Herbs & Plants
Of The Southwest
The common potato, solanum tuberosum, is another one of those Native American plants that became so popular, and traveled to so many different parts of the world, that its original home is sometimes forgotten. We often associate the potato with Ireland, although it was a relative latecomer there. The Irish became extremely dependent upon the potato, where the high yield per acre, combined with the dairy products obtained from the family cow permitted rapid population growth. When the potato blight hit Ireland in the mid 1800’s, the terrible famine forced many Irish to emigrate to the US.
Although it is now one of the most popular vegetables in the world today, the original spread of potatoes to the Old World was slow. Horticulture of the potato originally began in the Peruvian Andes, where Indians developed the original “freeze-dried” preservation technology and were able to obtain a very high yield of their most important staple food from very small plots of land. In fact, acre per acre, the potato produces a far higher yield of food than does the same land planted in grain, although it took a long time to convince the European peasant of this fact. The potato was even believed to cause leprosy because it grew in a sometimes ugly and misshapen form. Governmental leaders began encouraging and even forcing the growing of potatoes, especially when prompted by a widespread grain blight. Peasants were told, “Grow this stuff or starve,” and although they were reluctant to give up their “staff of life”, wheat bread, the choice was clear.
Today, the potato is recognized as the delicious and adaptable vegetable that it truly is. What would our burger be without those fries?