Tinpsila or wild prairie turnips are an important food for Native Americans in the Great Plains region. Tinpsila is gathered every summer. The Tinpsila plant is dug, then the stem is placed back into the ground to spread its seeds. Tinpsila is often braided and dried for later use in many traditional foods, such as PaPa soup1.
Tinpsula produces a spindle-shaped tuber about four inches below the ground. This tuber, although nutritionally similar to a potato, differs in taste and texture due to different types of sugars and starches. Removing a coarse brown husk exposes the white edible portion. If the thin portion of the root is left attached, the tubers can be woven together into an arm-length bundle for easy drying and transport. When air-dried, the tubers can be stored indefinitely. Tinpsula has been a source of food and commerce on the Great Plains of North America for centuries. The tuber can be eaten raw, cut into chunks and boiled in stews, or ground into fine flour. The flour can then be used to thicken soups, or made into a porridge flavored with wild berries. Mixed with berries, water and some tallow, the flour can be made into cakes, which when dried, make a durable and nutritious trail food. Historically, Tinpsula was thought to have occurred in prairies throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan to north Texas. In the Dakotas it is still relatively common in prairie tracts that have not been plowed or grazed too heavily. It flowers in May and June and ripens in June and July. It's important to know when the plant ripens because when collected too early, the roots are limp and depleted from initiating spring growth; look too late, and the above-ground plant will be gone because it breaks loose at ground level and blows across the prairie like a tumbleweed spreading its seeds.2
It is no accident that, in the Lakota language, the month of June is called tinpsila itkahca wi, meaning the moon when bread root is ripe. Think of it as food for the now extinct plains grizzly, which, according to William Clark, dug it from the prairie with a passion. In 1805 a Lewis and Clark expedition observed Plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying prairie turnips. The Lakota women told their children, who helped gather wild foods, that prairie turnips point to each other. When the children noted which way the branches were pointing, they were sent in that direction to find the next plant. This saved the mothers from searching for plants, kept the children happily busy, and made a game of their work. Prairie turnips were so important, they influenced selection of hunting grounds. Women were the gatherers of prairie turnips and their work was considered of great importance to the tribe.The Sioux traded it to the Arikara for corn.2
Soak tinpsila and corn in water the night before. Boil 4 quarts of water. Add Papa, turnips, and corn. Cook until turnips are soft. Add onions and potatoes. Cook until potatoes are done. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Calories 173, Total Fat 1g, Sodium 40g, Total Carbohydrates 33.8g, Protein 21.5g.1
1Source: Great Plains Good Health and Wellness Program: "Tradition and Nutrition feed your DNA" gptchb.org
2Source:Manataka American Indian Council, "Timpsula, Turnip of the Prairie" by By Kay Fleming https://www.manataka.org/page827.html