Wild Rice Plant Description
Wild rice is grass related to domestic rice (Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrima). All members of the same tribe Oryzeae, wild rice has an edible outer sheath with a tender grain inside. The plant is known by its Ojibwe name, mandolin, Canada rice, Indian rice, and water oats.
Classification of Wild Rice
Zizania palustris: Annual native to southern Canada, the north-central United States, and the Great Lakes area
Zizania aquatica: Annual native to the St. Lawrence River area and Atlantic and Gulf coastal regions of the United States
Zizania texana: Also called Texas wild rice, a perennial nearly extinct in central Texas along the San Marcos River but has become an invasive species in New Zealand since its accidental introduction
Zizania latifolia: Also called Manchurian wild rice, a perennial native to China
History of Wild Rice
Native peoples in the United States have been eating wild rice for thousands of years, harvesting it from boats by gently knocking the grain heads with specialized wooden sticks into collecting baskets. Any grains falling into the water seed the next season’s crop. The plant has long been regarded as sacred by several tribes. In 2018, manoomin was granted legal personhood with the right to flourish by the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe. They filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the oil pipeline developers whose construction endangered the natural habitat.
Manchurian wild rice was a primary food source in ancient China, but now it is almost non-existent in the wild. No longer cultivated for its grain value, it is grown only for fleshy white stems.
In the 20th century, wild rice began increasing in popularity in both the United States and Canada. Today it is commercially considered almost an exotic food for mixing in other dishes rather than consuming on its own.
Preferred Growing Conditions
Wild rice thrives best in shallow lakes, slow-moving streams, and fresh marshes. The plants grow vertically underwater in mid-spring, eventually reaching several feet tall. Each plant flower has male spikelets below the female spikelets at the end of the stalk. In July, the plants cross-pollinate. The ripening grains fall into the water over about ten days if not harvested or eaten by deer, fish, and other wildlife.
Nutritional Value of Wild Rice
Wild rice is quite nutritious, containing protein, lysine, and dietary fiber. It is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese. Low in fat, it also offers the antioxidant apigenin, which is being evaluated in cancer research.
Wild Rice Precautions
Like other rice, wild rice potentially contains arsenic and other heavy metals absorbed from its environment. Soaking the grains in water overnight for up to 24 hours is a safe practice. Another concern is the rare potential of ergot toxin; infected grains exhibit pink or purple spots and should be discarded.
Wild Rice in Cooking
This nutritious and natural food is becoming increasingly common due to its high nutrient density.