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Aquatic Food

by Alex Binck

Most people know that ponds can be beautiful, peaceful, and a good source of water for irrigation, but not many know that there are a variety of delicious food crops that can be grown in the aquatic environment. In fact, wetlands such as ponds produce consistently more plant growth than any other ecosystem in the world, including all cropland and even tropical rainforests, which rank a close second. Imagine if we harvested that growth to feed ourselves! Even in the temperate zones, there are a surprising number of plants which can be grown. Rice (Oryza sativa) can be grown in wet soil or water, and though most rice is grown in warm regions, cultivars from Japan are thriving as far north as Vermont!

Similarly, wild rice (Zizania aquatica), though commonly thought of as a delicacy only found around the Great Lakes, also thrives in our climate. It grows wild along many local creeks and rivers. Before the Anacostia River became a polluted refuse pile, there were miles of wild rice marsh growing in the margins of the river. In fact, this may be why Washington, D.C. is located where it is: the city was built near the site of an abandoned of an Indian village, who may have settled there due to this immense food source. The peppery and delicious watercress (Nasturtium officinale) prefers flowing water, but it will also grow in a pond.

But those are just the plants Americans are familiar with. In parts of Asia with a similar climate to our own, people cultivate even more aquatic vegetables. Wapato (Saggitaria latifolia, sinensis, and others), a kind of aquatic tuber, has provided food for people in Asia and North America for thousands of years. For some native groups, especially in the Pacific Northwest, this was their primary food source. Lewis and Clark frequently lived off of these tubers during their journey. The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), famous for its beautiful and sacred blossoms, is also an excellent source of food, with massive tubers that look remarkably like mud bananas. The nuts are delicious as well. Both are popular foods in parts of China. Our native species, the American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) has similar culinary properties and, though rare in Maryland, can be seen in Mattawoman Creek to our south.

There are many other aquatic foods which are delicious and important to different cultures around the world, but, unfortunately there is no space here to discuss them. So, if you have a pond, try planting one of these! Many survive with almost no maintenance. And remember that even if you don’t have water to grow them in, a lined flowerpot or an old kiddie pool can easily become a smaller and more manageable aquatic growing space.

If you’re not wet, you’re not living yet.

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