Ahtna Plants: Tsaas, Indian potato

Published July 2020

Tsaas, Indian potato, is the most important plant food of the Ahtna other than berries.

  • Dig in fall and late spring when they are juicy and tender. Preserve in animal stomach with grease for winter.
  • Girls and boys are not supposed to eat tsaas in the first year of puberty, or else their teeth will chip as they get older.
  • Survival tip: Mice store wild potatoes in winter. Lots of tracks show where potatoes may be stored. Always leave a gift for mice in exchange for the roots. Leaving things like cotton or cloth where you dig is good material to help them with their nest. Beware of eating other items they may have stored that could be poisonous.
  • Must be able to distinguish between Wild Sweet Pea and Indian potato. Wild Sweet Peas have rounded leaves and wild potato has sharper pointed leaves, consisting of 15-20 leaflets which are veined. The tops are smooth, and the bottoms are fuzzy. The flowers of a tsaas are rose-purple at the tip of the flowering stem and pale at the stem’s base. The flowers and leaves of tsaas are poisonous, only eat the root. 

How to prepare:

  1. Cut into 1 to 3 inches long to store in oil
  2. Leave whole if storing in barrels or a bucket
  3. To dry, spread onto a screen evenly and rotate often
  4. Hard on stomach if eaten raw. Roast in coals, fry or boil. Juice from boiling drunk as tea. Can add sugar to the water when boiling.
  5. In winter, build a fire on top of the snow where you see the tops sticking out. Dig the warmed soil to find potatoes.
  6. Dry roots can be pounded into flour and added to soup
  7. Dip the roots in fish oil, bear grease, seal oil or any other preferred oil