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8 Surprising Uses for Potatoes

Anne Schweitzer
Potatoes are a useful tuber.
Potatoes are a useful tuber. / YuanruLi/iStock via Getty Images
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Potatoes are one of the world’s most common, and most beloved, vegetables. Sure, you can fry them or mash them, but they can be used for much more than just delicious sustenance. Here are a few other ways to use a potato.

1. Wear their flowers.

Potatoes come from Solanum tuberosum, a plant in the nightshade family, which blooms with white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers. In the late 1700s, in an effort to inspire their starving subjects to plant the newly introduced vegetable—which the Spanish had brought to Europe from South America—Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair, and her husband King Louis XVI wore them in his buttonholes. This inspired potato flowers to be a favorite of the French nobility for a time, but the ploy didn't work: The lower classes spurned the upper class's efforts to get them to farm the crop. 

2. Use potatoes to make electricity.

If you’re in a lurch, or perhaps a doomsday prepper, start stocking up on potatoes now. With just a few household items—wires, some copper, and a zinc-coated nail—and one of the tubers, you can power a clock, a light bulb, and many other small electronics.

3. Use potatoes to garden in space.

In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown on the space shuttle. Raymond Bula of the University of Wisconsin spearheaded a project in which five Norland variety potato leaves were propagated in space. Bula’s research group monitored this project from Wisconsin, staying in constant contact with NASA, which stayed in contact with the crew on the space shuttle. When the shuttle arrived home, everyone was pleased to find that the potato plants not only survived the ordeal, but actually grew potatoes.

4. Grow roses with them.

Gardeners can insert rose cuttings into a potato, and then plant the entire potato as if it were a seed or bulb. The nutrient-rich potato helps provide moisture and sustenance to the growing plant, giving the cutting a better chance to survive.

5. Use potatoes to make plastic.

Bioplastics, as they’re called, can be made from corn, wheat, and—you guessed it—potatoes. The concentration of starches and cellulose in a potato can be used to make plastic, and the plastic made out of potatoes can be burned or composted with much less impact on the environment.

6. Use potatoes to measure time.

clock made of a potato slice against gray background
You might want to stick with a proper watch. / Olga Evtushkova/iStock via Getty Images

Peru’s Incas used the potato for all sorts of things at the height of their civilization. Known for creative, forward-thinking agricultural practices, the Incas also studied time—and started using how long it takes to cook a potato to measure time itself.

7. Remove rust with potatoes.

Have a knife with some rust spots? If you insert the knife into the potato and let it sit for awhile, you'll go a long way in removing the rust. Potatoes naturally contain oxalic acid, which is used in many household cleaning products (in much greater quantities, of course). Oxalic acid also dissolves rust. To attack larger rusted surfaces with a potato, cut it in half, sprinkle baking powder on it or dip it in dish soap, and get scrubbing.

8. Mail them.

Thanks to Mail A Spud, for only $14 everyone’s dream of mailing a potato to their closest friends and family can be a reality. The site advertises that it can send potatoes anywhere in the U.S., and that your choice of mailed gift will be sure to delight recipients. There’s also Potato Parcel, which will mail a potato with your face on it.

This article originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.

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