There was a good deal to eat in the land of the Illiniwek - if you knew where to look for it. There were cattail and calamus roots, and cakes to be made of cattail pollen or acorn meal or panic grass seeds. There were Lotus pods and lotus roots, as well as the beans and corn and squash which the ancestors of the Illiniwek had brought from their ancient homelands in the south. And there was always the macoupin, or man-of-the-earth, if you knew where to find it.
Ipomoea pandurata ( L.) Mey.
Man-of-the-earth, or man-root, is a member of the Bindweed family. The root is huge and deeply hidden in the earth, hut there is so much food in it that the effort in digging it out is worthwhile. Said Father Allouez, back in the late seventeenth century: "The Illiniwek gathered 'macopin', a long tuberous swamp root which must be leached before eating. These macopins serve as provision for most of the savages The roots are as large as an arm, others a little smaller. The savages make a hole in the earth where they put a bed of rock reddened in the tire then one of leaves, one of macopin, one of reddend rocks, and and so on up to the top which they cover with earth and leave their roots inside to sweat for two or three days. After this they boil them and eat them alone or with oil."
The man-of-the-earth or macoupin (from which the name Macoupin County was obtained) still grows in Illinois. Roots weighing 29 pounds or more still are found. The flowers of man-of-the-earth vine are luminous white trumpets with a purple throat which open broadly in the summer sunshine. The leaves are fiddle-shaped or heart-shaped,, arranged on a long, straggling vine.