Let's say you're very particular. You don't just want to grow a delicious vegetable; you want something nobody else is growing. Something unusual. Something with a fascinating story behind it. Not only that, but this plant should be beautiful while it's growing and not demanding of your time. May we suggest the groundnut?
A groundnut (Apios Americana) is a native vine that grows in the eastern forests. Native Americans and early settlers considered it a staple. This was the plant that helped the Plymouth Pilgrims survive when their corn supplies ran out. You can still find the vines growing over old Native American village sites. Henry David Thoreau dined on groundnuts while hanging out at Walden Pond.
Groundnuts are really tubers, or swollen parts of roots. You can pull them out of the ground any time of the year, but some say that they're tastier after the first frost. The vine also grows edible beans.
It's always nice to find out that something that tastes good is also good for you. Groundnuts have 3 times the protein of potatoes. The British organization, Plants for a Future, ranks the groundnut as the fourth most important out of 7,000 plants listed for their edible, medicinal, and useful properties.
You'll have to shop online to find groundnuts. They're often sold by the tubers or starter vines. Brushwood Nursery sells the vines (and kindly supplied us with these photos). If you search online, you might want to type in "apios americana for sale" instead of groundnuts, which is a word used in other parts of the world to describe what we call peanuts.
Groundnuts are easy to plant. They like full to partial sun, adequate moisture, and rich soil amended with organic material. The flowers are about ˝ inch in diameter and are red-brown to pink. The vine is hardy in zones 4-9. The tubers spread, so amend a broad area of your soil with compost or Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil. Groundnuts are nitrogen-fixers, so they don't need much fertilizer. Plant your tubers about 3 inches deep next to a lamp post, tree, pergola, or trellis. They'll grow 6-12 feet, so they're easier to maintain than other vines. Just be sure not to let your new vine dry out. Here's the only catch: you have to wait a season or two for the plants to mature before you harvest your crop. By waiting, though, you'll never have to re-plant, since you'll never be able to harvest all of the tubers.
Groundnuts are as versatile as potatoes. You can sauté them, fry them, or bake them. Some people like to roast them in maple syrup. Just don't eat them raw. You can find recipes in books about edible wild plants. If you have some recipes, share them on our blog page.