Every so often I encounter a wild edible plant that has real potential to bbecome a cash crop in the right hands. As the world population grows and as urban sprawl puts pressure on wilderness the demand for high quality nutrition becomes more intense. Many people ( and I am one of them ) believe that the solution is to move away from agriculture ( The tending of fields ) to horticulture ( The tending of plants ). Rather than go into a long time consuming explanation I’ll just say that it’s better to have a decentralized system. And plants like Chufa lend themselves very easily to the broad range of conditions a decentralized system would require.
The part that is harvested is a marble sized tuber called Tiger Nuts. The tuber is collected in November and December and an individual plant is capable of producing around 2000 nuts in lifetime. Being a perennial plant, Chufa doesn’t need to be planted every year. Like a potato, it be required to save some of nuts to replenish with but unless you destroy the plant during harvest it will come back by itself for multiple years.
So, when I decided to write about Chufa my knowledge of the plant came mostly from old dusty books on my shelf. I knew it was a wild edible plant and that it produced an underground nut that you could eat. But, I never took the time to actually gather it and try use it any meaningful way. But after learning a little more and recognizing the potential I thought that I would simply step out onto my property and collect enough to do a presentation. The next image shows my entire harvest.
Today’s harvest was rather sad.
In fact the entire root system of the second plant was devoid of tubers.
None of the plants had tubers for me.
I collected a total of 1 tuber that was about 6 millimeters in diameter. I just sat there asking myself how this could have ever been a staple crop 4000 years ago in Egypt.
Even today it’s grown commercially in the Mediterranean. More research gave me the answer. The nut doesn’t form until after the top dies off. I am actually about 6 weeks too early to harvest the nuts. They have only just started to form. But in the harvest season for Tiger Nuts the ground is often frozen here. And that’s where the solution for harvest intersects with the techniques of urban farming. Chufa adapts very well to a container garden. And because it seems to like wet soil aquaponics would seem to be the best way to bring this plant out of the wild and back into the garden.
I mentioned that it was a staple crop. The ancient Egyptians kept it and so did Native Americans. The nuts were used to make flour, and they are the main ingredient for Spanish horchata which is a drink similar to almond milk. In fact while researching for this article I encountered a lot of comparisons between Chufa and Almonds.
Recently, the consumption of almonds have come under fire because they require so much water to be diverted into a plantation in an area that’s naturally prone to drought. But here in the Eastern Woodlands a Chufa substitute can easily be grown and a harvest extracted in far less time. Plus, these aquaponics systems can be set up in any number of empty industrial buildings that are scattered throughout the rust belt.
But, if you want to try this unique food on a decentralized scale by growing it yourself then I recommend a simple flower pot and decent potting soil. I have seen the plant growing in shade, open fields, rich bottom lands and old strip mines so it will adapt to almost any environment.
Since I wasn’t able to provide an example of how to use Chufa myself I’ll end this post with a link to a very well done video of how to make horchata.
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