Queensland arrowroot (Canna edulis) provides food for us, food for chickens, pigs, cattle and goats, mulch and/or compost material, and shelter for other plants. It’s super easy to grow and to harvest and it self-propagates to a certain extent but is not weedy or invasive. And I think it looks beautiful.
What more could a polyculture food grower ask?
Recently we tidied up an area where we had a sea of mature arrowroot in need of maintenance.
A sea of arrowroot is a very good thing to have, so long as you remember to get to it before it drowns the young fruit trees it’s supposed to be protecting. In this picture (above) the arrowroot was planted in a windy area as part of a shelter belt for young trees, and the wind has gotten the better of it.
When mature arrowroot gets too crowded, it grows tall and spindly, as you can see to the left in the picture above. Here, Alain is “chopping and dropping” — cutting down the long stems and foliage and laying them on the ground to form a layer of mulch.
In the picture above, you can see the base of the arrowroot after the stems have been cut down (and the litter cleared away for you to see better).
This clump can be lifted with a garden fork and broken up. From it we’ll get very small round rhizomes attached to stems for replanting, larger young rhizomes/tubers for eating, and older, woody tubers (ideas on what to do with those are below).
In a mature arrowroot planting it’s a good idea to lift old clumps when they get crowded and congested, otherwise the older, woody tubers lift the new ones above soil level so that they can’t reach the earth, and then they produce weak, thin stems.
Here (above) is a pile from several clumps we’ve lifted and broken up. You can see young white and purple tubers for eating (top left), old woody tubers that needed to be removed from underneath young ones (middle), and small round rhizomes attached to stems, for replanting (top right).
Note that when I say “remove” the old woody tubers, I don’t mean “discard.” If you have no other use for them, chop them roughly with a shovel and return them to the mulch layer here, to feed the soil so it can feed more arrowroot for you. (I’ve suggested some other uses, below.)
In the picture above you can see the beautiful purplish tubers sitting just at soil level.
If you leave these, they’ll produce thick stems like the green stems you can see in the pic. If you harvest them now, the two on the right will be good to eat and the one on the left will be good for replanting somewhere else, or replanting in the same spot.
This picture (above) shows a large but still young and fresh tuber (two, actually) for eating.
Notice that the areas between and below the purplish colour are still white and fresh-looking, not brown and woody looking like in the pic below.
This picture shows a large, older tuber. You can eat this, but it will be harder to peel and more fibrous to eat.
It’s best suited for:
- Feeding to pigs, if you have them. Some pigs will eat this enthusiastically; others, depending I suppose on what else is available to them, will prefer it if you boil it first.
- If you have chickens, you could try boiling these old tubers and offering them to your chickens. I haven’t done this but I bet it’s worth a try.
- You can also replant the older tubers. The two little round bulbs you see (middle bottom and top right) will grow into new stems.
- If none of those uses suits, you can chop the old tubers roughly with a shovel and leave them on the surface of the soil as part of the mulch, or add them to your compost bin.
Here you can see a row of our food forest after the arrowroot tidy-up session. Lots of mulch on the ground (above) and two armloads of food and propagation material (below).
Preparing Arrowroot For Cooking
I made a short video showing how I peel an arrowroot tuber to prepare it for cooking. Please click the “watch on Vimeo” button in the image below or follow this link, then come back here to read the arrowroot cooking tips next…
I like to peel arrowroot tubers outdoors, under running water – that way I don’t have to have them super clean before I start peeling, since the soil and debris comes off with the peel.
Start at the top, where the shoot emerges. Cut off the shoot, but not all the way – then grip it between thumb and knife and pull. A long strip of skin should pull off. If you watched the video, you’ll have seen this clearly.
Put your peeled tuber in a bowl of water and keep it submerged till it’s ready to cut, so it doesn’t turn brown.
If you have too many to use in one meal, either put them in a bag in the fridge with most of the dirt washed off but the skins still on, or peel them and then store them in the fridge in a lidded tub, submerged in water. They’ll keep at least several days, longer with a change of water.
Above, you can see arrowroot tubers peeled and sitting in a bowl of water, ready for chopping. They’re in water because they go brown if you leave them out in the air after peeling.
Deep Fried Arrowroot Chips
We deep-fried the slices in the picture, in our home-grown and home-rendered lard.
Deep-fried arrowroot chips are not the same as potato chips, but in our opinion they’re a fair substitute.
Keep a close eye on them as they start to brown slightly in the fat – soon after they start to go ever so slightly brown, they’ll quickly go from “just done” to “overdone.” They don’t really get crispy. Done, they’re still soft enough to chew; overdone, they’re unpleasantly hard.
Arrowroot Chopped Into A Stir-Fry
My latest favourite way to eat arrowroot is chopped and shallow fried in bacon fat (or your cooking fat of choice) with other veggies.
Cooked like this it becomes a bit more potato-like in consistency, and I like it’s mild, pleasant flavour. It goes with everything.
Last night we had arrowroot, choko and onion fried up together till soft, then I added chopped winged beans and sweet leaf right before serving. And a dash of soy sauce.
Arrowroot Chopped Into A Soup Or A Stew
Chopped up and dropped into a soup or a stew, arrowroot will keep its crunch no matter how long you cook it. It still goes with everything, and it makes a great meal extender.
Even if I had never gotten consistent about using arrowroot in the kitchen, I would still have kept it in many plantings around our place for its many other uses.
But now that I’m getting better at harvesting and preparing arrowroot quickly for our kitchen, our arrowroot plantings will be better maintained and we’ll be better fed, and one small step closer to our goal of supermarket independence.
Kate writes at ARealGreenLife.com about thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life. Check out her free eGuide, “Ditching the Supermarket,” or visit her free downloads page or her blog.