One year old wasabi plant in western NC
There is a rising interest in growing wasabi, again. Yes, we can grow it in western North Carolina. Here is a little information about it from a project I was involved in, Washington State University, and some other websites.
In 2002, Randy Collins, extension agent in Graham County, led a wasabi growing project working with an organic farmer there. Here is what I wrote about that project:
Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is an aquatic perennial plant that is highly prized for the culinary use of its root. The rhizome has a hot flavor similar to horseradish, and is eaten freshly grated or ground into a paste. Wasabi is commonly used in sushi restaurants worldwide; the antibacterial properties of the root make it an excellent condiment for raw fish. While the majority of the wasabi used in the United States is imported, the climate in certain areas of western North Carolina is remarkably similar to that of Japan, and likely suitable for the cultivation of this plant. Demand consistently exceeds supply for this crop, and restaurants are willing to pay top dollar for it (as much as fifteen dollars per fresh root). Given the established market and appropriate climate for growing this plant, wasabi is a potential niche cash crop for western NC. The wasabi plants were grown in a clean mountain stream. Many of the varieties succumbed to disease, including Phytopthora rot in the roots and Rhizoctonia rot in the crowns. Disease was less prevalent in the more heavily shaded areas of the test plot, suggesting that additional shade may alleviate some of the conditions that foster disease. The plants that survived that first year are still growing now. The plants for this project were provided from a tissue culture project at Clemson University. The varieties were numbered, thus we do not know what the variety names are of the ones that survived. The take home message from this project is that wasabi will grow here, but when buying wasabi plants, look for resistance to the diseases we encountered.
Several other people have tried growing wasabi in the mountains with varying degrees of success. All that I am aware of grew them in natural streams and springs. This eft them very vulnerable to droughts and floods. I suggest that new growers look at production systems that would give them more control over water flow. The publications below give some examples.
There is commercial production of wasabi in Washington state and Washington State University has done research on growing wasabi and published some good production information. I suggest you consult this guide: Growing Wasabi in the Pacific Northwest: http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/pnw0605/pnw0605.pdf
Here is a detailed wasabi growing project report from Tasmania:
There is a Carolinas' based wasabi company, Real Wasabi that manufacturers all kinds of wasabi products. The headquarters is in SC and the wasabi farm is in NC:
It can be challenging to find wasabi plants for sale. I have seen them at herb festivals and tailgate markets. Here are some commercial online sources for them:
Mountain Gardens http://www.mountaingardensherbs.com/ (garden scale)
Pacific Coast Wasabi http://www.wasabia.com/ (commercial scale & contract growing)
Pacific Farms http://www.freshwasabi.com/ (plants unavailable at time of this post; but check back)
Richters http://richters.com/ (garden scale)