Food Yields and Nutrient Analyses of the Three Sisters: A Haudenosaunee Cropping System

  • Jane Mt.Pleasant Cornell University
Keywords: Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, Three Sisters, Nutrition, Nixtamalization


Scholars have studied The Three Sisters, a traditional cropping system of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), from multiple perspectives. However, there is no research examining food yields, defined as the quantities of energy and protein produced per unit land area, from the cropping system within Iroquoia. This article compares food yields and other nutrient contributions from the Three Sisters, comprised of interplanted maize, bean and pumpkin, with monocultures of these same crops. The Three Sisters yields more energy (12.25 x 106 kcal/ha) and more protein (349 kg/ha) than any of the crop monocultures or mixtures of monocultures planted to the same area. The Three Sisters supplies 13.42 people/ha/yr. with energy and 15.86 people/ha/yr. with protein. Nutrient contents of the crops are further enhanced by nixtamalization, a traditional processing technique where maize is cooked in a high alkaline solution. This process increases calcium, protein quality, and niacin in maize.

Author Biography

Jane Mt.Pleasant, Cornell University
Jane Mt.Pleasant is an associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science with expertise in soil science and agronomy. Her areas of interest include indigenous agriculture and agricultral sustainability.


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How to Cite
Mt.Pleasant, J. (2016). Food Yields and Nutrient Analyses of the Three Sisters: A Haudenosaunee Cropping System. Ethnobiology Letters, 7(1), 87–98.
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