Sagittaria spp

Some plants have a way of showing up in my life time and again regardless of my actual knowledge about them or their edible uses.  As is the case with arrowhead plants or Wapato.  As a kid growing up in rural Kansas arrowhead plants where just another interesting marsh weed growing along the creek.  A great place to hunt for snails and tadpoles but not a plant that struck my fancy as a possible dinner companion.  I remember also telling my gullible brothers that keeping a leaf from this plant in your back pocket would increase you luck in finding Indian arrowheads in a freshly plowed field.  Granted that story was a bunch off bull malarkey but my ability to locate arrowheads in the corn fields just added credence to my statement and kept my brothers in awe at my seemingly endless flow of useless facts.

As time went on I became aware of several species of arrowhead and their edibility.  Grass-leafed (S. gramineal); Sessile-fruited (S. rigida) and Broad-leafed or Wapato (S. latifola) are common to North America though several species can be found in Europe and Asia and one species (S. alismataceae) is cultivated in China and Japan.

S. Latifola is the most common and easily recognized of the three North American species I mentioned and can be found from coast to coast in almost any wetland area.  Look for Wapato along lakes, streams, ponds or drainage ditches in basically the same environment you would find cattails.
Broad-leafed arrowhead is a perennial wetland herb with a fibrous root system that develops small tubers in late fall.  The tubers can reach up to 2 inches in diameter but will be much smaller if the plant colonies are crowded.  The leaves of this species are arrowhead shaped with long pointed lobes and the stems are flexible running from the base of the plant. The flower stalks are shorter than the leaf stalks and boast clusters of 3 flowers each having 3 simple white petals.

Harvesting Wapato is an adventure in getting cold and wet no matter how careful you are so be sure to dress accordingly.  Collection is done after the plant growth has died off but don't worry as the plants are easy to identify even when going dormant in the fall.  Besides if you have been out on forays at all during the summer you will of already spotted the colonies where you want to collect.
wapato flower

Indians used to wade into the chill mud and dislodge the tubers by feeling for them with their toes.  I use a small flat bottom boat and a garden rake to dislodge the tubers which float easily when disturbed from the muddy bottom in large areas but prefer to find my collection areas in streams or drainage ditches where I can stand on the shore while I collect.

Wapato plants tend to grow in dense colonies and you may find that your first harvest will turn up many pea sized tubers hardly worth the trouble of collecting.  Go ahead and disturb the colony you want to collect from as you cannot distress the plants enough to harm their future growth.  Not all the tubers will dislodge from the mud and the tubers you do not collect will float away to start colonies in new areas.  The new room you have created will help insure more space for growth and your harvest the following fall will produce bigger tubers.  You can also collect some of the smaller tubers and "seed" a wetland area that will be easier to collect from if you are lucky enough to own property for such a venture.
wapato seeds

Raw Wapato is a prime candidate for my Yucky-poo-poo list and will turn you off quickly from wanting to eat them if you sample them raw.  This flavor all but disappears with cooking and though the constancy of cooked Wapato is vastly different than potatoes you can substitute them in any recipe calling for domestic spuds.  I actually prefer them  to potatoes when I can get them.

To prepare Wapato bake or boil your well washed tubers for 20-30 minutes with the skins on.  After they are completely cooked peel them and use as you would potatoes either creaming them with milk and butter or adding them to soups and stews.

To store Wapato for later use you can store them unwashed in a cold area of a root cellar or dehydrate them.  To dehydrate Wapato, cook the washed tubers for 20 minutes, peel and slice in 1/4 to 1/2 inch sliced and dehydrate in a warm oven.  To reconstitute the slices soak them in water for 20-30 minutes then boil them for an additional 20 minutes.

Creamed Wapato and Carrots

Several Wapato Tubers
1-2 good sized Carrots
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste
creamed wapato

I don't give measurements in this recipe as so much of it depends on the amount of Wapato you have and your personal tastes.  Feel free to toss in a couple of potatoes. parsnips or turnips if you don't have many Arrowhead tubers.

Wash Wapato and cut peeled carrots into 2 inch slices.  Cover with water and boil for 20 minutes.  Drain water and peel Wapato.  Mash carrots and peeled Wapato and add seasoning.  Add just enough milk and butter to give your dish a creamy consistency without allowing it to become runny.  Garnish with a dash of parsley flakes and serve.

Any left over Creamed Wapato can be re-born the following meal as patties.  Add one medium diced onion to cold creamed Wapato along with 1 egg and 1/4 cup flour.  Mix and shape into patties.  Heat oil in a skillet and brown both sides of your patties.  Serve alone or with a white sauce gravy as a side dish to replace potatoes.