The ultimate permaculture plant – Queensland Arrowroot

Clump of Queensland Arrowroot

Clump of Queensland Arrowroot

Queensland Arrowroot is a perennial clump-forming plant of the same family as the ornamental Canna Lilly. It grows up to 2m in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical landscapes. It has an edible tuber, thick stalks and large bright green rounded leaves. Once a clump is established, it resists well to wind, it tolerates mild frost and copes well to summer heat.

It strives in rich moist conditions but it will grow thick and strong even in poor soils. The fleshiness of the tubers will be of course impacted – they will be then more fibrous if grown in drier or poorer soils. Still, they will grow long stalks and plenty of leaves.

I am mad about arrowroot! I planted tubers everywhere for different functions.

Soak up a wet area

Using arrowroot to soak up a wet spot

Using arrowroot to soak up a wet spot (there’s bananas too!)

There is a wet spot on the lawn where our surface drain comes out. Initially, I thought to dig out a pond there and collect water. But the location is really not suitable for a pond as it is quite close to our septic tank.

So instead, I thought of planting moisture-loving plants which roots aren’t invasive. Here comes the arrowroot! The first year, the wallabies had a feast on the nutritional fleshy leaves. But they walked on and now the plant is well established and forms a thick clump that creates a nice visual feature in the middle of the lawn. Our dog goes and hide in there for shelter when it’s really hot outside!

Windbreak, shade, microclimates

I planted quite a few tubers in our burgeoning food-forest and once well established, the stem and foliage will be chopped-and-dropped to feed the soil.

Meanwhile, these plants collect and store energy (sunshine, water, nutrients), create habitat and food for soil life, and nurse young trees by providing shade and windbreak.

In the scorching heat of summer, they help ‘cool’ down the area where they’re planted by the process of evapotranspiration and conversely, they ‘warm’ the air up in winter and prevent frost to settle in and damage young plants.

Shelterbelt around veggie patch

Kikuyu grass is my biggest nightmare when it comes to the veggie patch. It has the capacity to send underground rhizomes far into the rich garden beds and if I am not vigilant, it can quickly overtake everything, super-fed on the rich soil I have spent so many years to develop! Aaaargh! So I planted a shelterbelt of arrowroot tubers and bana grass (more on that in another post) around the veggie patch and so far it works. I still needed to manually pull out the encroaching rhizomes for a few months until the arrowroot tubers were well established. But after a while, it is an efficient barrier.

Lockup fodder and compost material

Initially, the main reason why I started growing arrowroot is that I desperately needed to raise the hummus content of my soils. Along with comfrey, it is a super useful plant as it grows fast and it composts very well. I use the stem and leaves in double-digging, in chop-and-drop to build the soil up, as mulch, as compost material for the compost bays and in the worm farms.

I feed it to chooks, ducks, rabbits and cows. Goat eat them too and tubers can be cooked and fed to pigs.

Backup food

I also thought of growing arrowroot to backup our production of staple food. Indeed, permaculture teaches us to back up our main functions in order to raise our resilience in the face of an uncertain future. I grow a variety of seasonal staple food for my family here to guard against crop failure: there are potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, and now arrowroot. So if the bush rats make a feast of my sweet potatoes, I still have the pumpkins. If the wet weather made my pumpkins rot, I still have the spuds. If the cricket mole damaged my crop of potatoes, I still have the Jerusalem artichokes. If the brush turkey dug out their tubers I still have the yacon. If yacon comes in short supply, I still have the arrowroot!

How to cook arrowroot

Young arrowroot tubers

Young arrowroot tubers

Only harvest the young tubers, those that are fleshy and whitish. Look out for small new shoots (less than 10cm long) – these ones should be nice and tender. The older ones are an absolute waste of time – fibrous and hard.

Wash them, peel them with a knife and store them in water until you’re ready to cook them – they will oxidise otherwise.

Place a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Once the water is boiling, cut the arrowroot tubers in cubes and boil them until tender.

Drain and add to a stir-fry or a curry.

There are other recipes available on the net, including that of making flour. I haven’t tried that yet, and I most probably won’t as upon reading them I find the process a tad too energy intensive for my liking.

What does it tastes like?

Honestly, it’s rather bland… which means even kids can eat them! You’re best to consider arrowroot as a nutritional filler for curries or stir-fries or best, spice it up with lots of garlic and herbs.

I wouldn’t recommend keeping any leftovers for the next day as it oxidises fairly quickly and it doesn’t make it a palatable experience the next day. The chooks love it though.

Nutritional values

Close to none! Arrowroot is mostly only just carbohydrates, starch. So eating it on its own will be a sad affair nutrition wise! The good thing though is that it is very well digested so if you suffer intestinal upsets it is known to help.

Happy gardening!



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