Eating tree leaves may sound strange, but it works with linden trees, with moringa, and, in the Chinese kitchen, with chun.
Also known as xiang chun, “aromatic chun,” some people refer to it as the Chinese vegetable tree.
Botanically, Xiangchun 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 plant growing between here and there, so well.
Xiangchun 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. They do work well enough, though.
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.
Branch and Break
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.
I have to correct myself from my first version of this post, where I wrote that I had not seen branches break off, anyways. They most definitely do break off at times.
Leaf Fall and Frost
An even more peculiar 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. Rather, they remained on the tree until they froze 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.)
Another strange thing has also become visible:
The younger xiangchun has started to produce offspring from its roots. Most of them are close to the mother plant, but two have come up at a bit of a distance from it.
One aspect that I’m still working on is that of pruning, cutting back the trees.
Thing is, I have found that cutting them back results in some of the exposed wood dying off. The trees only regenerate from buds further down.
My wife says that they are not cut back in China, they are just left to grow.
Only, doing that, they soon reach heights at which any new growth can no longer be harvested. Or the branches become so unstable that they just break off.
It may be that the xiangchun shoots are harvested to such an extent in the spring that the trees have to regenerate from buds further down. Maybe that way, they also end up growing bushier, less tall.
They definitely do exhibit strong growth and regenerative ability, so it’s easy enough to experiment with them.
Still, I have not found an approach yet which I would consider definitely advisable.
Xiangchun is 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.