Eating tree leaves may sound strange, but it works with linden trees, with moringa, and most interesting of all, with chun. Also known as xiang chun, aromatic chun, some people refer to it as the Chinese vegetable tree.
Botanically, chun is Toona sinensis; earlier it was also labeled as Cedrela sinensis.
Admittedly, I find it particularly interesting because it fits into my AustroHunan approach, the mixture of plants and kitchens and garden growing between here and there, so well.
Chun is a typical spring vegetable in China.
Its name alone sounds like the Chinese word for spring; its character also contains the one for spring.
And it is in spring, of course, that chun puts out its new shoots and thus is ready for harvesting.
I don’t get bundles of fresh young shoots that are quite as beautiful as those found at Chinese markets from my plants.
Gardening / Growing Experience and Growth
I do however have two chun growing in my garden, one somewhat older and larger, the other grown more recently, but growing very well.
It is a plant that is fast-growing, anyways. Not only their growth habit and leaf shape is reminiscent of ailanthus trees, they also grow similarly fast.
Part of that, though, is that they throw out long and slender shoots, soon turning into branches, which rapidly grow upwards. Thus, one would need to cut them regularly and radically. Or one gets trees which are relatively prone to branches breaking off – or at least looking as if they were.
Actually, I can barely ever remember any branches breaking off (except when they were diseased). The wind blows them about very strongly, though.
An oddity I have experienced was chun losing its leaves through some problem relatively early in the year, then re-growing and not losing its leaves in the fall, in the regular way, but only after they freeze off.
Frost hardiness at least doesn’t seem to be any problem; my chun trees have had serious frost (down to -20 Celsius) and regrew without any problems. (Well, the very tips may have frozen off.)
Chun is also very interesting because of its special flavor. It is often, and rather fittingly, described as being similar to roast onions.
In traditional use, the leaves first get blanched. I have found a mention of chun leaves supposedly being toxic if not blanched first, but I have not found any scientific literature that would confirm that. (Scientific literature is not good when it comes to talking about culinary uses, though.)
One can find confirmation, however, of chun leaves being rich in vitamin E, ascorbic acid, calcium and iron, as well as protein.