Thíŋpsiŋla Sú: Prairie Turnip Seed

When I was harvesting Thíŋpsiŋla / Thíŋpsiŋna / Prairie turnip / Pediomelum esculentum last year, this adorable little seed fell out in my hand:

It fell out of the fuzzy flowerhead, and resembles a very small bean.

When people dig thíŋpsiŋla, we pay special attention to what we do with the green, non-edible part of the plant after we take the root. The idea is that you replant the green part, so it can either grow into a new plant, or allow the seeds for the next generation of plants to have the best chance at success.

Everybody’s family has their own teachings and traditions about what to do with the green top of the plant:

A) Some families plant the green top right back into the hole that they dug the root out of, so it looks just the way they found it.

B) Some families put it back into the hole — but upside down, so the flower head (and any seeds) are now inside the soil, and have a better chance of germinating.

C) Some families drop the green tops on the ground, and letting them roll across the prairie, being taken to their new homes by the wind.

Which method is best? Well, I don’t want to disrespect any family’s tried and true methods. My mentor, Linda Black Elk, another Native person who is not originally from the Northern Great Plains, explains that she respects the protocol and teachings of whatever family she’s harvesting with. If they stick the greens back in the hole, she does the same. If they let the wind blow them across the prairie, she does, too. So I’ve followed Linda’s lead on this, and always done it the way my hosts do it. (You need access to land to dig thíŋpsiŋla. So, not having land of my own, I always go out digging with someone who does.)

But a few years back, an Environmental Science student at Sitting Bull college asked the same question. She designed a research study to determine which method was most successful in encouraging new plants to grow. After a long period of observation, going out harvesting with different community members and documenting their harvest methods, collecting data, and returning to the same patches of land to survey the plants the next year, she found a clear winner. She determined that Method C (as described above) was most effective in encouraging new thíŋpsiŋla plants to grow.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t bring the seed home — I left it out on the prairie, to be blown by the wind until it finds its new home and, hopefully, germinates to become a new plant.

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