Roots, underground structures vital to a plants growth often unseen, lie beneath our feet.
Here are 6 examples of types of below ground roots and examples of roots that are edible for each category.
1. Tap Roots: dandelions, photo on the left, American ginseng, and chicory roots all come to mind. Some trees though like pecan,
oak and tulip all have deep tap roots which make them difficult to transplant.
The first photo on the right, is a pecan tree and the tap root is visible.
2. Tap roots that divide immediately are called fibrous roots: day lilies, Hemerocallis fulva, have a fibrous root system that consists of tuber like swellings. The photo to your left is an example of day lily. This species is not native to North America but can be found in most locations.
3. Rhizome: horizontal creeping stem that shoots up root from the nodes and it buds in the leaf axils: Cattails,wild ginger and Jerusalem artichokes are good examples of rhizomes that are edibles. The inulin content of the Jerusalem artichoke means it balances blood sugar and makes it a tasty tuber to eat raw or sliced into a stir fry .
4. Corm: is simply the enlarged base of a stem: Jack in the Pulpit is a classic example. Jack in the Pulpit is a perennial and arises from the corm every year. Can the root be eaten? With specific preparation, yes it can. It contains calcium oxalate crystals (which are not very tasty) which disappears after long exposure to heat and dry air. By long I mean, the root is cut and sliced and left to dry for at least a year. Early settlers who traveled the country observed Native Americans eating and preparing this plant as a food source.
Bulb: ramps: common to our area especially the mountains and valued for its food value and medicinal value.
It’s one of our early spring plants. The bulb is found close to the surface and often 3 or 4 bulbs are clumped together. However this plant could be endangered due to the popularity of “ramp” Festivals. Unfortunately entire sections of ramps are harvested and this practice is seriously depleting our forests.
6. Also harvested are the bark of the roots. Sassafras is a classic example. The root beer flavoring was so popular that huge amounts were exported to Europe in the 1600’s and became a “hot” beverage during that time. One of its constituents is thought to be carcinogenic and so this edible has been banned by the FDA. Any comments?
Spring cleanup could be here this month. So much happens in the soil and in the roots systems that travel and grow in the dirt. When raking or walking through your gardens, your land or a nearby forest I ask you to give some thought to value of roots. A complex interweaving exists in a pattern that supports growth. Amazing isn’t it? Enjoy your day. Judith