Wapato is blooming this month, Sagittaria latifolia,
“a round root the size of Hens eggs,”
favored as food by native inhabitants of Oregon,
once abundant around here.
Driving north I pass a pond full of wapato
now blooming, the small white flowers
elevated on long stems
like spots of sunlight on shiny leaves….
This aquatic plant of ponds and lakes of most of North America has several names. The Duck Potato is a misnomer, as the tuber is too deep for ducks to unearth, but they do eat the seeds. Beavers, porcupines, and muskrats find the tuber tasty and will in fact eat the whole plant.
Humans for centuries have utilized this plant for food. Across North America Native peoples utilized this plant for food; the bulbs were roasted or boiled as food. The Thompson, Winnebago, Omaha, Potawatomi, Pomo, Meskwaki, Lakota, Klamath, Cocopa, Chippewa, and Cherokee used them for food. Many also dried them for winter use (after cooking, and slicing, they were strung and dried). In the journals of Lewis and Clark there is mention of this plant being used as food!
The roots were also used in medicine. The Algonquin used this plant to treat Tuberculosis (TB), The Cherokee would make a decoction of the root to bath a feverish baby. The Chippewa used it for dyspepsia; the Mohawk would give it to children who cry a lot at night. It was also used to treat rheumatism, boils, wounds and sores, and as a laxative.
The plant had assorted other uses as well. It was used to make a decoction for ‘corn medicine’, it would be poured on the planting site like a fertilizer. The tuber were dried and used in gambeling games.
The corms were also used in magic! Plant used as a love charm and for “witchcraft” among various Tribes. The Cherokee may have used this plant in formulae that “created’ witches. They believed that fasting combined with drinking a decoction of the root would cause the ability to transform into animals or other people!