Backyard Wilderness Blog
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For the First Peoples inhabiting the eastern part of North America in the 16th century, spring was the most difficult time of year nutritionally. Nuts and seeds stored since the previous fall would be running low, and only a few of the earliest spring greens were starting to appear on dry land. These greens were full of vitamins and minerals, but low in fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In the marshes around rivers and bays however, there were a number of plants with starchy edible roots...
The photos above and to the right show Pickerel Weed, Pontederia cordata, growing in a freshwater marsh at the Mason Neck Nature Preserve in Fairfax County, Virginia. Harvested by the Taux Indians inhabiting the peninsula when captain John Smith arrived in 1607, the starchy roots of this plant were vital as a source of carbohydrates in early spring.
Photo was taken August 2010.
Cattail, Reed, Spatterdock, Water Pepper, Pickerel Weed, Great Bulrush, and Golden Club, were all available to those willing to brave leeches and water moccasins to forage for their food! Arrow Arum, called "tuckahoe" in the native tongue was a staple root vegetable for all tribes living on the eastern shores of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
Misunderstood by the invading European colonists who believed that native peoples lacked an industrious spirit, "Indians" of the Delmarva peninsula actually enjoyed a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and much better diet than the Europeans invading their lands in the 16th and 17th centuries. Foraging, fishing, and hunting, as well as farming corn, beans and squash provided an abundantly diverse menu for the original inhabitants of this land, who were taller, stronger, and possessed far greater endurance than those coming across the sea.
A wide variety of plants harvested for food from swamp, marsh, field and forest throughout the peninsula included; wild rice, (Zizania aquatica,) jewelweed, (Impatiens capensis,) sunflowers, (Helianthus augustifolus and gigantaeus), white oak acorns, (Quercus alba,) fox grapes, also known as muscadine, (Vitus rotundifolia,) serviceberry or juneberry, (Amalanchier canadensis,) wild plum, (Prunus americana,) and many others.
In Vermont, only the earliest of the spring edibles appear in March. In order from left to right are photos of ramps in the snow, wild strawberry, wintercress, (also known as bittercress for good reason!) and farthest right, trout lily.