Wild Arkansas

October 18, 2008

Wild Arkansas: The Ever Evasive Apios

Filed under: Apios americana, Edible plants, foraging, nuts — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 2:39 pm

Photo courtesy of kgnaturephotography.com

I want to say our walk was fruitful, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. It was a bit nutty and very, very rooty.

We found sassafras, black walnuts (huge ones!) and hickory on our walk yesterday while looking for the well hidden Apios americana.

The Apios has also been dubbed the groundnut (along with other plants including the peanut), the Indian Potato, hopniss and the potato bean.

Sam Thayer likes the name Hopniss, because “Hopniss is short, pleasant, one of the better-known names, and has never been applied to any other plant.”

Apios is a legume like beans and peas, but also has an edible tuber that foragers have craved throughout history. Thayer had a romantic vision of Hopniss before he found it, but after his first encounter the relationship between him and the plant became life long. He’s experimented in preparing the tuber several different ways and his field experience with hopniss is pretty impressive.

The bean and the tuber both contain high amounts of protein with the tuber also consisting of large starch content. The tuber has about three times the amount of protein as a potato and in tests with the plant it appears the tuber is more easily digestible when cooked.

The bean is native to North America and was used for centuries as a staple in the diet of many native Americans. It was boiled, roasted, dried and powdered for flour. Though it was used as a food crop extensively by natives it never became a cash crop, most probably because it takes two years for the plant to mature and produce a large harvest.

Some people say the taste is a bit sweet and akin to sweet potatoes, but I wouldn’t know—still haven’t found one.

Though the Apios is supposed to be rampant in NW Arkansas and is considered an invasive weed by some, it has mysteriously avoided my detection and it’s not because I haven’t looked. According to the Plants for a Future database Autumn is the best time to harvest the Apios.

Despite my lack of the wild bean in hand, we came home happier and healthier, not only for the walk, but because we had a brand spanking new sassafras seedling to plant in the yard along with a few leaves for tea and some monster black walnuts with sweet meats.

But yes, I’m still keeping my eye out for the ever evasive Apios.

One of the monster walnuts.

Hopniss Article by Thayer

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