Groundnut – Foraging for Wild Edibles in a Perennial Food Forest – Apios americana

Groundnut – Foraging for Wild Edibles in a Perennial Food Forest – Apios americana

Apios americana is a perennial vine that bears both an edible bean and an edible tuber. It is native to North America, with a natural range from Southern Canada down to Florida and west as far as the border of Colorado.

According to Wikipedia, the American groundnut has been known by many names in different cultures, such as potato bean, hopniss, Indian potato, hodoimo, America-hodoimo, or cinnamon vine.

The vine can grow to up to 20 feet long, with pinnate leaves averaging 4 inches long with 5–7 leaflets. The flowers have the familiar look of the pea and bean family Fabaceae, to which it belongs. They are quite decorative, usually pink, purple, or red-brown, and are produced in dense racemes. The fruit (or seed) is a legume (pod) two to three inches long. Botanically speaking, the tubers are rhizomatous stems, not roots.

As a wild edible that can be easily identified and foraged, this plant is a nutritional power house.The tubers are highly palatable with culinary characteristics of a potato, although the flavor can be somewhat nuttier than a potato and the texture can be finer. These tubers contain roughly three times the protein content of a potato, and the amino acid balance is good with the exception of cysteine and methionine. They are also an excellent source of calcium and iron; Calcium content is 10-fold greater than a potato and iron is 2-fold greater than a potato, with more monosaccharides and oligosaccharides than the soybean, potato, and sweet potato. And, like soybean, it is a great source of isoflavone.

The American groundnut is agriculturally cultivated today in Japan, and tubers were once a staple food among most Indigenous peoples of the Americas within the natural range of the plant.

It remains largely uncultivated and underused in North America and Europe. There are challenges to breeding and domesticating this plant, as well. A disadvantages in Apios as a crop is its vining habit,and depending on the soil in which it is growing, the tuber can be difficult to harvest because of the “beads on a string” arrangement on stolons, which extend for over a meter. A great advantage is that as a memberof the pea and bean family, American groundnut fixes its own nitrogen, which could be a great advantage in comparison to other root crops, such as potatoes, true yams, and sweet potatoes. These do not fix their own nitrogen and require large applications of nitrogen fertilizer.

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groundnut - wild edible forest food

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