Non-Fiction

In Case of a Famine: Stalking the Wild Groundnut { Excerpt }

Once I paid attention to it, the plant appeared everywhere. Its foliage clouded our view of the river. Its vines tangled with my pumpkins, twisted around goldenrod, jewelweed, cow parsnip—in fact, anything with a stalk—and grew so long and intertwined that it was impossible to tease one out to find where it sprouted. In August, I was drawn to its maroon-and-cream-colored flowers, shaped like pea blossoms and smelling of lilies. I picked a cluster and looked it up in a wildflower guide.

The plant was Apios americana, also known as wild bean, Indian potato, potato bean, and, most commonly, groundnut (though other plants, including peanuts, are also called groundnuts). Apios americana is a legume, like peas and beans, and prefers moist soil. Where established, it grows aggressively, its vines spreading up to ten feet each summer. Cranberry farmers hours north of my place in Wisconsin consider “wild bean” a weed and spray it with herbicides. But a University of Maine agriculture bulletin suggests an alternative: “One way to remove the tubers would be to eat them, just as Native Americans and the Pilgrims were accustomed to doing.

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Orion, November-December 2007; reprinted in Orion's 2014 anthology about food and eating, To Eat With Grace.