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Eastern Agricultural Complex (EAC)

 
Posts: 153
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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I set up this thread for people to share their experiences growing or foraging plants that were originally cultivated in the Eastern Agricultural Complex in North America. I am aware that the indigenous people of North America domesticated crops before the arrival of corn, beans, and squash from Mesoamerica around 1000 years ago. I have even read a magazine article and several websites explaining the indepentantly domesticated crops of North America:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318227950_Growing_the_lost_crops_of_eastern_North_America's_original_agricultural_system

https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/01/hunting-for-the-ancient-lost-farms-of-north-america/?amp=1

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Agricultural_Complex

I also know one forum member, Eric Toensmeier, also did a video documenting his experiences growing neglected crops from the Eastern Agricultural Complex:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tlNtuxBkR4M

I am aware of the following EAC (Eastern Agricultural Complex) crops:

Grass cereals:

Little barley (Hordeum pusillum)

Maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana)

Pseudocereals:

Lamb's quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri) Also grown for greens

Amaranth (Amaranthus sp.) Also grown for greens.

Marsh Elder (Iva annua)

Erect knotweed (Polygonum erectum)

Legumes:

Wooly bean (Strophostyles helvola)

Perennial thicket bean (Phaseolus polystachios)

Groundnut (Apios americana) Grown for the seeds amd tubers

Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

Sunflowers:

Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Jerusalem Arrichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Cucurbits:

Bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria)

Squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ozarkana) Crookneck squash and ornamental gourds are derived from North American cultivars if Cucurbita pepo.

Other fruits:

American black nightshade (Solanum ptychanthum)

Groundcherries (Physalis sp.)

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Out of the previously listed crops, I have grown ornamental gourds, sunflowers, wooly beans, black nightshade, and amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus). I have also successfully grown common lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) from seed for its greens.

Some of the above listed plants are easier to find seeds for than others. Jerusalem Artichoke, Amaranth, Lamb's quarters, sunflowers, crookneck squash, bottle gourds, and groundnuts were at least domesticated until the arrival of Europeans so they are more readily available than other plants listed above. The cultivated variety of lamb's quarter grown by North American Indians went extinct from cultivation soon after the Europeans arrived, but a related Aztec cultivar of the same species, Chenopodium berlandieri called huauzontle is still easy to find seed for online. Groundnuts and hog peanuts are available only sporadically and may require a great deal of searching to find seeds or propagules from a reputable seller. It is also possible to find groundcherry seeds, especially Physalis pubescens, from multiple online stores. Wooly bean (strophostyles helvola) and thicket bean (Phaseolus polystachios) seeds are also available from Prairie Moon Nursery in small packets. Passion flower seeds are widely available online, but they require special preparation in order for the seeds to germinate.

I have not been able to find seeds for other plants from the above list. Little barley, maygrass, marsh elder, and erect knotweed may require a great deal of searching to find seeds for these neglected plants. None of them are common in my location in southwester Ohio, so I cannot wildcraft them for seeds. Solanum ptychanthum grows widely where I live in disturbed areas, but it may be difficult to find in western North America or outside of the continent.
 
Ryan M Miller
Posts: 153
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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Here are some pictures of Eastern Agricultural Complex crops I've grown so far.
08BD0956-DCBA-4521-A883-7E5D144D93DD.jpeg
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Strophostyles helvola bean pods ripening
7216211F-4EAB-437C-A835-59ADCB333AD7.jpeg
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Non-bitter ornamental gourds can be eaten as summer squash when they are about one week old. They are usually egg-sized to 4 inches long and taste like crookneck squash
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Redroot amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) is naturalized throughout North America. The plant is monoeceous and yields tasty greens and black, glossy seeds
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Glossy, black seeds of redroot amaranth
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Common lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) is related to huauzontle (Chenopodium berlandieri) and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Based on my foraging experience, the seed yield per plant can match that of corn (Zea mays) by weight per plant.
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The seeds of common lamb's quarters look like tiny, black quinoa seeds.
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Lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) planted in my garden intentionally along with quinoa
 
Ryan M Miller
Posts: 153
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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Here is an article from jstor explaining archeological finds of pale-seeded amaranth and huauzontle (or independently domesticated lamb's quarters) found in North America in the ozarks. They identified one amaranth species as "definitely Amaranthus hypochondriacus." In addition to redroot amaranth, I am also growing a purple-leaved cultivar of Amaranthus hypochondriacus and a green cultivar of Amaranthus cruentus called Aurelia's verde.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/280360?read-now=1&seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents
 
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I am not sure if this is sort of the same thing, but here in Maine there was a huge movement in the 1800's in growing apples. It was a hobby to take certain varieties of apples and graft them with other trees to see what would happen.

The guy that owns Fedco Trees was really into finding the original apple trees, but got cancer and was hampered in energy levels to do so. It was too bad because my farm had vast apple orchards on it, and many of the trees were, and still are, massive in size, and had/have unique color and texture. Clearing started on this farm in the year 1800, and I am sure apple orchards quickly followed, so it would be interesting to see if some of these trees were orginal varieties, or test varieties that really worked out well.

Unfortunately, nearby is an plant that produces woods for smoking meats, and they pay a premium for apple trees over a certain size, so many people are felling their apple trees to sell to the plant, so I have wondered just how many orginal apple trees have gone the way of the Doo-Doo Bird due to that plant being close by. The demand for apple wood is so high, that it is the only type of wood the plant will buy anytime. If you roll in with apple on a trailer over a certain size, they will buy it on the spot. So a lot of apple is being consumed here.
 
Ryan M Miller
Posts: 153
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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Although fruit trees are not usually considered part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex, the native American Indians still made use of and often cultivated many species of fruit trees. There are three species of crabapple native to eastern North America: Malus ioensis (prairie crabapple), Malus coronaria (sweet crabapple), and Malus angustifolia (southern crabapple). All of them tend to have astringent or very sour fruit when eaten raw, but they can either be cooked to break down the malic acid, exposed to frost, or made into hard cider or apple butter. The Native American Ethnobotany Database has information for the use of Malus ioensis, Malus coronaria, and Malus fusca for the indigenous people of North america:

http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=Malus

The pfaf database also has information about the edibility of North American crabapple species:

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malus+coronaria

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malus+ioensis

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malus+angustifolia

In addition to crabapples, the North American Indian people made use of and even cultivated pawpaws (Asimina triloba) and persimons (Diospyros virginiana). Pawpaws have a very poor shelf life when eaten fresh so they have to be preserved if they are to be eaten later. I've heard pawpaws have a flavor vaguely resembling bananas, but I've never had the chance to eat them. American persimons also have a poor shelf life so they are seldom available fresh at the supermarket. They have to be eaten when fully ripe otherwise they are too astringent to eat raw.
16DA11FF-A934-4F93-985D-3B6E157FBA20.jpeg
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Cut open pawpaw (Asimina triloba) Wikipedia
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Very ripe American persimon (Diospyros virginiana) Wikimedia commons
 
Ryan M Miller
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Anyway, I got the chance to photograph the other varieties of amaranth I'm growing in my garden this morning:
8C42FF9E-EB83-4374-8C02-3811D2B38B8C.jpeg
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Purple-leaved amaranth cultivar (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) The plants were stunted for a month growing under the shade of black nightshade plants so I moved them over to a new bed.
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Aurelia's Verde amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus). Cultivated amaranth species tend to have more compact seed heads than wild or weedy amaranth species.
 
Ryan M Miller
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New post:

I was surprised to find this small groundcherry plant sprouting in my yard. I don't know for sure what species it is, but based on my location in the United States, it is either Physalis heterophylla or Physalis longifolia
DE3BDE27-D58F-4061-9963-90F69CA83A9F.jpeg
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Groundcherry flower
86744C68-1125-4B3C-9522-95EAF2117505.jpeg
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groundcherry ripening fruit in calyx
 
gardener
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Planted some red amaranth starts in a bed prepared by chop/drop.
Month later,  the bed is over run by healthy lambs quarters wilst the amaranth plants are stunted and insect damaged.
Why not just eat the lambs quarters in the first place?
The leaves are small and fiddly, to hard to harvest.
Maybe the variety you mentioned above would do well here and grow large leaves.
 
Ryan M Miller
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It looks like I'm done harvesting my wooly beans (Strophostyles helvola) for the year. I got six ounces of beans from only two plants. Now I need to figure out what is the best way to soak them before cooking them. I haven't been able to contact Eric Toensmeier to find out yet.
54C4482A-61C9-4244-8DF9-84D57DAE5F80.jpeg
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Six ounces (160g) of wooly beans
 
Ryan M Miller
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If anyone wants a guide to distinguish erect knotweed (Polygonum erectum) from other knotweeds and smartweeds, I found a website that has links to other websites with technical descriptions of the growth form of Polygonum erectum if you want to find it in the wild. Unfortunately, the descriptions are only helpful if you are familiar with the botanical terms used to describe plant morphology. I also found links to similar guides for identifying maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana) on the same site.

Erect knotweed:
http://wildflowersearch.org/search?oldstate=&buttonName=ShowFamilies&hab=&Elev=&PlantName=Polygonum+erectum

Maygrass:
http://wildflowersearch.org/search?&tsn=41343
 
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Ryan M Miller wrote:New post:

I was surprised to find this small groundcherry plant sprouting in my yard. I don't know for sure what species it is, but based on my location in the United States, it is either Physalis heterophylla or Physalis longifolia




I hope yours turn out better than mine. I have them growing everywhere on my property, but the berries are hard as a rock and smaller than a BB, even when ripe. They have a bitter flavor that makes them not worth eating.
 
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Lamb's quarters always comes up around the garden here without any encouragement and I use the greens.  I have tried harvesting the seeds and add them into soups, however it is quite a chose winnowing them and they are very hard.  I am not sure they are actually digestible.  I would speculate that the varieties of goosefoot/amaranth that was cultivated during EAC epoch had better eating-quality seeds.  I also plant a red amaranth, also for the greens.  It is very tasty.

I planted ground cherry once (Aunt Molly's, which I think Burpee gives away with any seed purchase).  It comes up all over, but berries mostly small and many of them either never ripen or shrivel.  It may be that it does not get enough sun here, but it has never really been worth the space and the trouble of harvesting.

Subsistence farmers who spent all their time on food production probably had a different mindset as to what plants were "worth harvesting" than 21st century full-time office worker, though.
 
Ryan M Miller
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I've discovered an unfortunate property of one of the crops in the Eastern Agricultural Complex: Marsh Elder (Iva annua) has pollen that can be a potent allergen. This may be one of the reasons the crop was abandoned in favor of corn (Zea mays).

http://www.pollenlibrary.com/Genus/Iva/
 
Ryan M Miller
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It looks like Eric Toensmeier has an update to his blog about permaculture on North American woody plants cultivated by native peoples. A lot of the plants I have already mentioned are included, but he goes on to mention hickory nuts (Carya sp.), blackberries and raspberries (Rubus sp.), North American bamboo (Arundinaria gigantea), red mulberries (Morus rubra), And grapes (Vitis sp.)

http://www.perennialsolutions.org/woody-plants-cultivated-by-native-people-of-the-eastern-forest-region-of-north-america-before-colonization?frame-nonce=9eb451d3c8&fbclid=IwAR3vCtWrGmYwpRMdnPCcUbzCl0CpXTAJ8rMZxl6zC99IgPJ_B8NQmgvPDYo
 
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chestnut expert, William Powell, claims that 25% of the Appalachian forest were chestnut trees prior to 1900.
It was a native american staple and promoted huge wildlife populations
 
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I planted some American Groundnut tubers last fall. I saw good growth from most, though some plantings did not grow. Today while doing some other work in my potential food forest, I found a string of about seven of the tubers (one inch or less) just lying on wood chips covering the ground. They were not near the planting locations. I couldn't see any signs of digging or any kind of disturbance. I separated them into three pieces and planted them. Any idea how these groundnuts could have been exposed?
 
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