Special Focus on Corn, Beans, Squash (Three Sisters Trilogy in American Indian Culture)

Three Sisters Trilogy in Native American Culture

To the Native Americans, maize was part of the Three Sisters trilogy — maize, beans, and squash. These three crops were planted together. The maize supported the beans and the squash grew in between the hills, shading out the weeds that might otherwise compete. This symbiotic relationship was beneficial not only in terms of plant growth but also in terms of nutrition. Maize and beans are incomplete proteins by themselves. Eaten together, they complement each other by providing the essential amino acids that the other lacks, thus making a complete protein. This classic combination has sustained “Indian” cultures throughout history.

Corn
Maize (commonly known as corn) is indigenous to Mexico where it was first grown and bred approximately 10,000 years ago. It was known as teosinte, a small edible seed from the grass family. The teosinte seeds were harvested in the wild and then were planted and nurtured by people which changed the size and taste of the grain. Corn as we know it today is dependent on humans planting it as its seeds do not grow without human intervention. A tremendous amount of research has gone into breeding corn which is believed to be the most prevalent food crop in the world today. Not only has it been genetically engineered, but it is also used as animal feed, plastics, sweeteners, and fuel.

Beans

Beans are one of the oldest cultivated foods having been grown for over 6,000 years. While some beans are native to other parts of the world such as lentils, fava, garbanzo, and cannellini, the beans of the Americas offer a huge variety in terms of color and taste. Beans are high in protein, minerals, and fiber, low in fat, and don’t take up much space to store, nor do they need special care in preservation. Known historically as the “poor man’s meat” they are in desperate need of rebranding because they are inexpensive, full of nutrients, and can be stored in a clean dry place for years. Not only are they easy to grow and delicious to eat, but they also fix nitrogen into the soil enriching it rather than depleting it. From dips to soups, salads, and entrees, one never needs to grow bored with beans in their diet.

 

Squash

There are over 1,000 varieties of squashes. They are believed to be the first plant that was cultivated by humans and are easy to grow. The family includes watermelons, cucumbers, gourds, and a large selection of winter and summer squashes. Summer squash is thin skinned and cooks quickly. Winter squash has thicker skin and stores well. Most people do not realize that squashes are fruits because they contain seeds and most of the seeds can be roasted and eaten.

Gourds, when hollowed out, become very hard and have long been used as vessels to hold water and other ingredients. One variety of gourd is used for bird houses. Other gourds are used as dipping utensils. Some cultures make elaborate carvings on gourds a

 

Three Sisters Gardening Method

Read: Science Behind the Three Sisters

Nutritional Benefits of Cooking Corn, Beans & Squash Together

This symbiotic relationship is beneficial not only in terms of plant growth but also in terms of nutrition.  Corn and beans are incomplete proteins by themselves. Eaten together, they complement each other by providing the essential amino acids that the other lacks, thus making a complete protein.  This classic combination has sustained Native American cultures throughout history.