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Haitai Teachings

What is Chomeiso? 'The Long Life Herb of Okinawa'

by Christal Burnette 03 Apr 2024 0 Comments

Chomeiso

Peucedanum japonicum

Okinawan Dialect: Sakuna

Miyako Island: Chomigusa

Japanese Name: Botanbofu

Common Name: Chomeiso

Agricultural Classification: Vegetable (leaf stem vegetable variety)

Classification: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (Parsley Family)

Origin: Yonaguni Island, Yaeyama Islands

 
What if I told you there is a plant that increases your life span by one day every time you eat it? Well, according to Okinawan culture, that plant exists and its name is chomeiso. Chomeiso in Japanese characters is 長 (cho - long) 命 (mei- life) 草 (so - grass). In Okinawa folklore, eating one stalk of chomeiso increases your lifespan by one day. I couldn't tell you if this is made up or not, because I would need to know the day you die beforehand and calculate it afterward. I guess we'll never really know for sure now, will we?
Botanbofu is its official name, chomeiso is its common name, and sakuna is its name in Okinawan dialect. This plant is from Okinawa as its origins trace back to the Yaeyama islands of Okinawa. On other small islands surrounding Okinawa, such as Ishigaki island and Miyako island, which have their own, even rarer dialects, it is called chomigusa. I bet you were waiting for the English name, but alas, this plant is so rare and uncommon in Western areas, that there is no English name! Chomeiso (cho-may-so) is easy to pronounce, so we have decided to keep it like that. Just as the words geisha, sushi, and samurai were kept as is.
Chomeiso Flowers 
 
Chomeiso is a part of the parsley family. The parsley family includes veggies and plants you likely already know, such as carrots, celery, coriander, cumin, and...parsley, of course (duh). The plants in the parsley family are known for their aromatic flowering characteristic, including chomeiso, which blooms with tiny white flowers. While the aroma of the flowers is not so significant, the smell of a broken chomeiso leaf or stalk is a scent in itself. The smell and taste of chomeiso cannot be compared to anything one comes across in daily life. It has a very distinct smell which leads to its peculiar taste. Both its smell and taste are powerful but not overwhelming. Due to these strong factors, it is commonly used in stinky fish dishes, because its leaves complement pungent-smelling meat and somewhat mask it.
The conditions a plant grows under really tell about its personality. Chomeiso's personality is strong, and persistent, and enjoys a tough, salty life. Literally. Chomeiso contains more nutrition and is less susceptible to diseases when grown by the ocean in cliffy areas. Okinawa is an island with plenty of rain, salt flying everywhere, and typhoons to drown you (if you are outside by the ocean during a typhoon, which you certainly should not do. Seriously, never do that). While your rusting car can't handle it, chomeiso loves it. Most chomeiso grown for food and other products are not grown right by the sea, but close to it and by Okinawan farmers who know how to optimize growing conditions.
Chomeiso cultivated on a farm in Okinawa 
 
The most famous island for chomeiso cultivation is Yonaguni island. Yonaguni's population is only about 1,700 so there are more stalks of chomeiso than there are people! (go count each stalk yourself if you want to fact check me, I'll take you up on that bet) This plant that is virtually unheard of outside of Asia has likely contributed its part to the famous Okinawan longevity. The Okinawan people used chomeiso for coughs, colds, and fevers. However, in recent years, it has been researched to further confirm other health benefits. That concludes the story of Chomeiso here. By the way, you can try Chomeiso for yourself with Haitai's Chomeiso Tea found here. Yutashiku!
Yonaguni Island 
 
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