Native American Food in the Vegetarian Diet

Many of the foods we consume today were introduced to the early European explorers and later settlers by the native inhabitants they soon displaced.

Here are some of the foods native to North and Central America that may be commonly found in the vegetarian diet today.

Allspice – the unripened, dried fruit of a tree found in Mexico and Central America; named by the English for its flavor that seems to be at once cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Amaranth – while it grew wild throughout the Americas, it was first domesticated in Mexico about 7,000 years ago.

Avocadoes – there is evidence of them going back 12,000 years in what is now Mexico.

Blueberries and Cranberries – native to the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.

Cactus – native to the Southwest and Mexican deserts, the Prickly Pear pads are peeled and their spines removed to make nopales, commonly found in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. The fruit is also edible.

Huckleberries – the state fruit of Idaho, also found in the coastal areas of Central and Northern California, as well as the Pacific Northwest.

Pinon Nuts – the Pinon pine tree is native to the American Southwest as well as Mexico.

Maple Syrup – first tapped by the Northeastern tribes, where maple trees were plentiful.

Other Nuts – black walnuts, chestnuts, and hickory nuts (native to the Eastern U.S.); pecans (found all over the Americas).

Pumpkins – there is evidence of them going back 9,000 years in what is now Mexico.

Sassafras – native to the Eastern U.S., the dried and ground leaves (called file powder) are used to flavor gumbo.

Sunchokes – also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, they are neither from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes. Widespread across the Eastern U.S., they’re actually a type of sunflower from which the tuberous root is consumed.

Sunflower – domesticated about 4500 years ago in what is now Mexico.

The Three Sisters – the name given by many Native American tribes to the holy trinity of beans, corn (maize), and squash. The three were often planted together, as they provided each other with necessary nutrients, protection, and structure as they grew.

Wild Rice – actually a wild grass found growing in lakes and streams in the Boreal forest in Canada, and the Great Lakes and southeastern coastal areas of the U.S.