- American Groundnut
- Indian Potato
Perhaps, the American groundnut (botanical name Apios Americana) is the most popular edible uncultivated plant found in the eastern region of North America. The species covers a wide area, ranging from Quebec and Ontario in Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south and ranging from the prairies in the west to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The American groundnut formed a major food source for the American Indians, who inhabited the entire area. Even today, this plant is common in various sites where ancient Amerindian villages were located.
American groundnut is a member of the bean family, also known as Leguminosae or the legume plant family. This is a perennial vine that produces edible beans and large tubers, which are also edible. The vine usually grows to a length of anything between 1 meter and 6 meters, bearing pinnate leaves that are about 8 cm to 15 cm in length and come with five to seven leaflets. The color of the flowers of this plant varies – purple, pink or reddish-brown, and they appear in compact racemes measuring anything between 7.5 cm and 13 cm long. The fruit of American groundnut is a legume or pod, which measures 5 cm to 13 cm in length. From the view point of botany, the tubers of this plant are actually rhizomes and not roots.
Flowers of the American groundnut are irregular shaped having a relatively larger upper lip, which is split into two “wings”. On the other hand, the lower lip of the flower has two small lobes, in addition to a gland that sticks out from between the lobes. The color of the exterior of the flower’s upper lip may vary from clearly pale pink to brown, while color of the lower lobes varies from deep red to purple-maroon to brown. A series of about five to 10 flowers emerge from the leaf axils and they may form a rotund cluster. Alternatively, they may even appear further spread out like spikes.
The leaves of American groundnut are compound in nature and appear in clusters of five or seven. The leaflets measure up to 2 1/2 inches in length and are about 1 inch in width. They have a pointed tip and are broad, rounded at the base. The leaflets appear on short stems. The groundnut is a vine, but does not have tendrils. Hence, the slender stems of the plant entwine other plants and anything else they find on their way for support.
As groundnut is a free food available throughout the year, several early explorers from Europe as well as colonists in North America often relied on the tubers of this herb for survival. Way back in the 1580s, Europeans who set up colonies in Sir Walter Raleigh’s settlement on Roanoke Island located off North Carolina coast sent sample of Apios Americana, the American groundnut to Queen Elizabeth I. Several years later, Captain John Smith, a resident of Jamestown (Virginia), documented the utilities of American groundnut in 1607. Available documents show that in 1623, when they consumed their entire corn supply, the Pilgrims of Plymouth (Massachusetts) survived on mostly American groundnut. The importance of groundnut to the colonists inhabiting the valley of the Connecticut River can be gauged from the fact that in 1654 people in Southampton introduced a legislation which disallowed the Amerindians from excavating groundnut on lands belonging to the “English”. If anyone violated the law, punishment for the first offence entailed a period in the stocks, while the culprits were actually whipped for breaking the law for the second time.
Henry David Thoreau, perhaps the most well-known advocate of Apios, noted in the 19th century that boiled American groundnut is much better compared to the roasted tubers of the herb. It is presumed that Thoreau stumbled upon this culinary discovery during his stopover as a homeless individual beside a pond’s shore somewhere in eastern Massachusetts.
Groundnut offers us several excellent health benefits. Most importantly, groundnut is considered to be a free food that can be harvested throughout the year. The plant is actually an aggressively growing vine and, being a climber, it coils around anything that comes in its way for support. This plant has a preference for moist soil and is found growing beside the creeks and streams.
In folk remedies, people in New England employed groundnut tubers for treating carcinogenic conditions then known as “Proud Flesh”. They also boiled the nuts and make it into a plaster for application on the affected parts.
Groundnut is also cultivated in South Korea. In recent times, these little potatoes are becoming increasing popular for treating radiation sickness.
Groundnut, especially its tubers, was introduced into Europe with a view to counterbalance potato blight. However, hardly anyone started growing the American groundnut as a commercial crop in Europe, because the plants take about two years to produce a good yield of tubers.
Findings of two studies have revealed that the American groundnut encloses an elevated concentration of isoflavones, which are basically very potent antioxidants that help to put off some cancer forms, particularly prostate and breast cancer.
Compared to potatoes, American groundnuts contain three times more protein. Moreover, the protein contained by these little potatoes or the tubers comes in a wide variety. A number of American groundnut varieties enclose as high as 15 percent protein.
You can ground American groundnuts into flour and use it in bread making. Bread prepared from this flour will not only be rich in protein content, but also be gluten free. The flour prepared by pounding dry American groundnuts has also been employed to accelerate healing of skin injuries. In addition, many medical practitioners recommend people suffering from gout to consume American groundnuts, as they are an excellent detoxifying agent.
Since the calcium content of American groundnuts is 10 fold more compared to that of potatoes, consuming the tubers of this plant is an excellent way to develop strong bones. At the same time, American groundnuts also contain rich amounts of iron, almost two times more than what is found in potatoes. Therefore, they are an excellent food for putting off anemia.
Apart from the nutrients mentioned above, American groundnut also encloses essential fatty acids, which help in preventing strokes, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer. Findings of some studies have also shown that eating diets containing high amounts of American groundnuts also helps in lowering high blood pressure. At the same time, the tubers of American groundnuts also help to lower the LDL (low density lipo-protein) or “bad” cholesterol, thereby helping in putting off strokes, cardiovascular diseases and various forms of cancer. American groundnuts also enclose a compound known as genistein, which is a very potent anti-carcinogenic compound.
Consumption of American groundnuts also helps to perk up the testosterone levels, thereby, helping to develop additional muscle mass as well as increase vitality. These little potatoes also enclose significant amounts of magnesium, which is essential for controlling blood sugar, while phosphorus found in American groundnuts helps to develop strong bones. This plant also contains zinc, potassium and magnesium. While zinc helps to strengthen the immune system, potassium is essential for regulating the body’s water content and magnesium helps in lowering high blood pressure.
Apios Americana or American groundnut is also used for healing wounds. In addition, they help to promote healthy tissue growth. American groundnuts are also employed for maggot treatment.
American groundnut is also known to be beneficial for people enduring diabetes and other sugar related problems. Hence, it is advisable that people with diabetes should consume a handful of these prior to their meal. It not only helps to regulate the blood sugar levels, but also benefit by supplying elevated levels of niacin.
Overweight and obese people will also find American groundnuts highly beneficial, because consuming this herb helps to control appetite. Findings of several scientific studies have revealed that American groundnut also helps in curing hemophilia. It is also useful in treating diarrhea, especially caused by deficiency of nicotinic acid in the body. Consume the nuts along with goat milk and squeeze in a few lemon drops – this will greatly help diarrhea patients.
Applying the oil extracted from American groundnut on your face prior to retiring for the day will help in nourishing the facial skin and also prevent acne development.
American groundnut plants enclose latex, which can be employed for manufacturing rubber.
The tuber as well as the seeds of the groundnut plant are used for culinary purposes.
The tuber of groundnut plants is consumed raw or after cooking. It has a delectable taste something akin to that of roasted sweet potatoes. Alternatively, you can also dry the tuber and pulverize it into a powder and subsequently use the powder in the form of thickening agents in soups and other foods. You may also add the pulverized groundnut to cereal flours while making bread. Usually, the tubers are harvested in the first year of their existence, but they normally take anything between two to three years to develop into a viable crop. While you can harvest the tubers at any time of the year, autumn is the best time for harvesting them. You can harvest the groundnut tubers in autumn and store them till the next spring.
Groundnut seeds are usually consumed after cooking. These seeds are somewhat small and, unlike beans and peas, do not produce in very large numbers. Groundnut seeds are an excellent natural resource of protein. Dried groundnut seeds can be pounded into a powder and included in cereals while making breads and other food items.
Habitat and cultivation
Groundnut is a perennial plant that has a preference for light fertile soil and a sunlit position. These plants grow best in a warm, arid condition, preferably in sandy soil having excellent drainage. When grown in such conditions, the groundnut plants have a long life span and their tuberous roots continue to increase in number as well as size every year. According to another report, groundnut has a preference for slightly dappled shade.
On the other hand, groundnut has an aversion to windy locations. These plants are said to be able to endure annual rainfall varying from 97 cm to 117 cm, a mean annual temperature ranging between 9.9°C and 20.3°C. These plants can tolerate a pH between 4.5 and 7.0. Since groundnut can adapt to various climatic conditions, they produce significant crops when grown in cool temperate zones and also the sub-tropical climatic conditions prevailing in South Florida. Occasionally, people have cultivated groundnut for their edible tubers and this possesses the potential to turn out to be a viable commercial crop.
In the past, people selected specific groundnut cultivar with a view to get higher pod yields and larger tubers. According to some reports, the yields from a number of these cultivars are almost as high as those of potato crops. The highest yield is obtained from plants that are allowed to remain in the ground for a minimum of two growing seasons. Groundnut plants develop thin, elongated roots that broaden at intervals to develop into edible tubers. Some people compare this chain of tubers to a sort of necklace. Groundnut can prove to be invasive plants, especially after they have established themselves and turned out to be a weed of cranberry crops cultivated in North America. Groundnut is a climbing plant that coils around the slender branches of nearby plants for prop up. The aroma of the groundnut flowers is akin to that of violets. This species enjoys a symbiotic relation with specific bacteria present in the soil. These bacteria develop into nodules on groundnut roots and survive on them. In turn, they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere to the roots. A portion of this nitrogen is used by the plants, while the remaining amounts are utilized by other plants growing in the vicinity.
Groundnut is mainly propagated from its seeds, which are soaked in lukewarm water for about 3 hours before sowing. Ideally, groundnut seeds are sown in a cold frame during February-March. Normally, the seeds germinate within one to three months from the date of sowing, provided they are kept at 15°C. When the seedlings become sufficiently large for handling, they need to be pricked out and planted in separate pots. During their first winter, the seedlings should be grown in the greenhouse in light shade. The young plants can be transplanted outdoors during the later part of spring or at the beginning of summer.
You can also propagate groundnut via division, undertaken during any season. However, spring seems to be the best time for propagating groundnut via division. In order to undertake division, just excavate the roots of the plants, harvest their tubers and then replant them directly in locations where you want them to grow. You can also harvest the groundnut tubers during winter. In this case, you should store the tubers in a cool and somewhat dry place free from frost areas throughout the winter and subsequently plant them in their permanent locations outdoors during spring. You should bear in mind that groundnut tubers lose moisture very quickly after harvesting. Therefore, ensure that you store the tubers in a moist medium, for instance any leaf mold.
Side effects and cautions
Generally, groundnut consumption is considered safe for everyone. However, occasionally consuming groundnuts in excess may cause a number of adverse side effects. Groundnuts increase the levels of triglycerides in the blood stream resulting in a number of serious health conditions. In addition, it has been found that the testosterone level in groundnuts is quite elevated.
Collection and harvesting
Since the groundnut pods develop beneath the soil, it is often difficult to assess when the crop becomes mature and ready for harvesting. Nevertheless, the ideal time to harvest groundnut pods is when many of them have developed appropriately. When the color of the vines changes to yellow, it is an indication that the pods have become mature.