Traditional Japanese

What is nana (seven) kusa (herb) gayu (porridge) ?


We, Japanese people, have a lot of washoku traditions. It’s only the 7th January, but this washoku tradition will be the second event of the year after osechi ryori.

Today, on 7 January, we eat Nanakusa gayu. Nana means seven, kusa shows herbs and gayu is a word for porridge.

This Nanakusa gayu tradition starts from the Edo era and it spread all over Japan. But the actual origin of this custom date to the ancient Chinese era called Tang (618-907). This custom was brought to Japan before Edo era, called Heian era (794-1189), and it connected with the ancient Japanese new year custom called ” waka (on New Year Day) na (herbs) tsumi (nip) ” and has been adopted in Japan from Edo era (1615-1865) and known today as Nanakusa gayu.

Nanakusa gayu, nowadays, has a purpose which is to purge noxious vapours and provide a good state of health over the year, even though there are different ingredients depending on the religion in Japan.

What are the seven herbs for Nanakusa gayu?

There is a very unique way to remember the seven herbs for Nanakusa gayu to use tanka rhythm.

Seri – Nazuna – Gogyo – Hakobera – Hotokenoza – Suzuna – Suzushiro

Each ingredient has different a medical virtue such as nutritional enhancement and intestinal function with a lucky charm meanings after the name. Let’s find out 🙂

  1. Seri, Water dropwort has the meaning of compete and win!
  2. Nazuna, Shepherd’s purse, will wipe and remove the dirt.
  3. Gogyo, Cudweed, has the meaning of Buddha’s body.
  4. Hakobera, Chickweed, has the meaning of spread the prosperity.
  5. Hotokenoza, Henbit, has the meaning of the place Buddha sat.
  6. Suzuna, Tunip, has the meaning of the bell for calling God.
  7. Suzushiro, Daikon radish, has the meaning of pure white.

We cut these seven herbs on the night of 6th January while singing the song called “Nanakusa Hayashi”

Nowadays, people don’t sing this song while cutting the ingredients in the same way that we don’t pick the herbs. In Japan, you can find a plastic pack of seven herbs at a grocery super market after 3rd January. We, in Australia, can’t find the packaging of those herbs unfortunately. The best substitute would be white radish.

How to make nanakusa gayu

So very easy!

  1. Prepare some cooked rice, left over rice would be fine and seven herb or white radish and spring onions.
  2. Wash all herbs and chop into small pieces.
  3. Pour the water into a pot, adding rice over medium heat. Once the grains of rice swell and become porridge reduce heat medium-low to simmer.
  4. Add salt to your taste then add all chopped herbs to blend to taste. Bring to just to simmer then remove from heat and serve it!

Itadakimasu 🙂


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