Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Apios americana

By Jeremy Trombley

Also known as indian potatoes, potato beans, wild bean, and groundnut, hopniss is a common but rarely used wild food. They are native to North America and grow in many parts of the country, and can be easily spotted growing wild, easily harvested and provide a bountiful supply of starch and nutrients even in the middle of winter.


Hopniss is a legume, related to peas and beans, and is a climbing vine that wraps itself around its support instead of using tendrils. In the late summer it develops clusters of dense, purple flowers which later form pods about 2 to 5 inches in length. The plant is commonly found in wet soils near lakes, rivers and streams. It develops tubers that can range from the size of a grape to the size of a grapefruit.

History and Use

Hopniss has a long history of use among many different groups of Native Americans. Its wide distribution and abundance make it a popular forage food among nomadic peoples of North America. Also, its preference for wet environments made it easily associated with wild rice, which has a complementary protein profile to the hopniss tuber. The turning over of the soil caused by the harvesting of the tubers as well as the replacement of tubers in the dug holes actually helped the plant grow and spread. Also, many groups also planted stands of the tuber outside of their villages to provide a stable food source which may have played a role in its distribution around the continent.

When Europeans arrived in North America, hopniss helped them survive through the harsh winters. Many have since sung its praises, including Henry David Thoreau who saw them as a valuable famine food. Attempts have been made to cultivate the plant on a commercial scale. Though some cultivable varieties exist, it has yet to gain acceptance as a commercial crop.

The tubers can be boiled, fried or baked and added to a variety of dishes. However, there is some anecdotal evidence that some people who consume hopniss tubers can become sick as a result. In addition to the tuber, other parts of the plant are also edible. The flowers can be eaten raw, the seeds can be cooked like any domestic pea or bean, and the young shoots can be eaten as a vegetable.


Dean, Tamara. “Stalking the Wild Groundnut | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine 2007.
6 Feb. 2009

Thayer, Sam. “Hopniss: North America's best wild tuber? Also Known as Indian Potato or Groundnut (Apios americana). An article by Sam Thayer..” The Forager Summer/Fall 2002.
6 Feb. 2009