Cuckoopint, or Lords-and-Ladies, is a familiar and common springtime plant that prefers shaded and reasonably damp growing conditions. It is also one of our more toxic wild plants - almost in the same league of deadliness as hemlock and bryony - and yet many centuries ago cuckoopint roots were once grown on a small industrial scale for starch production.
Do not mess around with this wild plant, it is toxic and dangerous. The foliage and berries are poisonous, but the root [IF SUITABLY TREATED] can yield an edible starch. The article below describes some experiments with extracting that root starch and using it as a foodstuff. Should you decide to experiment on your own, you do so at your own risk.
- Do not consume or taste the root in its raw state.
- When processing the roots keep ALL other foodstuffs well away from the processing area.
- Wash all your utensils thoroughly after processing, and let them dry naturally.
- Wear hand protection as there are constituents in the roots which may cause blistering or other skin conditions.
- Do NOT attempt to process any other parts of the plant [the author of this article was told of an actual incident where a child had chewed on the autumn berries, resulting in the oral cavity blistering and swelling to a point that made breathing difficult. A written account talks of similar symptoms with the leaves.] This plant takes no prisoners if wrongly handled.
Now that your attention has been suitably focussed on the hazards of this plant it is possible to begin an account of the extraction of arum starch and some experiments on using it as a foodstuff. The following process in one that ethnobotanist Gordon Hillman carried out for the Wild Food book with Ray Mears.
|Arum roots grow about 4 or 5 inches beneath the ground surface. Larger bulbs, or corms, are perhaps one and a half to two inches in diameter, and roughly round, but not always. Smaller rootstocks are also sometimes present.|
|The starch process starts by removing the smaller lateral roots and peeling off the scale-like brown skin to reveal the starchy material inside. When at their prime the root material will ooze the starch onto your gloved fingers. Make sure to remove any stalk material - it is the starch, not cellular plant material, that is needed. Wet-weight, the contents of this weighed around 200 grammes and ultimately produced around 70 grammes of dry arum flour.|
|The starchy bulbs are then grated into water. I used a fine toothed kitchen grater, and in later 2006 trials used an old kitchen blender (which needs thoroughly cleaning afterwards).|
|The gratings are mixed thoroughly with the water and allowed to settle. Starch grains separate out at the bottom with a layer of cellular material which is then poured off with the first lot of water. Tepid water [not hot - which could dissolve the starch] is then added and stirred thoroughly. In my own trials I repeated this process every hours for about six hours, each time allowing the starch to settle.|
|After the final 'washing' the mass of starch grains can be filtered. Here kitchen tissue was used, but a very fine muslin or even laboratory / ground coffee filter papers could be used.|
|The starch is then spread thinly on a porous drying surface, and dried in an oven at a very low temperature [again, you don't want to be cooking the starch - just yet].|
|The dried mass is then ground [I used a pestle and mortar] to break it up, and then run through a very fine sieve. This should help remove any remaining residual fibrous content of the rootstock. It is the starchy 'flour' which remains that may be used to cook with.|
|When cooked with a little water the flour turns almost translucent like arrowroot, and also reminded the author of the cooking properties of cassava flour. The flour - dry or cooked - is almost without taste.|
|Stocks of flour were limited, so only small-scale food trials were carried out. [The 70 grammes of the flour mentioned previously equates to about 1 cup in volume]. This tiny bread roll [mixed with wheat flour] was not particularly successful, but the author believes that with further trials some sort of bread could be produced.|
|Much more successful was the use of the flour for making biscuits and cookies. This quite normal cookie dough was variously tried with the proportions of arum-to-wheat flour ranging from 1:2 and 1:1.|
|In a proportion of 1:1 with some sugar as a sweetener a tasty dry biscuit resulted.|
|Micro-testing a coconut and arum flour cookie, sweetened with honey.|
|An attempt at a very basic tacos, using arum flour mixed with polenta.|
|Arum flour can also be used like cornflour or arrowroot flour to thicken sauces that give a nice glaze to food.
The author tried to use arum flour as a replacement for arrowroot in an arrowroot pudding but the result was far from successful; though if larger quantities of the flour were available it might have been possible.
In 2006 a much larger batch of about 250 grammes of starch material was extracted.
Pictures and text Copyright © 2005 & 2007.