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If you’re up for an adventure, you may want to consider growing American groundnuts, or potato beans, in your garden next year. This beautiful, perennial vine bears the botanical name Apios americana, indicating that it is indigenous to the Americas. Its native range extends from Northeastern Canada down to Florida and west to Texas and the Dakotas.
Many Native American groups, as well as early European settlers, used this plant’s edible underground tuber as an important food source. The tuber’s flavor is much like a delicious, nutty potato, and they grow like beads on a necklace along the length of the plant’s thick roots. The highly fragrant, burgundy, cream-edged flowers are typical of the legume family to which they belong. They too are edible, as are the plant’s young shoots and seed pods. The flowers are among the most beautiful and curious blooms I’ve ever seen; they’re almost reason enough for growing American groundnuts.
Though some consider this vine to be a pest because it can grow upwards of ten feet in a single season and wrap itself around other plants, I find it to be a beautiful addition to my garden. When given the support of a fence or trellis, the American groundnut is an edible treasure.
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To harvest the tubers, wait until the plant has been exposed to a few hard frosts (this sweetens the tubers), dig up a section of the plant, and pull the tubers off the roots. Be sure to leave some of the plant intact so that it can return the following season. Harvested tubers can be stored for months in a root cellar or another cool, dry area. Try them boiled, roasted, or pan-fried in butter with some chopped shallots. Yum!