Monthly Archives: July 2014

Desert Lavender

posted by Jacqueline A. Soule

In the days before indoor plumbing, daily showers, and sanitation in general, the clean fresh fragrance of lavender was highly welcome. The name lavender is derived from the Latin “lavare,” meaning to wash. Leaves and flowers have been used for several millennia to do just that, wash. Fragrant baths, hair rinses, to cleanse and treat skin ailments, and, in the past, to help eliminate lice and bedbugs from the household. Tea made from leaves and flowers has been used to treat sleeplessness, restlessness, headache, flatulence, and nervous stomach.














Imagine the delight the Europeans experienced when first encountering this fragrant desert plant in our area. Here they were, after an arduous sea voyage, months of horseback travel along dusty deer trails, riding into progressively odder lands – strange towering saguaros, bulging barrel cactus, pungent creosote bush – to come across a gentle evocative fragrance of their childhood home, the sweet scent of lavender. Some, like Father Kino, may have seen it as a sign from God that their journey was blessed.


lavendula in Hungary













Native Seri use a tea of desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) to help treat a cold. The Franciscans (who came to the area well after Padre Kino) were known to have harvested and used the leaves and flowers in the sick room, to soothe the ill with the fragrance and to bathe fevered foreheads.

Harvesting and Use.
Harvest stalks of desert lavender as the lower-most flowers open. This gives you buds with optimum fragrance. Dry these, like all herbs, out of direct sunlight. I have used desert lavender in all the same external applications European lavender is used for with no observed ill effects. Here are three ways you can use desert lavender.


Herbal sachets can be made with desert lavender.







Herbal Tisane
“Tisane” is the general term for a herbal tea not consumed as a medicinal tea.
1 tablespoons dried herbs or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs
1 cup boiling water
Pour boiling water over the herbs and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain. Sweeten to taste. Serve warm or chilled. Serves 1.









Floral Water
In the Victorian age, floral waters became popular. Floral waters are made by steeping leaves and flowers in water until it becomes fragrant. The water can then be used in tea, pudding, cake, and pastries. There are a number of commercially available floral waters, such as rose water and orange water (made with orange blossoms).

Lavendula in vodkaelsnaps_(4917058844).jp








Herb Syrup
One of the more famous herb syrups is the mint syrup used in making mint juleps. But herb syrups can be used in many other ways, like topping cakes, ice cream, fruit, pancakes, waffles, or as a base in preparing other foods, like sorbet. In general herb syrups can be used to sweeten anything, including tea. Some herb syrups are used medicinally, like elderberry syrup. Desert lavender syrup makes a nice topping over poached pears, fresh figs or perhaps canned fruit for a quick yet elegant dessert.

1 cup water
3 cups sugar
1 cup chopped fresh herbs
or 1/2 cup crumbled dry herbs

Boil all ingredients together for 10 minutes, or until thickened into a syrup. Strain into a clean glass jar. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks or preserve by canning.

lavendula syrup over figs








Planting and Care of this Sonoran native will be covered on August 17 in my blog on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens site.  The Sonoran butterflies that appreciate this shrub will be discussed in my blog on Beautiful  Wildlife Gardens site on August 5.  I will return to this site to post the links, or follow you can the thread on my Facebook page, Gardening With Soule.

Note:   This topic is covered more extensively in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15).  If you live in Tucson, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.


© 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. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Where Monsoon Melons Reign….


Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

I see them peeking up out of the moist soil and spreading their many-fingered leaves out, inviting sunlight……there in the secluded orchard behind adobe walls at the base of A-Mountain. Hooray, the Tohono O’odham watermelons are rising again in the living history huerta at Mission Garden!…….

Seedling Tohono O'odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Seedling Tohono O’odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Ah, these monsoon rains have made it happen again—they thrill soul and body, triggering seeds to sprout and bringing the desert to life all around us. I can hear all the little stomates letting out their, “Whoopee! Whoopee at last! We didn’t know if we could hang in there much longer!”

Tia Marta here, wishing you joy with the renewing humidity and moisture blessing the earth—mat o sha ju:–when it rains. It seems all people know deep in their hearts that we need to, and want to, be singing in the rain. In the poetry of wordsmith Ofelia Zepeda, “Wa nt o m-ne’i g ju:kĭ ne’i. I would sing for you rain songs….” What higher compliment or loving expression could one hear in the desert than that? [For more tastes of her poetry, find Zepeda’s book Ocean Power (1995) and other works at University of Arizona Press.]

One of my most admired traditional Tohono O’odham gardening mentors, Laura Kerman, used to watch the southeastern sky as the clouds were building. When she knew rain was close and her skin was getting softer, that meant it was planting time again. To gardeners steeped in more temperate biomes, it’s a different yet palpable signal for planting time, the feeling of the sap rising. Here in the desert it is the reconstituting of our very integumen that we feel—then we know…(and yes some of us truly feel it in our bones too.) It brings a deep urge to plant seed in the ground, an urge imbedded in our physical being, deep in our psyche, somehow in our genetic memory.

At this very moment I can sense that the seed racks at every hardware store are getting lighter. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store and webstore are restocking seed packets at a fast pace to keep up with the monsoon pulse of gardeners.

My tastebuds think ahead as I scan the racks and webcatalogs. What flavorful squashes will I try this season? What fragrant and refreshing melons? What healthier grain, heirloom bean, ancient corn variety? Delicious and appropriate ideas are sprouting at the Mission Garden living history orchard. You can plan a tour any Saturday morning to inspire your own gardening bug. []

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

I think the plant that loves rain most is Amaranth.  (Such an insult to call our wild native amaranth a “careless weed” or “pigweed”! Better, the Tohono O’odham moniker which translates “rain spinach,” ju:hukia i:wagi. Within a week after a rain the tender young greens that pop up uninvited in your garden can be plucked to make a most healthy dish.)   For planting delightful color and beta-carotene-rich greens, try Guarijio Grain Amaranth, originally from the little-known tribe from southern Sonora and saved by Native Seeds/SEARCHers (Amaranthus hypochondriachus x A.hybridus or “guegui” in the Mayo and Guarijio tongue).  Guegui gives extra bonuses beyond greens: after showy red flower plumes grace your garden, you can bag seedheads to retrieve a plentiful grain that is 15-18% protein. Cooked amaranth seeds make a fine pilaf or rich hot cereal. Try popping amaranth seed in a hot dry skillet then add them to salads or to lighten up biscuit dough.

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

As I plant melon seeds I am thinking of the delectable future they promise.  Native Mayo People of coastal Sonora and Sinaloa have perfected Mayo Minol Grande , a canteloup-like melon adapted to the heat that can perform well in Baja Arizona gardens. It makes a beautiful breakfast complement or a summer dessert served à la mode on a generous wedge of the orange fruit.

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH--another summer treat

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH–another summer treat

Similar in color to Mayo Minol but with smoother outer skin is the Melon de Castille which grew successfully in last summer’s Mission Garden. [Seeds of all of these can be found at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store or in the online catalog]

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

At harvest time last summer, Mission Garden volunteers enjoyed an orgy when the rich red-fleshed Mayo watermelons were ripe, in an effort to save seeds to return to NSS. Good duty—such a forward thinking and benevolent activity is seed saving—and someone’s gotta do it.
Melons in your garden will indeed need water so plan on a reliable drip system and some form of water-harvesting berms to direct any rainfall runoff. Plant your melon seeds at the lowest part of your garden where water tends to accumulate. Give the vines room to sprawl out, even over not-so-good ground, so long as the roots are in rich soil.

Tohono O'odham keli ba:so--by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Tohono O’odham keli ba:so–by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Traditions of Desert People—the Tohono O’odham—provide a model of truly sustainable living in the Sonoran Desert. From them we have been given seeds of two of the best-adapted and tasty melons of all: a honeydew-like cushaw melon known as keli ba:so (pronounced gurli-bahsho), and the Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon.  Open up a keli ba:so for a sweet treat to use in a refreshing liquado or smoothie, or in a melon-ball salad perhaps laced with mint-agave nectar sauce. Translating the name keli ba:so opens up another dimension—the wonderful humor of the Desert People. The name (used especially by women) refers to the super-wrinkly texture of the outer melon skin and means “old man’s chest.” In retaliation, men have a different name for the same melon, “ohks tohn.” You might guess where this is going—it translates “old lady’s knees.”

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy--that's Tohono O'odham yellow watermelon

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy–that’s Tohono O’odham yellow watermelon

Watermelons must have had an exciting ride to the New World some 400 years ago, arriving in what is now central Mexico from Africa with the first Europeans. Apparently the flavor and plant-ability of watermelon, and indeed its transport-ability, were so appealing to Native Peoples of Mexico that the fruit spread from its introductory source like wildfire. By the time the Spanish explorer Alarçon arrived at the northern end of El Mar de Cortes meeting Yuman people for the first time at the Colorado River’s mouth, watermelon was already part of their agriculture and diet! This fact stumped historians and ethnobotanists for years—(like how could the same watermelon have been cultivated in both hemispheres?)—until they finally figured out the speed with which a favored food can migrate. Watermelon–the original fast food.

Tohono O'odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Prepare yourself for a whole new flavor experience with Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon. Its sweetness is non-cloying and gentle with an almost musky rich bouquet—a different taste realm from any red watermelon you’ve ever tasted. Put slices of this luscious watermelon on an hors d’oeuvres tray, or slice it alternating with red watermelon for a colorful picnic buffet. Joining orange Mayo Minol, cubes of lime-green keli ba:ṣo, red Mayo watermelon, and T.O. yellow watermelon completes a rainbow of color and flavor to create the ultimate Southwest fruit salad.
Happy monsoon planting and gardening to you as you practice sustainable agriculture in your own backyard! With the term introduced by Wendall Berry, may your “slow knowledge” grow as you tend your melon vines and cheer on the pollinators in anticipation of summer’s sweet and nutritious bounty of melons and amaranths!
As the monsoon season progresses, watch for the San Xavier Coop Association’s T.O. yellow watermelons for sale at the Thursday Santa Cruz farmers’ market at Mercado San Augustin. For more ideas, advice and seeds for monsoon garden heirlooms, visit the NSS store on North Campbell Ave.  Also, come by our Flor de Mayo booth at the new St Phillips Sunday farmers’ market in its charming, refreshing oasis setting. Rod and Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo have experience, recommendations, and stories to share, and perfect monsoon seeds for the season. See you Sunday at St. Phillips!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground!  All they need is a little help!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground! All they need is a little help!


Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Evaporative Cooling and the Hive Recipe: THE HIVE TOOL : A Cooling Cocktail for the Overheated Beekeeper


(Above: bees on water collecting duty; these workers will return to their hive where the water droplets will be distributed in strategic locations, then fanned/evaporated to keep the hive  cool)

Aunt Linda here.   It is early July in the Sonoran Desert, and triple digits temperatures have been the norm for weeks now. All creatures, great or small,  utilize whatever methods and technologies they can to survive this kind of heat.   As I write, it is pre-dawn and the planet Venus is twinkling at the horizon. The small cooler atop my roof is humming away, air passing through moistened pads, doing a noble job keeping me cool. Just outside the door, the humming of honeybees is noticeable as they get an early start, collecting water at the birdbath I have placed just for them.  Evaporative cooling is a technology that both honeybees and humans use; it works for both species because it’s basic principles hold strong whether used by human or bee.  Once the norm here in Tucson, fewer and fewer homes utilize evaporative cooling, opting instead for central air. While there are pros and cons to both systems, the simplicity and reduced energy consumption of this ancient technology has earned my true appreciation.

What is Evaporative Cooling? A simple example of it is that not so subtle sensation you have, likely, experienced when caught in unexpected down pour, that soaks both your cloths and skin. You immediately feel refreshed,  or chilled, even on the hottest summer day –  especially when a breeze aids in the evaporation of that water. The basic principle is this: AS WATER EVAPORATES, ENERGY IS LOST (or Used) REDUCING the temperature,  whether it be from our skin or the air around us.

Following the principle of why evaporative cooling works, we humans have designed evaporative coolers that have 1) a water delivery system to 2) a pad (often aspen) which is moistened and 3) a fan, circulates air through the moist pads, evaporating the water, and reducing the temperature of the air in our homes. Similarly, honeybees cool their hives by collecting water, spreading it on or within the comb, and fanning to increase evaporation.          Same principle.      It occurred to me while writing this morning, that since honey bees have been on the planet for somewhere near 60 million years (and since  science tells us that  they have changes little as a species in all that time) that they have been effectively utilizing evaporative cooling for eons before humans even evolved.





(Above: bees are not good swimmers, so it is important that you add aids for them to alight upon; so that they can sip and gather water without drowning)


Honeybees collect water to cool the brood area (nursery) by evaporation on hot days. Pivotal studies by (Lindauer, 1955) revealed how bees regulate the hive temperature in hot conditions. Essentially: water is collected by water foragers, brought to the hive, and distributed around the hive and inside cells containing eggs and larvae. Bees fan the air, little evaporative cooling machines with wings. On hot days you can also see bees at one side of the hive entrance, facing away from the hive,  drawing air INTO the hive – while on the other side of the entrance, bees face  toward the entrance, fanning air Out and Away from the hive. Fanning bees point their heads downward and fan with their wings vigorously.

The Hive Tool –

A Cooling Cocktail for the Overheated Beekeeper


Measurements For Two People


2-3 OZ of Grapefruit Flavored Vodka

1 Tablespoon Local Honey

1 1/2 limes (freshly squeezed)

3-4 leaves of Lemon Balm/Lemon Verbena (bruised, to infuse flavor)

1 – 2 cups Sparkling Water

ice cubes

How:  Mix together honey, vodka, herb leaves, lime juice until thoroughly mixed. Leave ice cubes out of the cocktail mixer as the cold won’t allow the honey to dissolve with the other ingredients.

Prepare your cocktail glass with ice ( I used hexagon/honey comb  shaped cubes) and herbs and a slice of lime, and pour in your concoction.

Enjoy AFTER checking you hives, not before. Or  enjoy whether or not you keep bees at all.    Bees love citrus flowers, as well as lemon balm, which is what guided me in that direction. Feel free and experiment with other flavored vodkas and herbs. Another great version of the Hive Tool, included Ginger Vodka.











PS: Thanks to The RumRunner who sold me the Grapefruit Vodka, and encouraged me to use a Cocktail Mixer. Special thanks to Swan S. for being my playful  “co-creator of flavor “while mixing up various versions of The Hive Tool. She is a goddess of Quilts, Color, and, now, Cocktails.


Another example of evaporative cooling is covering a canteen/water bottle with burlap or old jeans, and then soaking it in water. The evaporation will keep your water coolish, even in the Sonoran Desert.





Categories: Sonoran Native | 5 Comments

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