While there are many plants commonly called “arrowroot,” the true variety most frequently used in commercial production is called West Indian arrowroot. This plant is an endemically tropical herb that produces small white flowers and is believed to have originated in northern South America. Arrowroot possesses white rhizomes that can be turned into a starch, which is highly valued in cooking because it’s gluten free and doesn’t require fat or high levels of heat to act as a binding agent. As it can grow up to six feet in height and spreads underground, West Indian arrowroot requires a decent amount of space, so container planting is not recommended.
Seed: Not commonly grown from seed.
Vegetative: Propagated by dividing and planting the rhizome.
Rhizome Depth: 4–6″
Space Between Plants: 12–15″
Space Between Rows: 2–3′
Sprouting Soil Temperature: 70–80°F
Days for Sprouting: 14–30 days
Sow Indoors: 2 to 3 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed in the late spring.
As this plant is native to subtropical and tropical climates, it prefers warm, humid weather between 70 and 90°F for most of the year. Don’t let your cooler weather deter you from growing this herb: lower temps may kill the leaves but will leave the tubers intact. If living in a climate where temperatures drop below 70°F for an extended period of time, grow as an annual.
Natural: Prefers partial shade to full shade but will tolerate more light in cooler weather.
Artificial: While growing arrowroot indoors is not recommended, if starting your plant indoors, an HID lamp will help your plants grow. Keep lights at least 6″ away from the tops of plants to prevent burning. Will do best with a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of light per day.
Soil: Prefers loamy to sandy soil that is slightly acidic and drains well. Soils that possess too much clay may stunt root growth, so incorporate a soilless mix or compost into your soil if it’s heavy in clay.
Soilless: Rhizomes will grow in most soilless media. Be sure to use a large container if starting your plants indoors.
Hydroponics: Not much is known about growing arrowroot hydroponically. If you want to give it a try, be sure to let us know how it goes!
Water: This herb is only moderately drought resistant, so soil should not be allowed to dry out between waterings. Keeping soil moist is particularly important in the earlier stages of growth since drought resistance will increase as the plant matures.
Nutrients: Fertilize your plants with an organic fertilizer or compost about 14 weeks after planting. Fertilizers should be higher in phosphorous and potassium than nitrogen as the addition of large amounts of nitrogen will promote leaf growth, detracting from the development of the edible rhizomes.
Mulching: If living in a dry area, mulch young arrowroot plants with straw, grass clippings, or a similar type of organic mulch to help retain moisture.
Companions: This plant is a great companion for most other crops: it’s a good weed/grass barrier and, if mulched into the soil at the end of the growing season, a good source of calcium for other plants.
Harvest: To eat arrowroot fresh, harvest the rhizomes starting at around 2 months. To harvest, remove the greens with pruning shears and, using a spade or gardening fork, gently dig up the soil around the plant about 6 to 12″ from the stalk to avoid damaging the rhizomes. Gently pull on the stem while pushing up with your tool. For use as a powder, harvest rhizomes after 10–12 months of warm, humid weather. You’ll know that the rhizomes are ready to harvest when the leaves begin to die and the stalks start to fall over.
Storage: Rhizomes will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks in a plastic bag.
Fun Fact: While some attribute this plant’s name to the shape of its rhizomes, others have speculated that this plant might have been used by the Native peoples of the Americas to treat arrow wounds.
Preserve: The powder of the aroowroot plant will keep almost indefinitely if kept in a cool location in an airtight container. This root may also be pickled when it’s harvested in the earlier stages of growth.
Prepare: To eat arrowroot fresh, rinse and peel off the scaly outer layer, slice, and either bake or add to soups, sauces, etc. To make flour, peel the roots and cut into small cubes. Pound the arrowroot and place in a strainer. Place the strainer in a bowl of water and agitate the pulp to separate the starch. Allow the starch to settle in the bottom of the bowl for 15 to 20 minutes and then gently pour off the liquid. Scrape out the starch and place on a plate to dry.
Nutritional: The raw version of this plant possesses small amounts of a variety of minerals such as phosphorous, potassium, iron, and manganese as well as high levels of the vitamin folate. The starch made from the rhizomes of the arrowroot is a carbohydrate that possesses moderate levels of manganese. While its nutritional value is not exceptionally high, arrowroot powder is a common addition to baby foods and baked goods as it is gluten free and considered to be easier on the digestive system.
Medicinal: The starch derived from the arrowroot plant has been used traditionally to treat upset stomachs and ease digestion. Some sources have also suggested applying it to the skin as a poultice to relieve inflammation and act as an antiseptic.
In the mood for something sweet? Try this delectable and gluten free Chocolate “Cream” Pie.