Arrowheads – Sagittaria SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Marsh Potato of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, muj’ota’buk meaning “moose leaf”, arrowhead is an edible and medicinal plant in the humans case as well as moose. Not to be confused with arrowroot, which you can find at health food stores, you’ll find arrowhead in the marsh instead.

Usually surrounded by cattail and the like, arrowhead (sagittaria SPP.) is a common aquatic plant in North America. Northern arrowhead (sagittaria cuneata) is fairly common in quiet shallow or flowing water here. The leaves can be immersed or floating.

Common arrowhead (sagittaria latifolia) grows in offshore colonies, and may be broad or narrow leaved. Broadleaved is most common in Algonquin park and is the most sought after for edible use. And there’s grassy too (sagittaria graminea), which is rare here.

There are look-a-likes. Pickerelweed comes to mind first, but it doesn’t have the tuber-like corms. Arrow arum is another look-a-like.

Arrowhead – Sagittaria SPP.

Edible Uses of Arrowhead

The cooked leaves, young stems, and tender tips of the rhizomes of “wapato” are edible, but the corms are what are referred to as duck or swan potato, among other tater-themed folk names. They look like young/new potatoes. Like potatoes, they are best boiled or baked 30 minutes. Peeling first is recommended. Peeled, cooked, then sliced and dried corms can be boiled again later on. Grinding these dried corms for bread or gruel is another option. They are also tasty candied with maple syrup or sugar.

Muskrat and beaver cache raiding aside, to harvest as Autumn sets in look for an established population with big, wide arrowhead leaves. The corms are about 6 inches to 3 feet deep and can be uprooted with feet, or a tool like a rake or hoe. There’s even a “potato hook” that can be made to make the easiest work. Taking corms from an established mature patch will encourage growth and some of the loosened corms you miss will float off to form new colonies. Note the plants have a knob of sorts on the mud that some mistake for the corms which are deeper.

Long before the flowers open, you can harvest the immature flower stalks/shoots and boil them, same as the young leaves which are edible until late summer. Go for the lighter green leaves whose edges are still curled up. There’s a bitter grapefruit peel flavor to the plant that you can get rid of by boiling. If you don’t have any established colonies to harvest corms from, the leaves are a yummy way to try wapato without a negative impact.

A good source of starch and carbohydrates.

Medicinal Uses of Arrowhead

Arrowhead is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Astringent and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the subastringent roots steeped for indigestion. But there are better herbal medicines for indigestion such as mint teas.

Arrowhead - Sagittaria SPP.
Arrowhead – Sagittaria SPP.

Alternative Uses of Duck Potatoes

It’s an easy aquatic plant to establish in ponds, natural or man made.

Growing Sagittaria SPP.

They are simple to propagate by replanting the roots.

As “foraging” is getting rather trendy, on a case by case basis in some areas the ethical way to forage this plant and others is to tend a colony or even sow your own. Fortunately, this plant is easy to grow in calm shallow water. You’ll want some feet of dirt for the corms to grow in if you’re planting in an artificial watershed (like a homemade pond) for more than looks. It’s also a native option for sowing a plant in a quiet watershed that has been disturbed by human activity.

It will take some years to establish, or reestablish if overharvested.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

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