Foraging Wild Roots: Indian Cucumber Root

Photo of Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) is a native perennial plant with an excellent reputation. Flowering plants are recognized by their two tiered growth: a lower whorl of less than a dozen leaves and an upper whorl typically of three. Notice how the leaves within each whorl are similar in size and how all the leaves have parallel veins.

Photo of Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) flower

The flowers of Indian Cucumber Root are borne from the upper whorl, which is entirely absent in non-flowering individuals. These easily overlooked flowers have six recurved, yellowish-green tepals (petal-like parts), six stamens, and three dark red styles. If you notice flowering plants in the spring, return in late summer or early autumn to check for ripe dark fruits atop the upper whorl of leaves.

Photo of Indian Cucumber Root fruit

One can find the white, edible root of this plant growing close to the surface at a right angle to the stem. Foragers should me mindful that digging and consuming this tasty, easily gathered trail-side nibble is lethal to the individual plant and should, therefore, resist the urge to dig, dig, dig.

Photo of Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) root

Indian Cucumber Root often grows near Starflower (Lysimachia borealis, pictured below). While the two plants have superficial similarities, one can easy tell them apart. The leaves of Starflower vary in size, have net-veins, and only occur in a single whorl. Starflower blossoms have roughly 7 (give or take a few) white petals.

Photo of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis)

3 comments

  1. Dave

    I had this for the first time this year. I was lucky to find an area here in PA where there was a large number of them growing. Only harvested three or four plants, just to try it out, and it was quite delicious. There were starflower in the area as well, and I did notice the difference in the veins.

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