The starch that physicians prescribe for children and invalids with certain forms of indigestion is called arrowroot. It is fine-grained, and has the peculiar characteristic of gathering into little balls when a pinch of it is rubbed between the thumb and finger. Stirred in boiling water, it forms a clear, odorless jelly, palatable and easily digested, if unadulterated in manufacture. Under the microscope the small grains are distinctly seen, and it is very easy to see the larger grains of potato starch with which the more expensive arrowroot is so often mixed.
Bermuda arrowroot is made from the fleshy rootstocks of a many-stemmed, reed-like plant five feet high. Maranta is its name. It grows wild in Guiana, but it is cultivated in most tropical countries now, to supply the demand for this form of starch.
Maranta is a great crop in Bermuda, where the best grade of arrowroot is made. There is but one factory, and here each step of the process of manu facture is watched, to ensure absolute cleanliness. The tubers are scrubbed clean, then the skin is removed, and the white flesh grated and washed in many waters. The damp air prevents dust, and the water used is caught from rains that fall on the white roofs of limestone that cover all Bermuda houses. The more washings, the finer and whiter the starch that settles below the float ing fibres of the roots. About 15 per cent. of the pulp washed is recovered as pure starch. This is dried under white gauze, in shallow pans. An average crop yields 14,000 pounds of tubers per acre, and the arrowroot sells for about 5o cents a pound in the open market, ten times the price of the same article made carelessly in St. Vincent, West Indies, and grown on soil not so good for the purpose as the coral rock meal of Bermuda, which produces the best possible tubers.
Neither the pointed rootstocks nor the dart shaped leaves give the name of arrowroot to Maranta. When the roving botanist first saw the root, a Mexican Indian, wounded with a poisoned arrow, dug up a plant, cut into a tuber, and applied the oozing sap to the spot where the arrow pierced the flesh. He did as all Indians did in
that region, and knew no other use of the plant than to furnish this antidote for poison. It is strange that the German name for this plant, when translated, is the same. If a German travel ler carried home the plant and the name, nobody remembers who he was, and when it happened.
The Maranta, grown in all tropical countries, produces arrowroot that is known in commerce by the name of the country that produced it. Hence, you can buy Australian, Natal, or Bermuda arrowroot, and so on.
One of the important recent discoveries is that arrowroot of excellent quality is made from the tubers of the various species of canna — our common garden and park ornamental plant.
Manihot arrowroot comes from the fleshy roots of a South American plant with a milky, poisonous juice. When this starch is separated from the fibrous tissues, it is dried and becomes a white powder. If baked on hot plates as it dries, it becomes a cake, which is broken into small bits, and these rounded by friction on each other, as bits of hardened clay are made into marbles. We know this arrowroot as tapioca, a nutritious food, very good for babies and invalids. Cassava is the common name of this tapioca arrowroot plant. Manihot utilissima ("most useful" Manihot) is its botanical name. "Manioc," and "mandioca," are two names by which the plant is known in South America, its native country. It looks like the castor-oil plant as it grows, its stem giving off branches in threes. The fleshy roots, like sweet potatoes, are often six to eight feet long. They are poisonous, if eaten fresh, but the poison is driven out by heat and pressure.
Sliced and dried, then rasped or ground, they furnish the "cassava meal," out of which the cassava cakes of the tropical countries are made. Cassava bread is the same. Mixed with molasses and fermented, the meal is a part of an intoxicat ing drink.