Wapato: Bringing Back The Sacred First Food

Friday, November 23, 2012

Living in the Pacific Northwest I am familiar with Wapato Island (renamed Sauvie Island) as well as the town of Wapato in Washington, but it wasn't until last night that I learned about the wapato plant. OPB ran a fascinating short called Bringing Back Wapato about this traditional food of the indigenous North Americans and how it's making a comeback. 

Along with salmon and deer, berries such as huckleberries and chokecherries, and roots such as bitterroot, wapato is known as one of the "First Foods", which hold cultural and spiritual significance to native people. There's a current movement to reconnect the younger generation with this important part of their heritage. On the Yakima Nation Reservation they are relearning how to harvest, prepare, and cook with wapato, just as generations before them did.

So what is it like? Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia) is an aquatic plant that grows in marshland and produces edible tubers that have a flavor similar to potatoes and chestnuts. Doesn't that sounds delicious? In addition to roasting over a fire, they were traditionally preserved as a flour which Meriwether Lewis described could be made into bread-like cakes.

You can watch a video from the Bonneville Power Administration showing folks from the Yakima Nation harvesting wapato...


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