Herbal Healer

Herbal Healer: What is prairie turnip?

2012-11-21T21:00:00Z Herbal Healer: What is prairie turnip?Ted PanDeva Zagar Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 21, 2012 9:00 pm  • 

Napoleon was in a pinch. His drive for supremacy across Europe in the opening decade of the 19th century was a costly venture. Funds were needed and France’s folly — selling the vast expanse of the Louisiana Purchase for a mere $15 million — quickly became fledgling America’s pot of gold; in time it would be carved into all or part of no less than 15 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across this unknown land where they would marvel at a multitude of natural riches. The prairie turnip — virtually unknown today — was one of these gems. By far the most important wild food gathered by the tribes living on the plains, this root crop actually determined where temporary, seasonal hunting grounds would be established. The word Topeka, the capitol of Kansas, is thought to mean “a good place to dig prairie turnips.”

What does it do?

Also known as Indian breadroot, prairie turnips were harvested in late summer and consumed raw, boiled or roasted. They were also dried and rendered into flour that enriched soups and stews—wild fruits were frequently mixed in to add color, flavor and much-needed nutrients. More nutritious than most root crops, the prairie turnip weighs in offering 7% protein, over 50% carbohydrates and numerous vitamins and trace minerals. Eating mainly buffalo meat during winter (flesh lacks ascorbic acid), tribal peoples sidestepped vitamin C deficiency owing to the 17.1 milligrams per 100 grams of this essential vitamin contained within the prairie turnip. Native and pioneer healers relied on this plant to address sore throats and chest problems. It was also called into service for gas pains, earaches and to treat sprains and fractures. This green medicine was further employed to remove small particles from the eye.

About the herb

Covered with fine white hairs, the prairie turnip produces a spindle-shaped tuber four inches below the ground. Not unlike the potato in nutritional terms, this forage food features its own taste and texture owing to its unique blend of starches and sugars. It gains in grace when its bluish pea-like blossoms appear during May and June. The bygone grizzly bear of the prairies once dug up these tasty treats with much enthusiasm.

Recommended dosage

Harvest the prairie turnip during spring to maximize its unique flavor. Waiting until fall can impart a less desirable woody taste. Remove the prairie turnip’s coarse brown peel and cut the white flesh into chunks for use in soups or raw salads. Air-dried, the prairie turnip enjoys a very long shelf life. Once widely sought after—only to become forgotten—the prairie turnip may well re-emerge as a dependable survival food during demanding environmental and economic times that may lie ahead.

The opinions expressed are solely the writer’s. NOTE: Visit herbalastrology.com to read Ted PanDeva Zagar’s other articles and columns that discuss the benefits of herbs and natural foods. DISCLAIMER: The author’s comments are not intended to serve as medical advice, and he urges his readers to seek qualified wellness professionals to resolve matters of health.

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