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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/49

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39
FOOD AND FIBER PLANTS OF THE INDIANS.

grows abundantly, but only as a bush. In such cases, however, the roots are of large size, of peculiarly dense texture, and furnish an excellent fuel. The fruit of the mesquite is a yellow, bean-like pod, six to eight inches in length, by one half an inch wide. In this there are numerous hard, dark seeds, and between them a considerable quantity of a yellow, farinaceous substance, sweet and agreeable to the taste. Where the tree abounds these pods are eaten by all herbivorous animals, and in certain localities they serve as subsistence for human beings. In the Mohave Valley, on the Colorado River, we found Indians making considerable use of the fruit of the mesquite for food. The pods were pounded together in a kind of rude mortar, the seeds and husks imperfectly separated, and the farinaceous substance made into a kind of cake. This closely resembled a preparation of yellow corn-meal, and tasted a little like it.

Nelumbium luteum (water-chinquapin). This beautiful plant is found in comparatively few localities, and it therefore can not be regarded as an important source of food-supply; but the filbert-like nuts which are contained in its discoid receptacles, and which have given it its common name, are eatable, and have always been valued by the Indians. The Nelumbium is most abundant in the western part of Lake Erie, especially about the mouth of the Maumee River. It also grows on the islands in that lake, in Lake Winnebago, in the Ohio at North Bend, Sodus Bay, New York, Seldon's Cove on the Connecticut, and in the Delaware. In many of these localities it is supposed to have been planted by the Indians. This is the finest of our North American water-lilies, and it may be at once recognized by its large peltate leaves, and its flowers, six inches in diameter, greenish yellow in color, often with a flush of red.

Our plant is closely allied to N. speciosum, which grows spontaneously in India, and, like the papyrus, was formerly cultivated on the Nile, but is not now found in Egypt. This is sometimes called the lotus, but the true lotus was a Nymphæa (N. lotus), a species very much like our white water-lily (N. odorota).[1]

Wild rice (Zizania aquatica). This plant, though very widely

  1. Both the white water-lily, the true lotus, and a blue one (Nymphæa cærulea) grow abundantly in the delta of the Nile, and were highly esteemed by the flower-loving Egyptians. They were used by them to decorate the tables in their feasts, and as crowns and garlands for the guests. They also formed a conspicuous feature in their offerings lo the gods, and at funeral ceremonies.

    There is considerable difference of opinion among scholars as to the identity of the plant which bore the fruit said by Homer in the "Odyssey" to have been offered to Ulysses in North Africa, and reputed to have the peculiar property of making those who ate of it forget home and country. It certainly was not the Indian nor the Egyptian water-lily, for Herodotus has described them both; but it was probably the fruit of Ziziphus lofus, a small tree which grows in Barbary. This is something like a date or plum in appearance, has a delicious flavor, and the Arabian poets ascribe to it a lethal influence similar to that felt by Homer's lotophagoi.