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Timpsila was probably the most important wild food gathered by the Lakota. In 1805 a Lewis and Clark expedition observed Plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying prairie turnips. The Lakota women told their children, who helped gather wild foods, that prairie turnips point to each other. When the children noted which way the branches were pointing, they were sent in that direction to find the next plant. This saved the mothers from searching for plants, kept the children happily busy, and made a game of their work. Prairie turnips were so important, they influenced selection of hunting grounds. Women were the gatherers of prairie turnips and their work was considered of great importance to the tribe. IN 1804, Lewis and Clark called it the “white apple” and their French boatmen called it pomme blanche. In 1837, while crossing the James River basin, Captain John Fremont refers to it as pommes des terres, or the ground apple.
Timpsila has been a source of food and commerce on the Great Plains for centuries. The tuber can be eaten raw, cut into chunks and boiled in stews, or ground into a fine flour. The flour can then be used to thicken soups, or made into a porridge flavored with wild berries. Mixed with berries, water and some tallow, the flour can be made into cakes, which when dried, make a durable and nutritious trail food.Historically, timpsila occurred in prairies throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan to north Texas. In the Dakotas it is still relatively common in prairie tracts that have not been plowed or grazed too heavily. It flowers in May and June and ripens in June and July. It’s important to know when the plant ripens because, if collected too early, the roots are limp and depleted from initiating spring growth; look too late, and the above-ground plant will be gone because it breaks loose at ground level and blows across the prairie like a tumbleweed spreading its seeds. It is no accident that, in Lakota, the month of June is called Timpsila itkahca wi, meaning the moon whe timpsula is ripe.
“It’s important to keep these traditional foods with us to help our people return back to sovereignty,” Wedell says. And, as he points out, timpsila existed before the concept of food sovereignty. The tuber also belies a simple truth: Despite being labeled as a food desert because of the lack of supermarkets, the prairies are abundant in nutritious food sources—if you know what to look for and where to look; and if you’ve been taught how to respect the bounty that exists just beneath their surface.Growing your own plants from seed is the most economical way to add natives to your home. Before you get started, one of the most important things to know about the seeds of wild plants is that many have built-in dormancy mechanisms that prevent the seed from germinating. In nature, this prevents a population of plants from germinating all at once, before killing frosts, or in times of drought. To propagate native plants, a gardener must break this dormancy before seed will grow. (Source: www.prairiemoon.com)