Wild rice (Zizania aquatica)

Wild Rice growing in the wildWild rice (also known as Canada Rice, Indian Rice, Marsh Oats, and Water Oats) is an tall, erect, aquatic grass that typically is 1 to 1.5 meters (3 to 4 feet) in height, but may reach 4.5 meters (15 feet). The leaves are flat, strap-like, about 3-4 feet long and 1/4 to 2 inches wide with purple markings with a thick midrib (often off center).  Mature plants have 5-6 leaves or each stem.  The plant’s erect stems can be up to 10 feet tall, thick, and spongy and hollow. 

Wild Rice grain at the end of the stemWild Rice flowers are clustered near the top of the plant and can grow up to 2 feet long and 1 foot wide.  The lower branchlets of the white to purple colored flower droop (male flowers) while the upper branchlets point upward (female flowers).  Its fruit or grain grows in very loose heads at the top of the plant and are oval shaped, yellow to reddish, dark brown or blackish when ripe.  The seed kernels adhere to the plants thin brown hull, are shallow grooved, and run the entire length of the hull’s surface.  Its shallow roots are slender and fibrous.

Where to Find: Close up of Wild Rice seedWild rice grows only in very wet areas in tropical and temperate regions.  You will find them in shallow water in small lakes and slow flowing rivers and streams.  When located in water, the flowering head may be the only part of the plant visible above the water.

Edible Parts: During the spring and summer, the central portion of the lower stems and root shoots are edible.  Wild Rice is high in protein and dietary fiber and a good source of vitamin B, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Remove the tough covering before eating. During the late summer and fall, collect the straw-covered husks. Dry and parch the husks, break them, and remove the rice. Boil or roast the rice and then beat it into flour.

Note: Wild Rice seeds can be infected with the ergot fungus which is dangerous if ingested.  Infected grains will have pink or purplish blotches or growths that range in size from the size of the seed to several times larger.

Wild Rice grain head

Wild Rice plant

Wild Rice grain and flower heads

Wild Rice plant

Drawing of Wild Rice plant

Drawing of Wild Rice plant illustrating the plant, grain heads, root system, and seed fruit

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