We're Wild About Wild Rice
Wild rice is an incredible, edible wetland plant and a vital part of our local natural resources. For the next month, we will focus on how important this native grass is to our environment. Here are just some of the many reasons we care about wild rice!
Wild rice is a native species and grows in distinct wetland habitats. Found in the local waterways and river systems of Wisconsin and Minnesota, wild rice is native to the Great Lakes region, Canada, and Texas. To grow, it requires specific wetland conditions - shallow waters with slow-moving currents in streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes. Wild rice depends on the mucky, nutrient-rich sediment found in these environments (National Wildlife Federation).
Wild rice is a unique plant and contains exceptional nutritional value. As it turns out, wild rice is an annual aquatic grass! This native grass is a naturally gluten-free grain with higher levels of protein (strengthens bone, muscle and tissue), fiber (improves digestion), Vitamin C (boosts immune systems), and antioxidants (aids in cell regeneration) than other grains. With its higher vitamin, mineral, and nutrient content, consuming wild rice has many health benefits (organicfacts.net).
Wild rice is an essential part of our ecosystem. "Wild rice is tremendously important to the biodiversity of the lakes and rivers it is associated," states the Native Wild Rice Coalition. It provides natural habitat and protection for migratory waterfowl, birds, and mammals. With its high nutritional value, wild rice is a primary food source for many animals. It is especially important for migratory birds and waterfowl, as fall migration coincides with wild rice seed maturation. In addition, this native aquatic grass greatly improves water quality and clarity as its root system acts as a filtration system, binds loose soils, and stores nutrients (Native Wild Rice Coalition). Wild rice is an essential local natural resource, as it provides habitat and food for "more than 30 species of waterfowl that use the Great Lakes and adjacent coastal wetlands during at least one season of their lifecycle ... and an estimated three million swans, geese, and ducks that travel along migration corridors across the Great Lakes region" (Native Wild Rice Coalition). In addition, Minnesota has more acres of natural wild rice (Zizania palustris) than any other state in the country (MN DNR), and an estimated 99 percent of cultivated wild rice grown in the United States comes from Minnesota and California (National Wildlife Federation).
Wild rice is extremely sensitive to ecological changes. Many wild rice species continue to suffer from habitat loss. The Texas species (Zizania texana) is listed as endangered and is at risk of extinction (National Wildlife Federation). In addition, aquatic invasive species (AIS) are a serious threat to wild rice waters (MN DNR). Wild rice is sensitive to its environmental conditions and is drastically affected by varying water levels, water flow, turbidity, water quality, and water level fluctuations (MN DNR). Issues such as climate change and water pollution pose a serious threat to this incredible, native wetland grass.
Wild Rice at The Watershed Cafe. We use Minnesota wild rice in many of our wholesome, made-from-scratch meals! Find it in our Harvest Omelet, Wild Rice Breakfast Patty, Wild Rice Burger, River Runs Through It Bowl, and as a side for The Watershed Plate and the Pan-Seared Salmon. In the coming weeks, look for our articles featuring our new wild rice menu items!