Eskimo potatoes?? - Hedysarum alpinum??

Kathy Bilton kathyBILTON at fred.net
Tue Jun 3 12:17:52 EST 1997


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Kathy Bilton wrote:
> 
> This evening a story on the ABC program Dateline about the fellow who
> died in the Alaskan wilderness back in '95 mentioned the plant
> "Eskimo potatoes."  Apparently its seeds are poisonous.  He had been
> eating them which contributed to his weakened condition and eventual
> death.
> 
> Anyway, does anyone know what this plant is?  It looked like it might
> have been a legume.

Before I posted the original q., I had tried searching the net on the 
term: Eskimo potatoes  and got no information.

A while later, I tried a search on the singular....Eskimo potato
and came up with the following URL

http://outside.starwave.com/magazine/0193/9301fdea.html

This Outside Magazine story gives the name as Hedysarum alpinum.

Further info I came up with:

Mabberley's Plant Book says this circumboreal species' roots are eaten
raw,
boiled or roasted by Esquimaux and N. American Indians, but does not
mention 
its seeds being poisonous.  

According to the plants.usda.gov database the US distribution 
of this plant whose common name they give as "alpine sweetvetch" is:
 Alaska           Maine            Massachusetts    Michigan        
  Montana          New Hampshire    South Dakota     Vermont         
  Wyoming        

Yet, the Peterson guide to Edible Wild Plants does not list it.

This species is not mentioned in Hardin and Aren'a Human Poisoning
from Native and Cultivated Plants, though they make a brief mention 
of Hedysarum mackenzii which they say is reported to be poisonous.
This species, called "Mackenzie's sweetvetch" in the USDA databas,
occurs in:Alaska           Montana          Oregon           Washington  

-Kathy  Bilton
http://www.fred.net/kathy/
For Email: remove capital letters from reply address



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