I came across an interesting article on groundnuts, Apios Americana, at gobotany.newengland.org. Ground nuts were a staple of the Native American diet and a food probably shared with the first settlers. They are a plant, a climbing vine, a member of the pea family, a legume. Obviously they are a native plant. However in my foraging travels or research into wild edibles I have not come across this valuable legume too often.
This vine produces pinkish, lavender and pinkish brown flowers in mid to late august. Pea pods develop below these flowers which are also edible. They are usually found in low damp bottom land and riparian (meaning near water ways, streams, etc.) woods and thickets as ground nuts prefer moist soils. They are a perennial and very hardy. Some growers suggest they can take 2-3 years to harvest a sizable crop, though the tubers can be harvested in the first year. Harvesting tubers , anywhere from a grape to avocado size, usually occurs in the fall.
From a landscaping perspective they can be placed in a woodland garden edge or cultivated beds. Ground nuts can also tolerate semi shade or no shade which can perk up a forest edge not only for the attractive flowers but also as a food source. They can handle moist damp ground areas too.
As a food source, the tubers are typically boiled or baked and have a roasted sweet potato and some suggest even a peanut like flavor though they are not peanuts. They contain more protein than a potato and are a source of calcium and iron.
Legumes are invaluable to the soil as nitrogen fixers. They can work with microbes to grab nitrogen from the air and convert it so nitrogen can be utilized by the plant. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth. When nitrogen is limited then crop health is impaired. This is also the only way we can get nitrogen in our diet is through food containing nitrogen.
Consider adding ground nuts to your spring garden plan. Putting food source plants into landscapes creates variety of color, textures, habitat and encourages diversity. I have included a source of where to buy the tubers. Have fun planning. We have six foot and higher piles of snow here but I can plan and so can you.
Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener.