Resources Details

Indian Bread-root -- Turnips

This is an activity focused on dietary vitamins from edible plants that teaches students about good nutrition and the importance of plants as food sources. Students discuss the types of plants commonly eaten by humans and learn that different plant parts might be used as food. Classroom activities -- making a vegetable soup with vitamin C-rich turnips and playing edible-food bingo -- involve students in making good food choices. Students also learn about Native Americans of the Great Plains gathering wild plants (the turnip) to supplement their diets.

Key Concepts

Life Sciences, Food & Nutrition, Vitamins


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2 - 50 minute classtimes




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Life Science

Resource Type

Extended Lesson Plan





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Throughout their tribal histories, the North American native peoples who were farmers cultivated vegetables for food. Others, like the nomadic hunters of the Great Plains region, were not farmers, but they did gather wild plants to supplement their diets. A common example of food found growing wild was the turnip, or Indian bread-root. Also called Blackfoot Mas ("root of a vegetable"), the roots were eaten raw, roasted over an open fire, or cooked in the hot coals. They can be dried and preserved for use later in the winter season. Young Indian children who were teething and had sore gums often were given pieces of the root to chew. The root also was used to treat abdominal-upset symptoms like diarrhea.

The tribes gathered the Indian bread-root when the plants were in the late flower stage of growth. Indian bread-root grows readily in the sandy, well-drained soils of present-day southern Alberta, a Canadian province. The Blood people, a branch of the Blackfoot Confederacy, named a landform on their reserve near Lethbridge, Alberta, the Mas or Turnip Butte (also called Wild Turnip Hill). The area near Cowley, Alberta, was known to the Blackfoot as Many Prairie Turnips. Another plains tribe, the Cree, called the nutritious plant Mish-tas-ko-she-man and gathered the roots in early June when the plant was in flower.

Indian bread-root is an excellent source of vitamin C, one of the chemicals found in fresh fruits and vegetables that we need to achieve and maintain optimal health. The body utilizes vitamin C to help promote good circulation and to prevent scurvy and skin bruising. Vitamin C also is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. Symptoms of the disease called scurvy include weakness, gum disease, joint pain, and bruises. It can be very debilitating and if untreated, fatal. It takes about three months without dietary vitamin C to develop symptoms. At one time, the disease was common among ocean-going sailors on ships that lacked refrigeration and were at sea for months, preventing diets of vitamin-containing fresh fruits and vegetables. The British navy distributed limes to its ship crews to prevent scurvy, leading to the nickname "limey" for sailors. Citrus fruits are among the many plants that contain high concentrations of vitamin C.


The purpose of this activity is to give students an introductory understanding of foods and how nutrition is important to our health. Students discuss plants as the source of many types of food, as well as a source of vitamins in our diet. Students learn that Native Americans harvested wild plants to supplement their diet, including the vitamin-C rich Indian bread-root (turnip). Making a turnip vegetable soup in the classroom reinforces to students the concept of nutritious ingredients, as does playing an edible-plant bingo game.


Ethyl Grant
Cultural Consultant - Blackfeet

My Name Is Ethyl Grant, Nickname: Sissy. I was born on the Blackfeet reservation I have lived here all my life. I am the mother of ten children and have 16 Grandchildren. I've worked in education for 19 years with Head Start. I have also worked part time as a sub in our public school system. I enjoy working with children.


Learner Outcomes

  • Realize that different foods come from different parts of plants.
  • Understand that certain foods provide necessary nutrients needed for good health.
  • Recognize the wide diversity of foods we eat and the importance of a varied diet.
  • Appreciate that native cultures kept healthy by eating wild plants found in their local environments.

Content Standards

  • Life Science Content Standard C: The characteristics of organisms
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard F: Types of resources


  • Edible plant bingo
  • Pictures of edible plants
  • Large drawing of a turnip plant
  • Three turnips
  • Two cans of crushed tomatoes; Two cans of mixed vegetables
  • Can opener
  • Crock pot
  • Ladle for soup
  • Disposable bowls
  • Plastic spoons

Lesson Procedures

  • Ask the class whether any of them has eaten a plant. Discuss the types of plant-derived foods that we eat. Make a list of some of these foods.
  • Display the large drawing of the turnip plant. Discuss the parts of the plant. Label the root, stem, leaves, and flower. Compare the list of foods to the plant drawing. Label each food on the list as to which part of that plant provides the food product -- the root, stem, leaf, or flower.
  • Display the large drawing of the turnip plant. Discuss the parts of the plant. Label the root, stem, leaves, and flower. Compare the list of foods to the plant drawing. Label each food on the list as to which part of that plant provides the food product -- the root, stem, leaf, or flower.
  • Discuss that Native Americans found a plant growing wild in their own environment, which provided enough vitamin C in their diet to prevent scurvy. Ask if anyone has eaten a turnip.
  • Explain to the class which ingredients can be used to make a vegetable soup with turnips. Cut the turnip into pieces in front of students. Give each student a small slice from one turnip to taste a raw turnip. Put the rest of the turnips into the crock pot. Cover with tomatoes and mixed vegetables (including juice). Add water if necessary and turn on high for 5 hours.
  • While soup is cooking, play a game of edible plant bingo. The focus is on the concept that we eat all different kinds of plant parts.
  • When the soup is done, dish up a small portion for each student. Compare the taste of the raw turnip to the cooked turnip. What does the taste remind them of?


  • There are many types of foods that originally come from plants.
  • Eating plants provides us with important nutrients like vitamins.


  • Participation in class discussions
  • Participation in edible plant bingo


  • Go to the grocery store’s produce section and try to name the many types of vegetables for sale.
  • Research which foods are good sources of vitamin C or other vitamins.
  • Ask your mother or another adult about the different food groups that each of us should eat every day, such as vegetables, fruits, and breads.
  • Discuss as a class why it is not healthy to just eat sweets and carbonated beverages.