When European explorers arrived in the Great Lakes region, they encountered the Native American tribes that had been here for a very long time- specifically the Algonquin, Chippewas, Fox, Sioux, Ojibwe, and Menominee. They considered this grain to be, "A gift from the great spirit...the creator himself." They called this grain Manomin, Mahnomen, and Manoomin, and each one would have a different meaning or interpretation depending on the specific tribe. Some of the early French explorers had referred to the grain as Riz Sauvage (wild rice), or Folles Avoines (wild oats), which is how the grain ultimately got it's name! Due to the importance of this food for the natives of the Great Lakes, you can imagine the significance of settlements based on areas of greatest harvest. Tribes became quite territorial, and this would cause inter-tribal warfare in some cases. Because this was such a valuable food item, it made for a great bartering tool with the Europeans during the Fur Trade Era (1600-1760)- since winters were long, food was scarce, and wild rice was virtually non-perishable.
The Native Americans had their own traditional way of harvesting this grain in early autumn, (typically August & September), using long poles to knock the ripe seeds into the base of their canoes. To this day, in order to harvest the uncultivated grain in the state of Minnesota, you must have a license, and use this ancient method of harvesting. Since the 1960's, a wild rice hybrid version is primarily grown in commercial farms, (in less water), and over 70% of the U.S. crop sold is grown in California. However, the "true" wild rice is still harvested in parts of Canada and the Great Lakes region- where it is far more available in markets. Due to the lower yields, and difficulty cultivating, wild rice tends to cost more than other grains. Many farmers/ companies will add wild rice to other rices creating "blends"- which keeps the cost down for consumers. Wild rice also has a great shelf-life. If stored in a cool, dry place, and in an enclosed or airtight container, the wild rice can last 10 years, (or indefinitely), once purchased!
Now for the health benefits of this "nutty" flavored grain:
*It's GLUTEN- FREE!!
*Low in fat and calories
*High quality fiber and protein content
*High in folic acid
*High in zinc, niacin, and potassium
*High in B vitamins
In China, Manchurian wild rice has been used to control blood sugar levels in Diabetics, but there is not enough studies done in the U.S. to back up this medical claim.
Although wild rice can be enjoyed year round, it does tend to turn up more in fall dishes, and pairs amazingly well with many sweet and savory foods! It's incredibly versatile, and can be served hot or cold in: soups, stews, salads, baked goods, side dishes, main dishes, etc. It's a wonderful food item for those that need Gluten-free options. Wild rice can even be ground into flour, and used in so many baked goods! It's also available in many options at your local grocer: organic, rice blends, already cooked cans or pouches, frozen "steam" vegetable sides, etc. So, whether you pay more and buy it as is, or you purchase it in a blend, etc., it's worth it's weight in gold! (Not really, but you know what I mean!)