Thursday, 10 January 2013

Aandegopin: The Rough Guide to Wolfing Down Bugleweed

One of the joys of plant exploration is that there's more than enough possibility to fill a lifetime of avid investigation - there are simply so many plants and so little time. Even within the somewhat limited field of edible roots and tubers, new possibilities keep popping up on my radar. Take the genus Lycopus, for instance, so named because of the apparent likeness of their leaves to a wolf's foot. Can't see it myself, but perhaps in dim and distant pre-PlayStation days, people had more vivid imaginations.

Our native plant, L. europaeus, gyspywort, is quite common in wetland habitats. My last sighting of it was on my birthday - a specimen grimly clinging to life in a crevice along the Bude Canal. Unfortunately, grim is the operative word, as the tubers it produces only appeal to those for whom starvation is the alternative. For this reason I tend to leave the plants unmolested.

When Steve Dupey in Washington State, USA recommended L. asper, the rough bugleweed for the quality of its roots, my curiosity was piqued. I knew nothing about North American Lycopus and their edibility, but L. asper couldn't be any worse than L. europaeus, so I decided to give it a go.

L. asper itself is not so dissimilar to our own gypsywort and grows in similar places. It has the square stem typical of members of the Lamiaceae, serrated leaves and small white flowers which various pollinating insects seem to enjoy visiting. The foliage has an aromatic smell and a slightly sticky texture. I've seen reports that when dried, it makes a serviceable tea with a flavour reminiscent of Earl Grey. It produces tubers which look like slimline versions of Chinese artichokes (Stachys sieboldii), to which it is related. As a plant, it's not exactly arresting in appearance, which probably explains why I haven't taken many pictures of it.



Seeds seem to germinate quite easily and the resultant plants produce extensive rhizomes, so there must surely be potential for the plant to spread in the wild here. As this is something to be avoided, I would recommend limiting its planting to garden situations where you can keep a watchful eye on its ambitions.

'Rough bugleweed' doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, so I did a bit of research and came across a native American name for the plant: aandegopin. I'm not sure that this Ojibwe moniker is exactly catchy either, but it places L. asper first in The Radix Encyclopaedia of Useful Root Crops*, just ahead of aardaker, the very delicious Lathyrus tuberosus. So is this ranking justified in terms of taste and yield? Read on.

In 2011 the plants didn't do much. I grew them in aquatic plant pots which sat in a container with a few inches of water sloshing about in it. Occasionally this dried up, occasionally it overflowed. At the end of the season I had a few tubers which resembled emaciated Chinese artichokes. Optimist that I am, I put this down to late planting out, along with the acclimatisation and establishment issues that new arrivals often undergo.

2012 was going to be different, I decided. Water levels were maintained thanks to the unprecedented summer precipitation and I employed the same fertiliser regime I used on the wapatos; the results were equally dramatic - much bigger, lusher plants developed and I was hopeful for a good yield of tubers.

The plants died down at the end of the season and I eagerly tipped out the pots to reveal a mass of slender tubers, twisted and tangled together like a Gorgon's bad hair day. I set to and washed off the adhering silt to reveal a not inconsiderable haul of bone white tubers, some of which are shown here.

I hurried indoors with the biggest, washed them properly and then boiled them for a few minutes. They softened quickly and were, as Steve had reported, very tasty, like Chinese artichokes, but perhaps even better. I wolfed them down, naturally. More adventurous cooks could, no doubt, come up with all sorts of ingenious ways of preparing them.

Aandegopin seems to have as-yet unrealised potential as a food: it's certainly easy to grow and unfussy as long as its preference for rich, damp soil is taken into consideration. Given its ability to produce viable seed, it should be possible to select plants with bigger tubers and less extensive rhizomes. And it's not just a lone wolf - Steve also recommends trying some of the other North American bugleweeds such as L. rubellus and L. uniflorus. Like I say, plenty of plants, not nearly enough time.

*Expressions of interest and advance payments welcomed.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds great!

Ottawa Gardener said...

Interesting. When I get my pond(s) up and running, I should try these.

Rhizowen said...

Hi Anonymous,

It certainly seems to have some potential.

Hi OttawaG

A pond adds so much interest to a garden and if you can fill it full of edibles, so much the bettr. I bet you could grow lotus - Nelumbo lutea - if you can protect the rhizomes from freezing. An excellent ornamental and tasty too.

readrobread said...

I love your blog - have learned so much, and picked up many ideas to try.

Lycopus has really caught my interest. I'm hoping that one of the Lycopus could be the long lost brother - as in, a North American native analogue for Chinese Artichoke in the Three Brothers polyculture made famous by Toensmeier and Bates.

Here in southwestern Ontario, native plants/invasive is a hot-button topic amongst the ecologically inclined, so being able to give examples of robust native polycultures that are abundant producers of food is important. (The more challenging side of this as moderating heightened fright about the more negative aspects of invasives, if they can be reined in via management that gives their more positive functions the spotlight.)

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