Google musru (mush-roo) or eskimo potato and you will probably get a bunch of websites with theories of what killed Chris McCandless aka the guy from Into the Wild. One theory is that he ate the seeds from this plant or that of the similar looking wild sweet pea. In any case it is clear that care must be taken when harvesting plants for consumption. Verify the plants with someone who knows before eating and become familiar with non-edible plants which are similar. This post is not meant to be an identification guide but rather a documentation of my experience.
That aside, our inupiaq teacher recently took our class out to find musru along the edge of the river near town. I made some careful observations and asked some pointed identification questions and in the following days kept an eye out for this plant in other areas.
On Friday while checking the class beaver snares (we got one by the way!) I noticed a great many of these plants on the hill side. I dug a few and after confirming that they were in fact the correct plant made plans to come back with a shovel over the weekend.
I managed to drag a few of my fellow teachers along. They were game enough although a little disappointed with the bounty. I think they were expecting something a little more potato-y.
These roots can be as big as an inch wide and down to the width of a hair. The main root is usually between an inch and 1/4 inch wide and can run from a few inches long to a foot or more. It typically sends straight down with only one or two major off shoots making it more similar, in my opinion, to a carrot than a potato. It has a somewhat spongy consistency and a slightly sweet taste. One of the other teachers compared the taste to fresh raw green beans. I tend to agree. The roots are white inside and have a sweet smell. They are very fibrous and are traditionally eaten with seal oil. It is warned that eating it without seal oil can make you ‘sick.’ I suspect that sick refers to constipation which several sites I have found warn as a possible side effect of eating it in large quantities.
Typically digging is in the fall after the frost. At this time the seeds are scattering anyways and most or all of the sugar from the leaves has migrated to the roots for the winter. I have also read that they can be dug in the early spring, but that the roots become tough in the summer.
To dig the roots you can use a shovel although I found you must be pretty careful. The roots break and cut easily and it can be difficult to find your prize again amongst the willow and pine roots that often surround them. A stick or piece of caribou antler works quite well through the rocky sandy soil in which they grow and these are precise enough to find the shoot. Then a shovel can be used with care.
In the winter mice gather the roots as well. Native people will find a mouse hole and trade some crackers for the roots. It’s only fair since the mouse went to all the work of finding them.
My next experiment is in cooking with them. They can be eaten raw but they can also be boiled and fried. I am excited to try these methods. I may also try drying them and maybe baking. Due to the fiber content I doubt they will turn up much like mashed or baked potatoes but should be good in any case.
The photo challenge this week is Pedestrian. I have been trying to get a photo of the over crowded four wheelers that go by now and then, but whenever they do it seems I don’t have my camera or I can’t get it out and turned on before they are by me. So instead I went with these pedestrians walking down the road. The class has set some beaver snares and last week we got one! These two came after school to help collect it. And yes, it is the same one I am holding in the ‘Shungnak‘ post and the same on mentioned above.
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