Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Earth Notes: Grand Foods of the Grand Canyon

Stewing Amaranth leaves
Carrie Calisay Cannon
Stewing Amaranth leaves

The Grand Canyon is home to numerous native plants that are nutritional super houses.

These “grand foods” or super foods contain high amounts of nutrients and antioxidants. The nutritional and medicinal values of many wild foods are only recently gaining attention from western dietitians, yet they’ve long been known by local Tribes.

For example, desert chia grows wild in the Grand Canyon and is a close relative of the superfood chia seeds cultivated in Mexico. The cultivated species contains twice the potassium of bananas and twice the fiber of oats, triple the iron of lentils, five times more calcium than milk, three times more antioxidants than beans, and more Omega-3 than salmon.

Then there’s agave, a good source of iron, which is a mineral that moves oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. Dried agave supplies almost three-fourths of the daily requirement of calcium and also contains zinc, necessary for healing wounds.

Another “grand food” in the Grand Canyon is Amaranth, a leafy plant which Havasupai tribal members picked and cooked like spinach. The plant’s fine black seeds were harvested and stored in granaries along with corn, and were commonly used as food until the 1940s. Commercial species of Amaranth are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Amaranth also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

The key to a healthy, nutritious, and balanced diet could be growing wild in the Grand Canyon.

This Earth Note was written by Carrie Calisay Cannon and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Carrie Calisay Cannon is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and also of Oglala Lakota and German ancestry. She has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Resource Management. If you wish to connect with Carrie you will need a fast horse; by weekday she fills her days as a full-time Ethnobotanist with the Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Grand Canyon of Arizona, by weekend she is a lapidary and silversmith artist who enjoys chasing the beautiful as she creates Native southwestern turquoise jewelry.
Related Content