Wild Hopniss

A hopniss or groundnut vine clings to wild growth at the farm.

One of the oddest native plants that weaves itself through the fields behind this NH farmhouse is the American groundnut or hopniss. Little did I know the incredibly rich history behind this pervasive but beautiful clinging vine, e.g. that it sustained both Natives and Puritans through hard winters with their small tubers. That part of the famed Thanksgiving feast actually involved the modest groundnut!

The buds on a groundnut spire.

The buds of the groundnut mature on the vine & open up a deep port wine color, while the outside sports a lovely pale pink hue. These blooms turn into beans, which are also edible. Vines anchor to all kinds of growth, but here usually to tall goldenrod stalks, wild raspberry bushes, astors, & even mullein & burdock.

Foragers like to make use of the groundnut, digging up the small root tubers growing in clusters in the ground. When harvested and cooked, their taste has been described as a nuttier version of a sweet potato but of a finer grain and smoother texture, like a cross between a potato and bean.

The tubers range in size from smaller than yams, more like fingerling potatoes, to as small as hazelnuts. And the vines grow ubiquitously, which made their tubers indispensable during colonial times, easy to find and plentiful in number.

An example of very large groundnut tubers, likely farmed.

This history makes me think about the vines growing on the land of an old NH farm that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Could these plants have helped supplement meals during leaner years when early settlers had to be resourceful? Were they specifically grown or just foraged on this land?

Funny how noticing a strange plant on the farm grounds could lead to a whole history lesson. I love how this farm continually teaches me new things.

When alive, my father experimented with acorns to make flour in the tradition of American Indians, which takes multiple steps of processing because it can taste bitter. I wonder if I’ll be as adventurous & experiment with this quasi-bean quasi-potato edible? I think he’d kind of like that.

Older drawing of the Apios Americana or hopniss or groundnut.

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