By K. Nepsa

Last month, we explored the wonderful world of desert edibles.  More specifically, weeds (flowering herbs) and cacti.  What other desert delectables can we harvest from our backyards here in the Sonoran Desert?  Let’s start with a fun fact!

Fun Fact: Scientists estimate there are ~400,000 species of plants on Earth and more than half of them are thought to be edible. However, we as humans only eat about 200 species of plants.

Trees/shrubs:You might be surprised to know that the Mesquite tree has many beneficial uses.  Mesquite trees produce bean shaped pods filled with very tough seeds.  These can be ground into meal and flour.  The ground meal can be mixed with water to be eaten raw, used to thicken stews or baked into a cake.  The flour can be used to make flatbread; this is the way our ancestors used it.  The flowers on a mesquite tree can be boiled in teas.  The seeds contain a whopping 35% protein (if you can crush them) and the pods contain 25% fiber.  The pith between the pod shell and the seed is the true edible part.  All of the pod is sweeter in flavor due to the fructose content, but has a low glycemic index of 25, which can help to regulate blood sugars in the body.  Desert Oregano is a native plant that smells amazing.  Traditionally, it was used as a culinary herb to season fish and meats.  It was also used medicinally, as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-vertigo remedy.  It is currently hailed as one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the plant world. The Pinyon Pine tree has seeds, known as pine nuts, that are packed with nutrition and are also delicious. Other desert edibles include:  Hedgehog Cactus, Agave, Aloe Vera, Miner’s Lettuce, Stinging Nettle, Bushmint, Chia sage or Desert chia, Catclaw Acacia (tea), Desert Lavender (tea), Mormon tea plant (tea), Yellow Bells (tea), Brittle Bush (tea) and Tepary beans.

What plants cannot be eaten?  Theresa Crouse at Survivopedia has some wise advice and instructs, “Don’t eat any plant that has a milky sap – it’s poisonous. Also, don’t eat any red beans. If possible, boil plants before you eat them and do tests on plants that you’re not sure about. Rub some on a small spot of skin. If you don’t have a reaction within 15 minutes, try rubbing it on your lips. If you don’t get a reaction in 15 minutes, put some in your mouth, again for 15 minutes. Chew it and keep it in your mouth for 15 minutes.  If you still don’t have a stinging, burning or itching sensation, swallow it and don’t eat anything else for at least 12 hours. If you don’t get sick, the plant is probably edible. This may seem like a huge process but if push comes to shove, it’s a way to test for edibility.”

Wow!  We have so many wonderful edibles right outside our front doors.  The plants in our desert have been here for ages and people have been benefitting from them for thousands of years.  We may have lost our way in this modern world regarding desert edibles, but it’s always good to know that we could survive if all was truly lost to us.

About author View all posts

Guest Author