History of wasabi

Wasabi has been utilized in our daily lives for centuries. Here is a brief history of this spicy plant, which is native to Japan.

Scientific classification and origins of the name

~Wasabi is a botanical spice which is native to Japan~

The scientific name of wasabi is Wasabia japonica. The term “wasabia” is derived from the Japanese term wasabi, and Japonica comes from Japonicus (meaning “of Japan”), so the fact that the plant is native to Japan is really brought to life in the scientific name.
According to Honzo-Wamyo (a dictionary of medical herbs compiled in 918 by Fukane-no-Sukehito), in Japanese, wasabi was originally known as Yamaaoi (“yama” = mountain) because it was first observed in mountainous areas and that its leaves were similar in appearance to those of the Zeniaoi (mallow) plant
There is also a theory that because its heart-shaped leaves resemble those of the Aoi (hollyhock) plant and it grows along stream beds of mountain river valleys (“sawa”), it was, therefore, called Sawa-aoi, and then later shortened to “wasahi,” which eventually became wasabi. However, the true origin of the term “wasabi” remains unclear.

History of wasabi as food

Because wasabi naturally grows in the cold, clear flowing streams of deep mountain areas across Japan, historically it has been part of our daily lives, and has also been used for medicinal purposes as far back as the Nara period (710-793 AD). In Mie Prefecture, around the year 786, the Japanese Buddhist monk Kohbou-Daishi transplanted wild-growing wasabi in Mount Koya to the area surrounding the Chuzen-ji Temple.
In Yamaguchi Prefecture also, it is said that the fleeing Heike warriors defeated at the battle of Dannoura (1185) gathered wild-growing wasabi from the Kidani-kyo Gorge, used the roots to garnish sashimi of yamame (landlocked salmon) and deer, and also pickled and ate the stems and leaves of the plant.