Professor shares insights on potatoes in Southwest
David Kinder, medicinal chemistry professor at Ohio Northern University, has roamed the Southwest in search of wild potatoes. His findings may provoke a new look at early agriculture in the Four Corners, and he will discuss his project at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colo. on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 1 p.m.
Potatoes, which belong to the Solanacae or nightshade family, are a major food crop worldwide. More than 250 potato species are known, mainly from South America, but Solanum jamesii is the only wild potato found in the Four Corners region. Its tubers can stay dormant in dry soil for years before sprouting.
Kinder suspects ancestral Puebloan farmers were familiar with the plant. At Chaco Canyon, wild potatoes still grow in fields used heavily for agriculture in ancient times. The plant is also found below Step House at Mesa Verde National Park and near the Keet Seel cliff dwelling in northeastern Arizona. Historic reports indicate that 19th century Hopi farmers allowed wild potatoes to grow among their planted crops.
“We know the early people here cultivated corn, beans and squash,” said Kinder. “But no doubt they would have supplemented their diet with other plants. It would be easy for archaeologists to overlook plants, such as potatoes, that need less attention to grow successfully. Potatoes decompose quickly, so we do not find remnants in archaeological sites.”
Kinder also notes the healing power of many plants. Besides offering nutrition, potatoes contain the alkaloid sparteine, which can be used to treat heart arrhythmias.
Tours to see wild potatoes locally are being organized by Kinder’s friend Nan Carman, and are expected to take place on Sept. 2. Participants must sign up in advance by sending an email to email@example.com. Kinder will contact interested participants directly with further details.
For more information on the lecture, contact the Anasazi Heritage Center at 970-882-5600 or go to www.co.blm.gov/ahc.