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Arrowhead: History and Consumption
Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods
Spring Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(1) pages: 23 to 24
This perennial bulb has one variety botanically
known as Sagittaria sagittifolia, another as
Sagittaria latifolia. Its English name is thanks to
the shape of its leaves that protrude above the water
they grow in.
Known in Chinese as cigu, this popular vegetable grows
in many temperate and tropical regions, and is popular
in Asian countries including China, North Korea, Japan,
and India. It was domesticated in China where it is very
Written about by Tao Hongjing, a Taoist master alchemist
(born circa 456 BCE), he said they most often grow in
water. They were botanically known as Alisma plantagoaquatica,
a botanical name no longer popular.
The bulbs are white to yellowish, and larger than many
others, bigger than in his time.
They have a small amount of
tan or purple exterior skin, and
most of their flowers are white.
Their male flower grows on
the upper part of their stems,
the females ones on the lower
parts. The bulbs themselves
are round, some seen on this
page. People eat the bulbs and
the roots growing below them;
and some call them ‘weeds in
water’ or ‘wild germ plasma.’
We know not why, do you?
Meng Shen (621 – 713 CE), a
well-known food practitioner said that people in
Southeastern China did become fond of them. However,
he also expressed concern that eating too many could
cause some problems. We never learn what these were.
During the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 CE), this plant was
popular used in desserts, perhaps because they called
them fruits in those days. However, fruits they are not.
Some remove their bitter flavor making them more
palatable, others do not; and we are among the latter
group. A few did use them as sacrificial food, and
that was commonly written about. In those days, also
written about was that many gods, goddesses, and
ancestors would like them better with that bitterness
removed. They said these folk do not ‘eat bitterness.’
Endless wars in the north of China saw many refugees
migrating south. This caused food shortages that
increased their use as more people starting to use them
in soups, as vegetables, and in those aforementioned
This increased use increased a need for more to be
planted so forest land was cleared to flood places and
grow more of them. These bulbs are aquatic so fields
needed to be flooded. These hungry folk also ate more
of their stems and leaves so they planted even more of
them. Before they did, locusts had enjoyed them, soon
they had to abandon them as growers figured out ways
to chase them away. Increased availability meant their
prices did decline and their consumption did increase.
This made more arrowheads available for human
During and after the Southern
Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279 CE),
their cultivation increased even
more, and they were a vegetable
important for staving off hunger.
This continued during the
Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties
(1279 - 1368, 1368 - 1544, and
1644 - 1911 CE, respectively), as
did early technology thanks to
Lu Mingshan during the Yuan
dynasty. This official of the
Anhui Province wrote a tome
convincing folk to “dig up the
ground....put on a straw mat...,
then arrange them on this mat,
(and)...cover the soil then irrigate them.” This advise
helped growers increase their yield as they could easily
pick them from these mats.
Before this, arrowhead grew in disorganized fashions,
and since this advise became popular, they benefitted
from advanced planting, less transplanting, better
spacing, and controlled weeding and feeding enabling
more and larger yields, better quality bulbs, and that
made for increased demand.
Before this change in growing them, inferior low-lying
lands were used to cultivate these vegetables. However,
by the 16th century, that article by Lu convinced farmers
to grow them in new ways so they harvested bigger and
better arrowheads in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian,
Guangdong, and Guangxi.
This greater demand increased the incomes of growers
thanks to better use and use in famous dishes such as
Braised Pork with Arrowhead, Arrowhead Pickled Soup,
and more and better desserts. The previously mentioned
braised dish was now more appreciated, the soup more
appetizing; and other dishes used more, too.
This magazine’s editor advises that arrowheads can be
used in many recipes. She says that before so doing,
do peel and slice, dice or prepare them in any way one
might prepare and cook potatoes. A favorite is to thin
slice them and then fry them as one would when making
potato chips. One can also simply boil them and then
mash them, or dice and mix them with other vegetables,
or to make then stir-fried with or without any sauce, as
the two recipes that follow indicate as general examples.
Below are some recipes using this vegetable. Should you
know others, we hope you will share them.
|Arrowhead Braised With Pork|
½ pound arrowhead
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
1 pound pork belly
2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons yellow Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1. Peel the arrowhead tuber and cut it into large chunks.
2. Cut the pork belly into small pieces and blanch it for
one minute, then blanch it with boiling water for one
more minute, then drain and discard the water.
3. Now heat an empty wok or fry pan, add the oil or
lard, and stir-fry the pork for three minutes, then add
the arrowhead pieces and stir-fry them together for two
4. Now add the soy sauce and the wine and stir-fry for
one minute, then add enough boiled water to cover all
ingredients and bring quickly to the boil, then reduce
the heat to medium and simmer for fifteen minutes, then
reduce the heat and simmer for forty minutes more on
5. Then add the sugar, stir well, and serve.
|Pickles and Arrowhead Soup|
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 scallion, divided in half, and minced
dash of sugar
dash of salt
4 arrowhead bulbs, peel and sliced them, then rinse and drain them
3 half pickles, blanched one minute, then chopped
1. Heat wok or fry pan, then add the oil and stir-fry the
ginger and half of the scallion for fifteen seconds, then
add pickles and the arrowhead bulb slices, and stir fry
for two minutes. Next, add three cups cold water and
the sugar, and reduce the heat.
2. Simmer this for fifteen minutes until the arrowhead
pieces are soft and the soup thickens a little.
3. Pour into pre-heated individual bowls or a soup
tureen, then sprinkle on salt and the
Wu Weijie is a prolific researcher, writer, and is a
Research Fellow at the Zhejiang Academy of Social
Science in Hangzhou, China. She has researched
and written about many topics including earlier
ones for this magazine Cinnamon in Traditional Chinese Cuisine and Stinky Foods and their Customs