Who are the “Three Sisters?” They’re not really a who, more of a what. The three sisters are crops native to North America and traditionally grown together by various indigenous peoples, including the Iroquois, one of the native peoples of present-day Michigan. The three sisters are corn, squash, and beans.
Why are they grown together? Companion planting at its finest. When grown together, the three sisters not only enrich the soil they are grown in, but support each other’s growth as well. Vining, low-growing squash covers the ground and acts as a weed barrier for the corn and beans. Squash’s ground cover also protects the soil from drying out in the summer sun, keeping it cool and moist. Some squash varieties have prickly leaves and help deter pests like raccoons, too.
Beans are a nitrogen-fixing plant; they take nitrogen out of the air and sequester it in the ground, providing an essential nutrient to the squash and corn. This is especially great for the corn, which is a notoriously heavy feeder.
Corn provides support to the beans, which have shallow roots. The corn grows tall, giving pole beans something to climb on.
The three sisters not only grow well together, but also provide complementary nutrition when eaten together. Corn, a whole grain, is rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese. Beans are a good source of protein and packed with fiber. Squash is a great source of potassium and vitamin A. Different kinds of beans and squash will have differing amounts of each individual nutrient. Even sweet corn and popping corn have different amounts of nutrients.
There are many different ways to cook with and enjoy the three sisters. Beans can be refried, made into a soup, hidden in a brownie, and make nutritious additions to pasta and salads. Squash can be roasted, mashed, and put in soups and stews. Pumpkin puree can be added to oatmeal with pie spice. Acorn and delicata squash make a hearty side dish when stuffed.
Corn can be popped. Corn tortillas make flavorful taco shells. Hominy can be added to soups and stews. Polenta, similar to grits, is popular in Italian cuisine. If you are watching your salt or fat intake, making popcorn at home or baking corn tortillas to make home-made tortilla chips can be a great way to reduce salt and fat intake.
As the weather warms and gardens are planned, consider adding the three sisters to your garden this spring.
Three Sisters Casserole