(Sagittaria sagittifolia — Family Alismaceae)
Arrowhead, Chinese arrowhead, Chinese potato, swamp potato, arrowleaf, wapato/wapatoo, duck potato
This perennial marsh plant is a member of the water-plantain family (Alismaceae), named for the shape of its leaves, but valued for its starchy, tuberous roots.
The potato-like tubers resemble an enlarged, ivory, water chestnut; but taste like a sunchoke-potato mix but more bitter.
It plays a small role in Chinese dishes, but a larger one in Japanese cuisine. A distinction was formerly made between S. sagittifolia and what were regarded as two other species: S. sinensis of China and Japan and the North American wild versions, S. latifolia and S. cuneata. Today, all are classified as one species.
In North America, arrowhead has long been gathered from the wild by Indians as the most valuable and available root crop. Originally, it had the Chinook name wappatoo, which has since become wapato meaning “potato”, and also called “duck potato” because water birds were fond of the leaves.
The Indian women who gathered the tubers would wade into the water, locate the tubers with their bare feet, and then toss them into the canoe which they pushed ahead of them. These were then boiled or roasted on sticks stuck in the ground near the fire or in stone-lined kilns.
The arrowhead is found in very muddy areas at the edge of swamps, ponds, and streams throughout North and Central America. For the faint of heart, they are also sold at selected markets and, considering how they must be harvested, the price will not seem so expensive.
The tubers are roundish and enclosed in a sheath which has to be removed. They can then be cooked like new potatoes.
The flavour is more pronounced than the potato and tastes best when roasted.
Cooking destroys the bitter and possibly toxic substances and removes the acrid flavour they have in the raw state.
This tuber can be unpredictable when it comes to degrees of bitterness; otherwise, it could be cooked like a Jerusalem artichoke.
Therefore, it is best used in soups where there is plenty of liquid to mellow out the flavour, but should be cooked only to the point of still having a slight crunch. Any more, and it turns bland and starchy.