Was Arrowroot, Maranta arundinaceae used by the ancient Maya?

Arrowroot is clearly native to the West Indies (Caribbean). The question is whether arrowroot was also native to Guatemala before the arrival of the Spaniards. It makes no difference to me (or to Maya diet) if a plant is native to Peru, Brazil or the Caribbean as long as it got to mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Is the Root eaten, or is it just the Leaves which are Used?

Whether arrowroot was eaten is an open question that we are working on, parallel to the question, “was arrowroot mainly used for medicine, or was it also edible food for the Maya?”

Standley and Steyermark info on locations of Maranta arundinaceae

Alta Verapaz; Izabal; Zacapa; Chiquimula; Jutiapa; Santa Rosa; Escuintla; Suchitepequez; Huehuetenango. Mexico; British Honduras to Salvador and Panama; South America.

Local names for Maranta arundinaceae Arrowroot, in Guatemala

Kok’ mox is the Q’eqchi’ Mayan word used both in Alta Verapaz and in Belize.

A few other nombres comunes provided by various botanists include:

  • Chaac (Ix cha’ak for the Itza of Peten region)
  • Chuchute (Huehuetenango, Standley and Steyermark p. 217).
  • Sagú,
  • Tamalera
  • Yuquilla,
  • Yuquilla Silvestre

Some other words on the Internet for Maranta arundinaceae Arrowroot, in Guatemala are not very realistic. I discuss these in our web page on the root itself.


Bibliography on Arrowroot, Maranta arundinaceae



  • 2014
  • Determinación del contenido de hierro, fósforo, calcio y algunos factores antinutricionales en harina del rizoma de guapo (Maranta arundinacea). SABER. Revista Multidisciplinaria del Consejo de Investigación de la Universidad de Oriente. Vol. 26, No. 2. Pages 146-152.

    Available Online:


  • ERDMAN, M. D. and B. A. ERDMAN
  • 1984
  • Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea), food, feed, fuel, and fiber resource. Economic Botany, July 1984, Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 332–341.

    Sold Online:
    Good general discussion of Arrowroot.


  • 2014
  • Propiedades funcionales del almidón de Sagu (Maranta arundinacea). Biotecnología en el Sector Agropecuario y Agroindustrial. Vol. 12, No. 2. Pages 90-96.

    Available Online:




  • LARA, E., CASO, L. and M. ALIPHAT
  • 2012
  • El Sistema milpa roza, tumba y quema de los Maya Itzá de San Andrés y San José, Petén Guatemala. Ra Ximhai. Vol. 8, No. 2. Pages 71-92.

    Available Online:


  • LEON, J.
  • 1977
  • Origin, evolution and early dispersal of root and tuber crops. Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (Colombia, 1976), IDRC-080e (Cock, J., Maclntyre, R. and Graham, M., eds), pp. 20-36. Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, 277 pages.

    Available Online:





  • STURTEVANT, William C.
  • 2009
  • History and Ethnography of some West Indian Starches. in The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. P. J. Ucko and G. W. Dimbleby editors. Aldine Transaction. Pages. 177-199.


Web sites (mainly on gardening, cooking, or health) which mention Arrowroot

“This is the plant used to make the expensive powder you can get at the store for use as a thickening agent in cooking. You don’t have to extract the starch to enjoy this root vegetable. Simply peal the bracts off, cut it up and cook it in soups and stews. The roots can also be candied.”

Since arrowroot powder is gluten free, this suggests potential for many recipes.
Information and photos.
Information and photos.
Information and photos.
Shows both varieties of the leaves.
Information about medicinal uses.

Arrowroot, Maranta arundinaceae as a possible plant to grow in your garden

If you want to experiment with growing arrowroot in your own garden, one of many web sites to start with is:

If you wish to raise arrowroot commercially, one bibliography to start with is on:


First posted, September, 2017


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