Wild rice harvesting opened last weekend in Minnesota but most rice stands are not ripe yet because of the late spring. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that peak harvesting dates will be in early to mid-September as long as the weather remains mild.

More than 1,200 lakes and rivers in 54 counties contain wild rice, although the largest concentrations are in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties.

Harvesters on public waters need an annual license to collect the rice, and the season is open from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30.

Getting the rice requires a non-motorized canoe or other watercraft, 18 feet or less in length, utilizing only a push pole or paddles for power. The rice is collected by using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. It is illegal to harvest unripe rice.

DNR officials said it may be a good idea to scout rice stands, since early and sustained high water during the spring has hurt some rice beds. The rice is actually the seed of an aquatic grass that is the only cereal grain native to North America. 

It has been a traditional food source and an important part of Native American culture, and is an important food staple for migrating waterfowl each fall.

There is no limit on the amount of rice that can be harvested by those with licenses, but wild rice may not be taken from any waters within the original boundaries of several Indian reservations in Minnesota except by tribal members or other reservation residents.

More information is available at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/wildrice

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