Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Pontederia cordata L.

By Adam Benfer

Though it is not known to have been a part of any Native American diet, the pickerelweed (also known as tuckahoe) is edible and could make a nice addition to a foragers diet in the form of salads, cooked greens or even as a flour substitute (Fernald and Kinsey 1958: 125).


Pickerelweed is an erect, soft-stemmed, perennial herb that thrives in the moist, sandy or muddy margins of ponds and slow-moving streams. This plant has large, thick, dark green, heart- or arrowhead-shaped leaves emerging from the top of each stem. The long stemmed leaves grow in clumps, emerging from a rhizome and can each a height of about 4 feet. These stems bear beautiful violet-blue flowers with yellow flecks, in a compact spike, slightly taller than the leaves. Each flower has 6 petals and 6 stamens. The flowers develop into a dense spike of fruits, each fruit being about 1/3 inch long with wing-margins, and having a loose outer skin covering a solid starchy seed (125; Medve and Medve 1990: 106).

Geographic Distribution

This attractive flowering plant grows in the margins or shores of muddy or sandy streams, ponds, marshes, lakes, and other shallow, slow moving bodies of water throughout the eastern part of the United States and northward into southern Canada (Fernald and Kinsey 1958: 125).

Food Use

The young, unrolling leaves and the starchy nut-like fruit seeds of pickerelweed are edible. These seeds, when gathered in late summer or early autumn off the mature fruit spikes, make an enjoyable and filling snack food when eaten raw, or they can be roasted and ground into flour. The young leaves should be gathered early in the summer before they have fully unrolled. At this stage pickerelweed leaves may be eaten in raw in salads or as a boiled or steamed fresh vegetable (125; Medve and Medve 1990: 75).

Other Uses

The Malecite, Micmac, and Montagnais tribes of North America used pickerelweed as a contraceptive (Moerman 1998: 427).


See Medve and Medve (1990: 107) for some non-indigenous recipe ideas.


Fernald, Merritt Lyndon, and Alfred C. Kinsey
1958 Edible wild plants of Eastern North America. Rev. ed. New York,: Harper.
Medve, Richard J., and Mary Lee Medve
1990 Edible wild plants of Pennsylvania and neighboring states. University Park [Pa.]: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Moerman, Daniel E.
1998 Native American ethnobotany. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.