If you’ve seen, read or heard of the Hunger Games, the dark trilogy in which children in a ruthless dictatorship are forced to fight to the death in an annual celebration, then you’ll have heard of Katniss Everdeen, the accidental hero who assists the rebellion.
Katniss, like her younger sister Primrose (Prim), is named after the plants that are associated with her skill. Prim is a herbal healer and named after Evening Primrose. Katniss is an archer, and named after the edible aquatic plant Sagittaria.
And the good news is that Sagittaria is a fantastic, attractive and easy little plant to grow in any patch. It’s also good fun and it tastes good too.
The plant’s common names are many and include Duck potato, Omodaka, Tule Potato, Swan Potato and Wapatoo. Katniss is another of its names, as is Arrowhead.
The arrow theme is reflected in its Latin name too, which comes from the Sagittarius constellation, also known as the Archer. The plant gains these arrow references because of the plant’s striking arrowhead shaped leaves, and it’s why the archer Katniss in the Hunger Games carries the name she does.
Katniss – the plant – is an aquatic perennial plant that produces great tasting and hugely versatile crops of tubers, used for centuries much as we use potatoes. There are multiple varieties of it growing naturally around North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
How to eat and cook it
You eat the tubers of the plant, which grow in moist soil throughout the summer and are ready to harvest in the Autumn. You can eat them raw or treat them like potatoes by boiling them for ten or fifteen minutes, roasting them or frying them.
They taste a little like potatoes and a little like chestnuts. Delicious. According to Martin Crawford in his fab “Perennial Vegetables” book, you can also dry them, grind them up and use them as a flour in baking or as a thickener, though we’ve not tried that.
How to grow it and how to harvest
Katniss is easy to grow in any garden at all. It grows happily in running water, slowly moving water, still water or as a marginal bog plant. It doesn’t need to be wet constantly but it does need to be in boggy conditions most of the time. Katniss prefers full sun but can live with some shade.
Once growing and settled in, it’s an incredibly easy plant to grow. It sits there growing all summer, and you just need to keep it moist most of the time, using harvested rain water.
Being so unfussy, it means you can grow Katniss in a pond, or in a tub or a pot or an old sink or anything you fancy, thereby creating your own mini aquatic edible zone.
Some varieties of the plant can be invasive, so plant it with care. We grow ours in old sinks dotted around the forest garden.
The plant grows in the Spring and Summer, producing tubers in the mud beneath it. Once in to Autumn the plant dies back and at that point, like potatoes, the tubers are ready for harvesting.
You can harvest them by delving deep to the mud with your hands and rummaging about or if you prefer dig around with a fork or a stick. Or alternatively, pull up the plant and the tubers may float up to the surface.
If you can’t find Sagittaria in a local shop it’s found easily enough by searching online. You can also grow the plant easily from tubers if you can source them, or from seed too. Leave a few tubers in the soil and with luck you should get a new plant the following year, ready to start again.
By Neil Kingsnorth