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Apr 12, 2007 04:57 AM

Weeping willow salad?

Recently in Beijing I had a sort of salad that was made from the buds and leaves of a weeping willow, at least that's what my in-laws said it was. Does anyone know about this? What is it called? Which species of tree is it from? Could I ever find it in the US?

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  1. Did the leaves appear to be fermented? Weeping willow leaves are supposed to be very bitter and medicinal, but as they are sometimes used as an adulterant for tea, I'm wondering if you didn't have something similar to the famous Burmese tea leaf salad.

    I believe the weeping willow in the US is an identical species to the one in China.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      They were definitely fresh. The in-laws said you can only get them this time of year when the trees are budding.

      1. re: lucybobo

        The leaves you had were probably 椿叶("Chunye") the tree they come from is Cedrela sinensio--if there is an English, as opposed to Chinese or Latin name for this tree I don't know it but would love to--anyway, this tree is quite common in the North China Plain (i.e. North of the Yellow River)--and the leaves are a favorite spring "wild" food (sort of like fiddleheads in some parts of the US), often served with scrambled eggs, or in soup. They used to be only available in March and April, but when I was in Beijing in early April this year a friend there told me that they are now being grown in greenhouses as well, and "forced" year round. I've never seen them in any Asian or Chinese market in the states, but I'm on the east coast, so can't speak about the west coast.

        1. re: qianning

          Here's a link to some information about the tree you mention. At least, I think it's the tree you mention. My Chinese dictionary says of the tree whose name in Chinese is 椿叶 "Chinese toon, deciduous tree with fragrant, edible tender leaves."
          Gary, I think this isn't a weeping willow (emphasis on 'think'), since willow is 柳.

          1. re: qianning

            Accoprding to my own Googling (and Baidu-ing) Cedrela Sinensis (I couldn't find Cedrealsinensio) sounds like the culprit:

            "Called 'stir fry' tree because you can pick the new leaves,
            which are tender and have the flavor of leeks and use them in delicious
            stir fries, salads or other dishes."


            Howver, the Chinese would appear to be 香椿 (xiang chun), not 椿叶. 椿叶 resolves to Zanthoxylum ailanthoides, which also has edible young leaves, but is mostly used for its peppercorn-like fruit as a condiment. The rub is that 椿叶 is said to be native to South China and Japan, and frost-sensitive. 香椿, on the other hand is apparently cold-resistant.

            It's called "Chinese Cedar" in English, but according to the source above was marketed as the "chop suey tree" ;-)

            1. re: Gary Soup

              thanks for the info Gary & Michael, now that you point it out I'm pretty sure I've seen this as 香椿"xiang chun" on various menus in Beijng, Hebei & Henan, so probably Cedrela Sinensis it is (got the "sinensio" and 椿叶from my old Yuan Dong Dictionary, which is years out of date), which I take it is called "Chinese Toon Tree"--what a name! Or is it "Chinese Cedar" ? But whatever the case they are tasty, especially with scrambled eggs.

              Anyone ever seen these leaves for sale in the States?

              And another Chinese veg I've been looking for is forced/blanched garlic shoots (黃蒜, I think!) NOT forced garlic chive (韭菜) shoots--different flavor, but the two look similar, and so far I can only find the latter.

              1. re: qianning

                yes, you can find it in oriental grocery store. it is preserved. i and several chinese friends have the tree growing in the yard, so that we can have also fresh ones. Looking the local nursery stores. They all taste great!

                1. re: sandsoppa

                  "Food Plants of China," written by Shiu-ying Hu, published by the Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, has this on the topic:
                  "Toona sinensis (Jussieu) . . . Cedrela (Syn. Cedrela sinensis Jussieu) (香椿, Fragrant Ailanthus) Tender leafy shoots, only small amount used, choped for making omelets; an early spring favorite in northern China. Deciduous, strongly aromatic trees 10-15 m high . . . . Introduced to USA in 1862, Growing well in Boston area."

                  BTW, I picked up this tome for a song from Cheng-Tsui.

                  1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                    thanks for the book tip, i'll keep an eye open for it.

                2. re: qianning

                  Amherst Chinese Food, a restaurant in Amherst, Massachusetts associated with Chang Farm of Whately, MA grows and sells several odd vegetables including cedrala (oniony sprigs of willow like leaves) with egg and schisandra ("Sandraberry") juice. Just tried the cedrala - pungent and good. They often have a stand at the Amherst farmers market and they sell packaged bean sprouts under the name "Mr. Chang's" in the northeast US with the address on it. The garlic thing you describe is also in season now and is sold by lots of local farmers as "garlic scapes" - it's usually trimmed from the plant now to increase garlic yield later. They are green moderately tender 1/4 inch thick 18 inch long twisted stems with a little bulb at one end. They get woody if left too long, I think.

        2. There are lots of wild plants to eat in spring time in China. There Is weeping willow, AS WELL as the fragrant Chun that others have posted about. They all exist and not just one or the other. As I've posted elsewhere before about this, that i have Henan natives here in Queens who were getting cravings for the willow leave salad. It is not the same as 香椿.

          Below is a link to two items to eat in spring time China. I'm sorry, but it's in Chinese. It mentions willow leave buds, and a kind of flower buds for eating.

          The white flower I've had the pleasure of eating and is indeed delicious! Here's a link to a not too clear picture:

          It's the one on the upper rightish side between the two bowls of noodles.

          As for 香椿, it's something I've always heard of and tried to look for. I've come across pickled and preserved ones, but they are just very salty and well, pickled, so I'm sure not the same as fresh.

          Soon, I'm sure we will have them here in NY.....

          4 Replies
          1. re: HLing

            Thanks that really cleared up several questions, I've never had the chance to try either the locust flower or the weeping willow. If you can find the Xiang Chun I do reccommend it. Also, if you are ever in Hebei or Henan in early summer the daylily buds (fresh not dried) are wonderful!

            1. re: qianning


              I have been wondering about the Xiang Chun for years now...I can only imagine it fresh. I'll definitely jump at the chance to taste it should it comes by way.

              The pictures I linked to was indeed taken in early May in Zhengzhou, Henan. If I ever get to go again I will keep my eye out for the daylily. You mean Bai3 He2 right?

              1. re: HLing

                this time of year, 香椿 and fresh tofu salad can be had on the outskirts of beijing in what we urbanites like to affectionately call 'farmer food'.

                then there are also fiddlehead fern(?) salad yeah?

                1. re: leonleebaoyan

                  this year, about 3 weeks ago, i realized that there were 3 trees in the park near me that are possibly the Chinese Toon that I've been after! The trunks were darker in color than most trees, the buds came out quite early in the spring, and ....I was too short to reach!