Mizuna is a mild-flavored Japanese mustard that is commonly grown for commercial salad mixes. It has lobed green leaves and a pleasant bitter taste. Mizuna is a close relative to the turnip, but has a flavor all its own. Ridiculously easy to grow, it re-grows well when harvested as a cut-and-come-again green. The fringed, serrated leaves add decoration and spice to salads and are crisp enough to hold up to light blanching or sautéing. The purple-leaved varieties are especially pretty when used in cooking. Traditional Japanese chefs tend to pickle the leaves and use them as a condiment. Pay attention the next time you visit a Japanese restaurant and you may see this green topping your favorite dishes.
In certain climates, mizuna is a biennial, although plants may go to seed after their first year, if left in the ground. You can over-winter this green in a cold frame, hoop house, or greenhouse, but plan on eating it before it starts to flower. Most gardeners prefer to plant mizuna by seed as an annual, alongside other salad greens. Baby greens can be harvested in about 20 days; full heads should form around day 40.
|Botanical Name||Brassica rapa nipposinica or japonica|
|Common Name||Mizuna kyona, shui cai|
|Plant Type||biennial green|
|Mature Size||5 to 7 inches high, and 10 to 15 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||3 to 4 hours of full sun daily|
|Soil Type||well-drained soil with rich, organic matter|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7.0|
|Hardiness Zones||4 through 9|
|Native Area||Kansai region of Japan|
How to Grow Mizuna
Sow seeds directly in your outdoor garden or start seeds indoors four to five weeks before your last frost date. Seeds are quick to germinate, usually within four to eight days. Transplant indoor-grown seedlings when they are at least four weeks old.
Begin sowing outdoors about two weeks before your last frost date. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in your garden bed, spaced at 1 inch apart. You can also broadcast the seed (dispersing it over a large section of your garden). Broadcasting may result in seed waste, however, as some seeds may not be sown deep enough to propagate. Thin and eat baby greens when they are a couple of inches tall. If you are growing full-sized heads of mizuna, thin plants to at least a 6-inch spacing.
Mizuna grows best in sunny spots that receive 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. However, this plant thrives in cool weather, making spring and fall crops abundant. It is slow to bolt, but hot temperatures and long sunny days may accelerate the process.
Mizuna likes well-drained soil amended with rich, organic matter. Since Mizuna is a leafy crop, it also thrives in soil with plenty of nitrogen. This green will grow in a soil pH from 6.0 to 7.5, but something in the 6.5 to 7.0 range is best.
Keep your garden soil evenly moist for best-growing results. If soil is too wet, mizuna roots may rot. If it is too dry, the plants may fail to thrive.
Temperature and Humidity
Like most greens, mizuna favors the cool weather of spring and fall to make it flourish. Hot temperatures will eventually cause the green to bolt.
Chemical fertilizers should never be used on greens meant for consumption. Mizuna should get enough nutrients from soil heavily composted with organic materials. If an extra boost is needed, try spraying a dilute fish emulsion solution on the plants midseason, then wash thoroughly before eating.
Varieties of Mizuna
Most seed packets are simply labeled "mizuna," however, sourcing specialty seeds will allow you to grow varieties with the traits you like and will help guarantee the success of next year's crop. Here are some gardener favorites:
- Komatsuma: This plant has slender leaves and is very drought and frost tolerant.
- Kyona: This green with frilly leaves on pencil-thin stalks is great when eaten fresh.
- Kyoto: A plant with deeply serrated leaves and a pleasant bite.
- Red Komatsuna: This variety is not as robust as the other green types, but it's very flavorful.
- Vitamin Green: This vitamin-rich green has smooth, dark green leaves and is slow to bolt.
Maintenance and Care
Mizuna is a fast maturing plant, making it relatively low maintenance. All you need to do is make sure it stays watered. Succession planting every two weeks will assure a longer harvest period. Then, take a break during the heat of the season and resume planting late in the summer, continuing through fall. Seeds can be harvested and saved for up to four years.
Pests & Problems
Mizuna is not prone to the usual brassica diseases, but, unfortunately, it is attractive to some pests. Flea beetles do the most damage to this leafy green and row covers help to minimize its exposure to the pests. Slugs, whiteflies, and aphids can also harm the leaves if not kept in check.
Uses of Mizuna
Mizuna is used as a salad ingredient, where it adds a distinct flavor. You can also use the fresh leaves on sandwiches and add them to stir-fries. The more tender the leaves, the less cooking it requires.
These greens also make a nice side dish on their own, blending well with Asian spices or simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil. The dish Mizuna Ichiyazuke ("overnight soaking pickles") is made with mizuna greens, salt, and dried red chili (Togarashi).