Savor Sister Jacqueline Soule posting today.
Chinchweed or limoncillo is known to scientists as Pectis papposa, a member of the Compositae family, now called the Asteraceae, and arguably the largest plant family out there. If you aren’t “into” the Compositae, it is generally considered just another one of those DYC’s (Dratted Yellow Compositae). (Well, we scientists don’t say “dratted” but we don’t want the parental controls to censor this blog.)
This sprightly summer blooming annual is found across the desert Southwest from New Mexico to California and northern Mexico (in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts) at elevations below 6000 feet. With surprising promptness after the first summer rain, the desert floor is carpeted with the small yet bright yellow flowers – DYC’s.
Hopi, Zuni, and Havasupai all use the chinchweed plant as a condiment, especially to flavor meat. There are also references to its use as a fresh green and potherb. In Mexican markets, bundles of fresh or dried plants are sold as limoncillo and used as a culinary spice, generally to flavor meat. There are also references to its use as a dye plant.
Planting and Care.
Sow seeds of this charming summer annual anywhere in your yard you wish them. Plants look especially lovely in a cactus garden, and appear to prefer well drained soil. Since chinchweed is a summer annual, sow in the warmer months, from April onward. Ideally have the seeds in the soil prior to the first monsoon rain, generally around San Juan’s Day or summer solstice. This may be tough as seeds are generally not available in seed catalogs. You may have to wild collect some of the herb this year, and while you are at it, collect seeds for your own next year. Once you have some limoncillo your yard it seems to cheerfully find new places to tuck itself, including in areas of reflected light, which is often a tough site for plants to thrive in.
Harvesting and Use.
As a culinary spice, chinchweed may be used fresh or dried. Simply chop up the fresh material or crumble the dried and sprinkle on meat. If you like lemony chicken, then limoncillo is a great local herb to use! Fresh cinchweed greens add a nice zing to stir fry, but I have not tried them cooked alone as a potherb (yet). This will be part of my New Years resolution to grow and use all of the native plants in my Father Kino’s Herbs book (More on this at 30 minutes in on America’s Web Radio – http://www.americaswebradio.com/podcasts/VeggieHourJan18.2014.mp3). For dye, pluck the flower heads off and use them fresh or dried. I could not find if there was a specific mordant.
Now I have thought of a new way to think of this DYC – it’s a Delightfully Yummy Compositae! And I hope you will consider some for your yard.
[For another species of DYC flowering now, and some of its uses, please visit my blog on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens – http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/brittle-bush-in-bloom/]
The information presented here is a sample of what appears in my book Father Kino’s Herbs, Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press, 2011). Available through amazon.com. Free public lectures on growing and using our wonderful native plants, at a number of branches of the Pima County Library.
Photos copyright free and courtesy of Wikimedia except where noted. Article © 2014, Jacqueline Soule. All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. My photos may not be used. Please use the contact me if you have any questions.