Some plants require standing water to grow while others only need wet soil. Some can tolerate a short drying period. There are some plants that float, some that are submersed and grow beneath the water while still others are immersed and grow out of the water. Some of these plants have edible roots or seeds. Others have shoots that can be harvested as a vegetable in the spring.
One of the benefits of wetland plants is their ability to filter pollutants from the water. It is important to know the quality of the water before gathering and eating wetland plants. If in doubt, boil the parts being used for at least ten minutes before using in a recipe.
There are a number of wetland plants that have edible roots. Roots are best gathered in the fall or winter, usually after the leaves have dropped and the water is cold. They are generally embedded in the muck, which makes removal difficult.
Arrowheads are emergent wetland plants with long-stalked basal leaves. The flower stalk is leafless and bears small flowers with three petals in whorls of three.
The roots of some members of this family have been called duck potatoes because they look like small potatoes and ducks eat them. Roots extend outward from the plant with edible tubers on the ends.
A family of herbs, usually in or near the water, but occasionally on land, that are characterized by a spadix that consists of numerous small, stalkless flowers crowded together on a thick stem. It is often surrounded by a large, showy bract that is referred to as a spathe. The leaves have long stems.
Several members of this family contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause an intense, burning sensation when eaten if not prepared correctly.
Arrowhead tubers, also known as duck potatoes
Cattails are marsh plants that can be found throughout North America. They are what some people think of as a “hot dog on a stick.” They have long, sword-like leaves that are flat. Tiny yellowish-brown male flowers form a spike above the female spike of flowers that develop into the brown seed spike characteristic of cattails. They form colonies with their horizontal rhizomes that spread underground.
Many of the aquatic plants, including grasses, contain edible seeds. Usually these are seeds that are best left for the birds. However, there are a few that are worth harvesting.
Lotus Lily Family
Sometimes referred to as water lilies, the large leaves usually emerge above the water rather than float on top. Flowers are large and showy followed by the edible seeds that are contained within a circular receptacle. Roots are also edible but difficult to remove.
Pickerelweed has large, heart-shaped leaves that emerge from the water on long stalks. The leaf veins closely parallel the margins of the leaf that emerges from an underground rhizome. It produces spikes of blue flowers during the summer months that are followed by edible seeds.
Water Lily Family
Water lilies are aquatic plants, usually with floating, heart-shaped leaves. Flowers are large and showy. Seeds and roots are edible. However, the roots are usually deeply embedded in the muck and sometimes taste like muck.