Edible Wild Plants: Northern Wild Rice (Zizania Palustris L.)

Northern wild rice  (Zizania Palustris L.) is one of three species of wild rice that are native to North America.

Northern Wild RiceThe species most commonly harvested as grain is the annual species Zizania palustris. Native Americans and non-Indians harvest wild rice by canoeing into a stand of plants, and bending the ripe grain heads with wooden sticks called knockers, so as to thresh the seeds into the canoe.

The size of the knockers, as well as other details, are prescribed in state and tribal law. By Minnesota statute, knockers must be at most 1 inch in diameter, 30 inches long, and one pound in weight. The plants are not beaten with the knockers but require only a gentle brushing to dislodge the mature grain. The Ojibwa people call this plant manoomin meaning “good berry”. Some seeds fall to the muddy bottom and germinate later in the year.

Several Native American cultures, such as the Ojibwa, consider wild rice to be a sacred component in their culture. The rice is harvested with a canoe: one person vans (or “knocks”) rice into the canoe with two small poles (called “knockers” or “flails”) while the other paddles slowly or uses a push pole. For these groups, this harvest is an important cultural (and often economic) event. Named by the Ojibwe, the neighboring Omanoominii (the Menominee tribe, whose endonym is Mamaceqtaw, “the people”) is named after this plant. Many places in Illinois, Indiana, Manitoba, Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Wisconsin are named after this plant, including Mahnomen, Minnesota, Menomonie, Wisconsin and many lakes and streams bearing the name “Rice”, “Wildrice”, or “Wild Rice”.

Northern Wild Rice Field

Because of its nutritional value and taste, wild rice increased in popularity in the late 20th century, and commercial cultivation began in the US and Canada to supply the increased demand.

Edible Parts

  • Seeds
  • Stem


The seeds can be used as a cereal. A staple food of the native North American Indians, the long black delicious grain is eaten as an expensive gourmet meal. It is used in the same ways that rice is used and is sometimes added to rice dishes to impart its subtle flavor.

Northern Wild Rice - Cooked In A Bowl

The seed can also be ground into a meal and used in making bread, thickening soups etc. It is a very rich source of riboflavin and is also rich in niacin.

The base of the culms is used as a vegetable

Nutrition & Safety

Almost always sold as a dried whole grain, wild rice is high in protein, the amino acid lysineand dietary fiber, and low in fat. Like true rice, it does not contain gluten. It is also a good source of certain minerals and B vitamins. According to the online NutritionData, 1 cup of cooked wild rice would provide 5% or more of the daily value of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, and potassium; 10% or more of the daily value of niacin, b6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus; 15% of zinc; and over 20% of manganese.

Wild rice seeds can be infected by the highly toxic fungus ergot, which is dangerous if eaten. Infected grains will have pink or purplish blotches or growths of the fungus, from the size of a seed to several times larger.


The swollen crisp white stems of Manchurian wild rice are grown as a vegetable, popular in East and Southeast Asia. The swelling occurs because of infection with the smut fungus Ustilago esculenta. The fungus prevents the plant from flowering, so the crop ispropagated asexually, the infection being passed from mother plant to daughter plant. Harvest must be made between about 120 days and 170 days after planting, after the stem begins to swell but before the infection reaches its reproductive stage, when the stem will begin to turn black and eventually disintegrate.

The vegetable is especially common in China, where it is known as gaosun or jiaobai. Other names which may be used in English include coba and water bamboo. Importation of the vegetable to the United States is prohibited in order to protect North American species from the fungus.

Where Does Northern Wild Rice (Zizania Palustris L.) Grow?

Northern Wild Rice Grow Area

How To Identify Northern Wild Rice (Zizania Palustris)

Broad-leaved grass of pond, lake and river regions. Long, sprangling, broom-like flower cluster, bearing staminate (pollen-bearing) flowers below, and pistillate (seed-bearing) flowers toward the summit of the cluster.

Northern Wild Rice Seeds (Flowers)

Fruits (seeds) awl-shaped, nearly cylindric, about half an inch long, with the loosely rolled husk bearing a long bristle at the tip.



2 Responses to “Edible Wild Plants: Northern Wild Rice (Zizania Palustris L.)”

  1. Gam says:

    Please email me if you can direct me to a commercial source of a few hundred Zizania palustris plugs for planting around a pond in Tidewater, Virginia. Thank you very much.

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