Today’s plant for #WildEdibleWednesday is Sagittaria latifolia, or Duck Potato. It goes by many other names, such as Broadleaf Arrowhead, Indian Potato, and Wapato. Native to almost all of North America, it has become endemic throughout the world and is now one of the most widespread plants on earth. It is considered an invasive weed throughout much of Asia and Europe due to its tenacity and its ability to spread over large areas quickly. It is an aquatic plant, growing on muddy, calm shorelines in water less than two feet deep. Common companion plants often seen growing alongside it include willow, cattail, and buttonbush.
All parts of the plant are edible and it has no toxic mimics in North America. It has some limited medicinal uses (the leaves and root skins can be used as an anti-inflammatory poultice to stop bleeding and reduce swelling), but its roots are prized as a top-notch wild edible. The roots are round, starchy tubers slightly larger than a golf ball. When first pulled they look a bit like an onion. To harvest, simply pull the plant from the mud and cut the tuber off. If you want to harvest a large quantity of them, stick a pitchfork, shovel, or stave into the mud and pry upwards. The tubers are buoyant and will float to the surface when released from the mud. They are bitter raw, but are excellent roasted, boiled, fried, or used in soups and stews. They have the texture of a potato and the flavor of a chestnut. The roots can also be roasted, dried, and pounded into a flour for making bread. They make a highly nutritious survival food – if you can find a swampy area, lake, pond, or slow-moving river, scan the shores for Sagittaria. 3.5 ounces of the root contain approximately 100 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of protein. They are also high in phosphorous, potassium, iron and B vitamins. In a survival situation, high-calorie plants like these can be what sustain you until you’re able to secure animal protein or get rescued.
In fact, it was the humble duck potato that probably saved Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery from starvation. When the famous explorers endured the cold, wet winter of 1805-1806 at Fort Clatsop in what would become Oregon, game was scarce and supplies ran low. They reportedly purchased large quantities of duck potato from the nearby Chinook Indians to feed themselves and their men until the spring salmon run. Without this innocuous-looking plant, the most legendary explorers of their century would probably be no more than a footnote in history.