The plant is an herbaceous perennial that dies to the ground each winter when the tubers can be dug. The plants grow about 4 foot tall in full sun to light shade, and bear small white flowers in the summer. The cylindrical underground roots grow 6-8 inches long and are sharply pointed at the end (hence the name arrowroot). At the end of the growing season there will be a cluster of these tubers under each plant. Each individual tuber will grow a new plant for the following year so they can multiply rapidly if you dig and replant the parts that you don't consume.
The tubers can be eated boiled, roasted, baked, or fried. In some cultures they are ground and made into pastries. Arrowroot flour can be used for gluten-free baking.
The extraction of the starch is a somewhat laborious process: The tubers are washed, pounded to a pulp, rinsed in clean water, fibrous parts are removed, and the starchy water is allowed to settle. The clear water is drained off, fresh water is again added, mixed, and drained. The remaining starch is then spread to dry in the sun. The starch yield is about 1/5 of the original weight of the tubers.
The starch can be used as a thickener for sauces, gravies, puddings, jellies, and pie fillings, or as a clear glaze for fruit pies. As a thickener, it is two to three times as effective as cornstarch. In Suriname, the Amerindians use the starch as a baby powder, giving the skin a soft, silky, smooth feel.
Old herbals suggest the easily digested starch was often used to soothe bowel irritations by dissolving in hot water or hot milk where it forms a gelatinous solution that cools to a jelly-like mass. A tablespoon of starch to a pint of liquid forms a sufficient consistency. It should first be formed into a smooth paste with a little cold water and then the hot liquid should be added while stirring briskly. A little lemon juice, or herbs and spices may be added for flavor.
Disclaimer: Notations of medicinal uses of this plant are for historical reference only. No curative or preventative claims are being made.
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