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Mahnomen--wild rice

Updated on November 26, 2010

Wild rice--zizania palustris

What does mahnomen mean? According to Warren Upham, in his book, Minnesota Geographic Names, mahnomen, also spelled mahnoomin, is the Ojibwa word for wild rice. Its scientific name is Zizania palustris, and it grows wild on rivers and lakes in harmony with the earth. According to the website (see under links, more reading about wild rice), the month that wild rice is harvested is called Manoominike Giizis.

Wild rice harvesting is traditionally done by hand from canoes and is labor intensive. One person steers the canoe and the other person bends the plant over the keel and strikes it so that the grains fall into the canoe. This is the way that the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwa) have harvested mahnomen for hundreds of years. When you eat traditional wild rice, you are part of this tradition, part of this food chain. Wild rice is pure and organic and loved by cooks for its unique nutty flavor.

Here's the bad news. At the same time that wild rice crops have diminished in their native habitats, fewer Anishinaabeg became willing to harvest it, and when the food producers realized how much of a market there was for wild rice, they started cultivating it--think giant rice paddies, tons of chemicals, and huge machines to harvest the rice.

Traditional cedar basket for gathering wild rice.
Traditional cedar basket for gathering wild rice. | Source
Wild rice grains
Wild rice grains | Source

How to choose authentic Indian wild rice

When buying wild rice, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the business Native American owned? If you buy Native American, you support Native American.
  2. Are you buying from the big agribusiness or a small tribal business?  After all, if you can buy artisanal cheeses to support cheesemakers, why not support the traditional way of life?
  3. Where is it harvested? I like Bineshi because it is located in Leech Lake, which is where my Meti ancestor was born. I like the Indian wild rice website because I had a Lac Court Oreille ancestor too.
  4. How is the rice harvested? The traditional way by hand froma  canoe which doesn't damage the vegetation? You're good. Canoe vs giant machine--which way  is in harmony with nature?
  5. How is it parched? The traditional way by wood or by propane?
  6. Are the batches mixed? According to the Bineshii website, they don't mix batches, so all your rice comes from the same location--river bed or pond--kind of like apples from the same tree.


leech lake reservation:
Leech Lake Indian Reservation, North Cass, MN, USA

get directions

Nutritional qualities of wild ice

Wild rice is high in protein and niacin, which is important for heart health and has been used to lower triglycerides.  It is also low in fat and gluten free.

I am making wild rice today as a side dish for duckling a l'orange. I looked on the label and couldn't tell where the rice came from, which means it is probably not authentic, traditional wild rice.

I'm a little sad, because authentic wild rice is so good, for example in wild rice soup, especially cream based soups or with a little chicken added.

What is wild rice? It is not actually rice but Zizania palustris which is a grass, Accordiing to the USDA, its classification is:.

Kingdom Plantae – Plants

Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants

Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants

Division Magnoliophyta

Flowering plantsClass Liliopsida – Monocotyledons

Subclass Commelinidae

Order Cyperales

Family Poaceae – Grass family

Genus Zizania L. – wildrice

Species Zizania palustris L. – northern wildrice

(, accessed 11/25/2010)


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    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for the info and great resource list. Looking forward to checking out your Thanksgiving Day meal hub!

    • minnow profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Seattle

      thanks, Mike. wild rice is one of my favorite foods!

    • MikeSyrSutton profile image


      7 years ago from An uncharted galaxy

      This is a cool hub about Zizania palustris,lol aka Wild Rice! Love it.


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