Arrowroot

Maranta arundinaceae

Herbs gallery - Arrowroot

Common names

  • Arrowroot
  • Indian Arrowroot
  • Maranta Starch

Arrowroot is a perennial herb. The stems of this herb resemble reeds and grow up to a height of approximately two meters or six feet. Tis herb produces soft, oval-shaped leaves that are somewhat covered at the bottom. The herb bears pairs of cream hued blooms at the apex of the extended stalks. This herb has a permanent rubbery rhizome that bears several fusiform or spindle-shaped, scabby, overhanging tubers at the apex. The leaves of the arrowroot grow alternatively and are covered with long, luxuriant and bushy sheathes. The leaves are oval-shaped tapering to the point similar to the head of a lance and vaguely hairy on the underside. The leaves have a light green hue on both sides. The arrowroot bears flowers that are supported by long, drooping and extended stems. The blooms have long and straight covering bracts at the branch junctures. While the calyx of the flowers are green hued and even, the corolla is white in color, petite and not aligned with the inner section making them appear like lips. The ovary of the arrowroot flowers has three cells and is bristle-like. The herb bears a spherical fruit having three obsolete angles and in the size of small currant or dried grapes.

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It is interesting to note that arrowroot was given the name by Plumier in honor of Bartommeo Maranto, a medical practitioner from Venosa in Basilicata who died in Naples in 1559. In fact, the present name arrowroot is actually a misspelling of the term 'Aru-root' used by the Aruac Indians of South America. On the other hand, many say that the herb got its name from the fact that it is an effective antidote to poisoning by arrows.

The herb was brought to England around 1732 and was grown only as a stove plant (any plant that needs simulated heat to make it grow in cold climates) with the tanners' bark. Arrowroot is basically an herbaceous plant without any woody stems and grows permanently. It has a crawling tuber or rhizome that is curved in the air and is plump with tubers that resemble cylinders. The stems support creamy hued blooms at the tip of the thin branches that ends the stalks. Flowers of arrowroot normally blossom in pairs. This herb produces multiple oval-shaped leaves that are smooth and bereft of bristles. The leaves vary in length between two and ten inches and have elongated coverings that sometimes even wrapping the stalks.

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Arrowroot rhizomes that are less than one year old yield starch. The extracted starch is washed, made into pulp in grinding bowls made from wood, blended in clean water and the fibers are squeezed by hand to obtain milky liquor. The milky liquor is strained and then allowed to stay for sometime before draining it into containers. Once again clean water is added to the liquor, the liquid stirred and drained. Next, the starch obtained from the substance is spread out on sheets and dried in sunlight, while being cautious not to allow any insect or dust to settle on it. Each rhizome yields starch equivalent to approximately 20 per cent of its weight. It is necessary to ensure that the starch obtained from the arrowroot rhizomes is unscented and does not have a distasteful flavor. In case the start form moulds, it should be discarded immediately. While the starch from arrowroot rhizomes is best when it is dry, when the powdered starch is rubbed, it makes a squeaking sound, but feels hard. Here, it is important to note that the starch granules should be examined under the microscope to ensure their purity. Often unscrupulous traders substitute or adulterate the arrowroot starch with potato starch, which has a similar chemical composition and nourishment value. However, the starch derived from potatoes has a fairly unlikable flavor and produces a scent similar to the French beans when tested with hydrochloric acid. In addition, starches derived from rice, sago and tapioca are also often substituted for arrowroot starch.

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Barring the jelly prepared with tous-les-mois, the arrowroot jelly is said to be the most obstinate. On many occasions, arrowroot is basically used as puddings or blanc-mange. On the other hand, the plant's roots may be candied like eryngo. In places like Jamaica, arrowroot roots were pounded to be used as poultice to heal venomous stings as well as wounds owing to arrows. According to the medical science, arrowroot is effective in calming down the digestive tract. Moreover, in earlier times, many hospitals mixed it with barium meals provided to patients before taking X-ray pictures of the gastro-intestinal system.

Parts used

Starch of the rhizome.

Uses

It has been more or less established that arrowroot is a nourishing diet without any side effects. It is prescribed for some disorders as well as patients recuperating from fevers, inflammations in the digestive tract, the respiratory organs of the body and even the urinary tract. Moreover, arrowroot is also an effective substitute for breast feeding in infants and may be given to children for a brief period after they have been taken off breast milk. Arrowroot may be administered as jelly seasoned with sugar, concentrates, lemon juice and even scents. Although people sometimes substitute arrowroot with potato starch, the latter is likely to cause tartness in the digestive system. It may be mentioned here that barring tapioca and tous-les-mois, arrowroot is much advanced in than any other starchy food available. Though the arrowroot jelly does not have any special taste, it is less likely to cause tartness in the stomach and is normally liked by the infants in comparison to other similar foodstuff. Only tous-les-mois and tapioca jelly are tauter. Normally, two to three drachms (liquid gram) are boiled in a pint (0.568 liter) of water or milk and seasoned according to preference before consumption. Consuming more than this quantity of arrowroot is not advisable.

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As mentioned earlier, herbal medical practitioners in several countries use pounded arrowroot rhizomes as poultice to heal disorders such as abrasions from venomous arrows, black spider and scorpion stings as well as to contain gangrene or decay and death of body tissues. At the same time, freshly extracted arrowroot rhizome juice mixed with water may be administered internally as a remedy for toxicities owing to vegetables like Savanna.

Habitat and cultivation

The arrowroot plant is basically indigenous to the West Indies as well as tropical America. It found in abundance in the stretch from southern Mexico to Brazil. Later, the plant was brought to south-east Asia, India as well as several tropical African nations where it is grown commercially, but on a small scale.

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Constituents

Arrowroot starch encloses the chemicals that are present in wheat and potato starch, but makes a more solid jelly by adding equal amount of boiling water to it. In effect, nine parts of arrowroot starch is considered to be equivalent to 14 parts of any other starch commonly available. Chemical analysis has demonstrated that the arrowroot tuber encloses 63 per cent water and 27 per cent starch, 4.10 per cent sugar and gum, 2.82 per cent fiber, 1.56 per cent albumen, 1.23 per cent ash and 0.26 per cent fat. Further analysis has confirmed that the arrowroot starch includes 83.70 per cent starch and 15.87 per cent water.

It is worthwhile mentioning here that in the West Indies, arrowroot starch is often made impure by adding wheat, potato or starches derived from sago and tapioca. However, one may easily verify the purity of the arrowroot starch by following the directives published by the German Pharmacopoeia in 1872. The German Pharmacopoeia has suggested that when one part of arrowroot starch is stirred for about 10 minutes with 10 parts of a concoction comprising two parts of hydrochloric acid and one part of water, the larger portion of the arrowroot powder should separate being constant. At the same time, the arrowroot powder should not produce mucilage or give up shrub-like smell similar to the green and immature bean pods. If the marketer is trying to substitute arrowroot starch with potato starch, one would notice that the procedure will result to a dense, but nearly transparent jelly that will resemble a robust and bon-woody smell that is much like beans and can be identified without any difficulty.

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  • 4 tablespoonfuls (60 ml) of an infusion prepared from comfrey leaves
  • 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) of apricot oil
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) of arrowroot

Add the arrowroot to tepid comfrey infusion and continue stirring while heating the mixture in a jar or bowl placed in hot water till it condenses somewhat. After you remove it from the heat, add the apricot oil and shake the mixture thoroughly. When the mixture cools down, apply it over your face and neck avoiding the eyes and lips.

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