Wild rice (Zizania palustris) is known as the “caviar of grains.” Contrary to its name, wild rice is actually the seeds of wetland grass. Other common names include water oats, Canadian rice, marsh oats, and blackbird oats.
As the seeds mature, they fall in the water where they rest in mud until germinating and renewing the growth process in the spring. Wild rice, also known as Indian Rice, is also native to areas of Asia that provide similar ecological conditions.
A delicate plant, wild rice requires special skills at harvesting so as to not impede the reseeding and regrowth process.
Homestead Wild Rice Cultivation
If you have a marshy area, a shallow lake, or a pond on your homestead, wild rice is a great crop to cultivate. Wild rice requires water year around and will grow in water as shallow as 4 inches and as deep as 4 feet. The ideal growing depth is 18 to 22 inches.
The best time to plant wild rice seed is in the fall, before the first frost. Wild rice seed requires an extended period of cold dormancy to facilitate germination. Dry seed is dead seed. Keep the seed moist and free of mold before planting.
Wild rice can be a bit of a challenge to cultivate. However, with patience and persistence, an annually producing wild rice bed can provide a bountiful, renewable source of food. Wild rice germinates with the first warmth of spring.
Where To Grow Wild Rice
Wild rice does best in northern climates; United Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and colder. However, wild rice will grow in the warmer climates, though growth is stunted with plants reaching a mature height of 4 to 6 feet. Oregon and Northern California are solid producers of wild rice, though the crop yields are not as abundant as those of the more northern regions.
Approximately four to six weeks after germination, leaves will appear on the surface of the water. It is important that water levels do not fluctuate during this critical growth period. The buoyant plant still has shallow, delicate roots that can be disturbed or uprooted with rapidly rising water levels. Wave action generated by strong winds can also cause roots to dislodge and die.
As the vigorous growing plant matures to a height of up to 12 feet tall, seeds develop. Ponds that dry up in the hottest days of August can still support wild rice cultivation as long as the water table remains close to the soil surface.
To produce the best crop possible, weed suppression is a priority. Be on the lookout for aquatic weeds such as Sparganium, milfoil, and horntail rush. Livestock and birds can be pests that love to forage on the tasty, ripe grain.
Harvesting Wild Rice
Wild rice is harvested in the fall when the flower heads have ripened and turned a rich purple. Wild rice is harvested by the same traditional methods used for generations. A canoe or small boat is propelled through the rice beds with a long pole.
One person, operating the pole stands in the front of the vessel, while another person, known as the “knocker”, remains seated in the back of the boat. The “knocker” gently bends the rice stalks over the boat and then uses two cedar sticks to gently tap the rice kernels off the stalk, catching the grain in a blanket.
Some of the kernels fall back into the water, providing seed for the following years growth.
Traditionally, wild rice kernels were spread out on birch bark or a blanket to dry, then roasted or parched to remove the hull. Today, the kernels are typically bagged and taken to commercial facilities for processing. Once dried, the kernels are stored in moisture-proof, sealed plastic containers or glass jars.
Types Of Wild Rice
野生水稻产生的种子粒细长，不是深棕色就是黑色。营养丰富的种子呈现出独特的坚果或泥土风味。市面上有三种不同等级的野生大米，可以在网上、特色食品店、附近的民族市场以及当地的种植者和收割者那里购买。There are three different types of wild rice:
- Giant – Best choice for form and flavor
- Medium Grain – Very tasty but not quite the quality of giant
- Short Grain – lesser quality, immature seeds
Typically used as a substitute for potatoes or rice, wild rice is an easily digestible food. It’s high in carbohydrates and protein, high in antioxidants, low in fat, and gluten free.
Wild Rice Benefits Water Quality
Planting wild rice in homestead ponds not only provides a food supply for people and wildlife, the quality of the water benefits as well.
Wild rice ties up nutrients, binds loose soils, and acts as a windbreak by buffering winds across shallow lakes and wetlands. Stabilization of the water quality increases water clarity and helps reduce algal blooms.
Wild rice is prepared much like barley orother grains:用电饭煲煮，或在灶台上煮。
How To Cook Wild Rice
- Rinse the rice and drain.
- Add one cup of wild rice to four cups of water, chicken broth or vegetable stock.
- Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce temperature to simmer.
- Place a lid on the pot.
- Cook for 45 minutes or until tender.
Wild rice bursts open when cooked, so it is easy to tell when it’s done. Fluff, and season with salt, pepper, and butter to taste.
Wild rice expands beautifully when cooked: one cup of uncooked wild rice makes four cups of cooked grain. Try adding raisins, nuts, mushrooms, cranberries, chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, or fresh herbs for a tasty side dish when serving roasted duck or wild game.
Wild rice blends nicely with other grains and can be cooked together with brown rice, lentils, or barley. Wild rice will stay fresh sealed in the refrigerator up to a week or frozen for up to 3 months.
History Of Wild Rice
An evolutionary grain, wild rice has a long history as a food source dating back more than 12,000 years. Not only has wild rice served as a food staple for ancestral peoples of a diverse array of cultures, but it is also an important source of food and habitat for fish, fowl, and other wildlife.
In the United States, wild rice, a native annual grass, thrives in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northern Ohio, Northern Idaho, Eastern Washington, and Northwestern Montana.
- Wild Rice, Purdue University Horticultural
- Wild Rice, Native Wild Rice Coalition
- Going With The Grain, Smithsonian Magazine
- Wild Rice, Indian Country
- Wild Rice — September Grain Month, Whole Grains Council
- 8 Surprising Facts About Minnesota Wild Rice, Minneapolis Farmer’s Market
Hi, I love the article and enthusiasm for wild rice, but I’d love to see an updated version that includes traditionally processed (parched) wild rice. As a chef, I would never purchase conventional black paddy wild rice for the flavor, as much as for how it’s now just another cog in the machine of conventional agriculture, fossil fuels, pesticides, etc. There are many more types of wild rice that just 3 specs of black paddy listed here, for example, gas parched, wood parched, lake vs river rice, are all differences you might see in parched wild rice, and that’s not even mentioning sizes.
I was on my way to add to this conversation between you and Marlene by recommending Samuel Thayer’s books and corresponding work with wild rice. But when I flipped my copies open, I saw that you were one of the chefs he mentioned in the text! I am clearly a little out of my foraging league. All the same, I really appreciate the points you’ve brought up and the work you do with foraged food.
I have a pond in SE WI.
“Dry seed is dead seed. Keep the seed moist and free of mold before planting.” Does this mean if you buy dry rice seed, it won’t sprout? How do you purchase seed?