By K. Nepsa

Part 1

As a child, I would find fields of wild lemon grass and chew on their tart, lemony stems while enjoying a beautiful day outside.  I still love lemon grass to this day.  Living in the desert, a person might assume there isn’t much to eat in terms of wild plants to spontaneously eat.  That would be incorrect.  In case you’re lost in the desert and need to find food, it’s good to know that our beautiful desert offers a variety of beneficial edibles!  Ancient civilizations have been harvesting local flora and reaping their benefits for thousands of years.  Here’s just a few of them.


There are so many of them here in our desert!  According to many online sources, every part of the dandelion can be consumed and have amazing health benefits, all the way from its roots to its flowers.  They have an abundant source of nutrients that our bodies need like vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.  If you are on blood thinning medication, please consult with a doctor before consuming this vitamin K rich flowering herb.  Dandelions can help balance our blood sugar levels, relieve heartburn, and even soothe common digestive issues.  They contain high amounts of iron which helps support healthy red blood cells and a lot of potassium that helps regulate our heartbeat and blood pressure.  Dandelions also offer folate, magnesium and copper.  They can be eaten raw by tossing them in a salad.  They reportedly don’t lose any of their vitamins or nutrients, even when you cook them.  So toss those wonderful weeds into breads, jellies, cookies, broths or soups and even teas!

Fun Fact:  Dandelions are considered a flowering herb.  They can also be considered a weed because a weed is just a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).


There are so many wonderful health benefits of eating the cacti from our very own backyards and gardens.  Every cactus fruit in our local desert is edible.  Many of the cacti in our desert have high water content, but shouldn’t be considered a reliable source of water in the desert due to the acidic nature of these plants which contain Malic and Oxylic acids that can potentially make you sick.  However, there are some fabulous desert plants that our bodies can greatly benefit from:  Prickly Pear:  The green pads, ruby red fruits and pink flowers are all edible on this plant.  They are often consumed in a variety of dishes in the southwest.  The pads (nopales) can be boiled or eaten raw.  The pads are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are a healthful addition to a balanced diet and may help decrease blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol.  The fruits can be made into candies, syrups, juice, tea and jams and are very high in antioxidants.  Saguaro Cactus:  In June, you may attend local Hasan:Bak ceremonies that include the picking of Saguaro fruits with very long sticks and boiling them down to make delicious syrups, juices and jams.  The result of boiling down these fruits is a very sweet treat.  The process, however, can be long and arduous.  The white flowers of the saguaro are also edible.  Saguaro fruit is high in fiber, vitamin C, and B12.  Barrel Cactus:  The yellow fruits that grow at the top of the menacing looking barrel cactus are edible and can be eaten raw.  They look like little pineapples.  If you pluck one and take a bite, you might compare the taste to a lemon or tart kiwi.  Barrel cactus fruits are high in vitamins A and C.  Desert Christmas Cactus:  This spiny cactus looks intimidating.  But, if you are desperate for food in the desert, you shouldn’t pass them up.  They produce little red berries with spines on them, but you can scrape the spines off with a knife.  The berries taste a little like strawberries and are a good source of vitamins, including vitamins A and C.  Cholla Cactus:  The flowers and seeds are edible and nutritious.  Yucca Plant: Yucca plants are made of many spiky leaves that fan into a round plant and they grow fruit in the summer time that’s great grilled or can be eaten raw.  According to Survivopedia, the leaves are oily and can be eaten by removing the outer skin and boiling the insides. You could eat it raw if you have to. The roots of the plant are edible as well.  If you do eat the roots, they contain saponin which can be toxic in large amounts. You can boil them to remove most of the saponin.

Fun Fact: Roots that contain saponin produces suds, which Sonoran Desert Tribes once used as laundry soap, shampoo and bleach.  Try it with some of your yard yuccas! 

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