho”), which bears large fruits and clusters, rather like a bunch of grapes.
In central and northeastern Japan, a non-sticky rice-cake type confection called goheimochi [ja], which is basted with miso-based paste and grilled, sometimes uses the Japanese pepper as flavor additive to the miso. Also being marketed are sansho flavored arare (rice crackers), snack foods, and sweet sansho-mochi.
Antiperiodic, antitussive, carminative, diuretic, parasiticide, stimulant. The fruit contains a essential oil, flavonoids and isoquinoline alkaloids. It is anthelmintic, antibacterial, antifungal and stomachic. It inhibits the synthesis of prostaglandin and, in larger doses, is toxic to the central nervous system. It is used in Korea in the treatment of tuberculosis, dyspepsis and internal parasites. The resin contained in the bark, and especially in that of the roots, is powerfully stimulant and tonic.
The husks are used medicinally. In traditional Chinese medicine it finds uses similar to the hua jiao or Sichuan pepper.
In Japanese pharmaceuticals, the mature husks with seeds removed are considered the crude medicine form of sansh?. It is an ingredient in bitter tincture[lange]. It also contains aromatic oils geraniol, dipentene, citral, etc.
Timber uses: The thick wood of the tree is traditionally made into a gnarled and rough-hewn wooden pestle, to use with the aforementioned suribachi.