Monthly Archives: December 2014

Wild Rhubarb

Dr. Jacqueline Soule, the Fourth Friday Savor Sister here to talk today about an edible “weed” you might find in your yard this winter.

Rumex_hymenosepalus_5 by SS

Rumex hymenosepalus – a “weed” with a number of uses.

One of the wonderful aspects of living in Southern Arizona is our milder winter weather – and it has been milder than most this year.  In my corner of Tucson it has not even hit freezing yet (a fact that is good and bad news for gardeners with fruit trees, but more about “chill hours” some other day).  This mild winter weather has lead to the early appearance of a number of cool season/winter weeds.  Note that it is a good idea to get rid of most weeds before they go to seed, unless they are edible weeds, in which case you may want to harvest some and leave the rest to seed freely for future harvests.

One local winter plant often considered a weed was once grown here commercially.  I am talking about Rumex hymenosepalus, commonly called wild rhubarb, canaigre, hierba colorada, Arizona dock, Arizona rhubarb, tanners dock, or ganagra. Back when my age was in the single digits, I learned to call it “miners lettuce.”

Rumex_hymenosepalus_1 by SS

Common names for the plant include wild rhubarb. Unlike rhubarb, the young leaves are edible.


Growing up at the edge of Tucson, cowboys were part of our circle of friends. “Mr. Alex” was very patient with my countless plant questions, and told me the name for the plant was miners lettuce. With one of his slow smiles he explained that no self respecting cowboy would eat the plant, but because most miners were poorer than dirt, they commonly ate the plant. Five decades later I realize he was also explaining to my brother that most prospectors never found their gold mine, and were commonly strapped for cash, but a steadily working cowboy never lacked for food to eat.


Most prospectors never found the gold they searched for and were perennially short of cash.  They harvested any number of wild plants to help fill the stew pot.


Rumex hymenosepalus was once cultivated in the southwestern United States for the roots, a good source of tannin, used for tanning leather. The roots also yield a warm, medium brown dye for natural fibers like wool and cotton. But when it comes to savoring – the leaves and leaf stalks are considered edible when young. Use leaves and tender young stems in salads or cook like spinach. Older stalks can be cooked and eaten like rhubarb. Rumex pie – yum!

rumex sp by Leigh Anne Albright

A plant found on the edge of Tucson. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.


rumex 02 by Leigh Anne Albright

Within a population, the color and length of the stems can vary. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.


Rumex hymenosepalus is generally found in grasslands, like the Tucson valley used to be. Now you can find it on the eastern and southern edges of Tucson around Vail and Sahuarita, as well as other southern Arizona grassland areas. It is also found in other western states, including California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.



Arizona rhubarb is primarily a plant of the grasslands, and Tucson was once a valley filled with a sea of grass.



You can visit the Empire Ranch to step back in time. Due to overgrazing, mesquite trees and cacti are taking over the former grasslands.


Although the leaves appear after the winter rains, the plant is a perennial in the buckwheat family, the Polygonaceae. You may have guessed by the common name, but this plant family also includes rhubarb, another perennial whose leaf stalks are (IMHO) yummy!


Freshly harvested rhubarb stalks. Avoid eating the leaves of rhubarb as they are high in oxalic acid which can harm human kidneys.


You can use the stalks of our local “wild rhubarb” to make rhubarb pie.


Various other species of Rumex are commonly cultivated as garden vegetables.  Rumex acetosa, often simply called sorrel, common sorrel, garden sorrel, spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.  Rumex scutatus, called French sorrel or yerba mulata, has been cultivated in this area since the days of Father Kino (in this area 1687 to 1711).  I just purchased some nursery seedlings of French sorrel at a local independent nursery and planted them in my garden.

dye rhubarb

As a dye, the roots of Rumex hymenosepalus yield a similar color to rhubarb roots. This is sheep wool with an alum mordant. Photo by J.A. Soule.


A quick note about the common name sorrel. In the Caribbean “sorrel” refers to Hibiscus sabdariffa, used to make a tea. In other areas sorrel refers to a members of the genus Oxalis, whose leaves have a tart flavor and are used in a number of ways.  This just serves to highlight the reason I rely on scientific names when discussing plants that may be harvested in the wild.  You want to be certain of your identification.

If you like to harvest your own, or prefer to cultivate your food, I hope you will consider adding this member of the buckwheat family to your list of plants to savor.  Go Rumex!

Rumex_hymenosepalus_4 by SS

The flowers are very not very showy, but are surrounded by large, colorful sepals that last even after the flowers are gone.


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. JAS avatar

Categories: Dye, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Celebrate the Solstice-tide with Heirloom Bean Treasures

Our ancestors did it—and we still do it today in many ritual ways—we await and call out to the returning light. Indeed in these holy-days of Solstice, Hanukkah, Shálako, Christ-mass, the Yule, we still hope and pray that the light will return to our hearts and our communities throughout our small planet!

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Tia Marta here to share some ideas of foods that have assisted in traditional winter rites, and which can grace our  tables anew for these holy-days.

To me, sprouts, more than anything else, symbolize the return of longer light, the rebirth of life–on so many levels. Out of the darkness and dormancy a sprout brings new life, vitality, a tiny, fragile but hopeful future. Nutritionally, a sprout is a wave of exuberant phytonutrients surging with life-giving properties for itself–and for those who might consume it.

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Ancient cultures of the Southwest have used sprouts in ceremony since time-immemorial, helping communities through rough times of transition, phases of seasons, new homes and life changes. My special favorite for sprouting is the beautiful Four Corners Gold bean, a bright mottled golden-yellow Jacob’s cattle bean, a genetic gift from Native Zuni farmers over the centuries. I sprout the beans by first soaking a ½ cup of dry beans overnight in a cup or bowl, then rinsing and draining them at least 2-3 times daily over a 3-5-day period. Watch life virtually explode out of those little packages of potential! I use the sprouts as a respected garnish or as a flavorful addition to salads or stir-fry. It is like a form of communion to eat sprouts–ingesting renewal.

Four Corners Gold beans up close--check out the difference with Yellow-eye--very different tastes--both wonderful

Four Corners Gold beans up close–check out the difference with Yellow-eye–very different tastes–both wonderful

These colorful dry Zuni beans cooked from scratch also make a hearty and nutritious soup or chile-bean dish for chilly wintry nights. On sunny winter days I like to cook the dry beans (pre-soaked the night before) in the solar oven and have them “at the ready” later in the frig. A pot of beans on the back burner during the holiday season can help make a party happen. Cooked beans are a wonderfully patient food you can have waiting to leap into culinary action when company pops in unexpectedly, or if teenage appetites require between-meal satisfaction.

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Here’s a hearty Tia Marta recipe for enlivening a holiday season buffet:

These make the perfect vegetarian hors d’oeuvres to serve at a holiday buffet or to have ready to heat for drop-in company!

Start them the day before you want to serve them by soaking 1 cup of dry Scarlet Runner Beans.
Soak beans in plenty of water (3-4 cups) for at least 12-24 hours until fully plump and twice their original size.
Drain beans, and add 3-4 cups drinking water.
Simmer on low (stovetop or crockpot) for 3-4 hours until done through and pass the taste test, beyond al dente. The beans should keep their shape and integrity. This will produce extra beans to freeze for other recipes or for doubling the recipe. You will need about 8-10 oz or 1 generous cup of cooked beans for this barbeque recipe.

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1 Tbsp. olive oil                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3-4 Tbsp. butter                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp. molasses
1-2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1/2 cup mild chile salsa
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dashes of Tabasco or Red Devil hot sauce to taste

To make the Barbeque sauce:
Saute onion in butter until clarified. Add all seasoning ingredients to sauteed onions, stir and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or more.
Add in cooked, drained beans–8-10 oz cooked Heirloom Scarlet Runner beans (about 1 generous cup).  Simmer smothered beans and sauce 10 minutes or longer (the longer the better).  Making the BBQ scarlet runners ahead, you can refrigerate them at this point.  Heat before serving.
Serve smothered beans on a hot platter or in a chaffing dish with a fancy toothpick in each bean for a wonderful party surprise that is more satisfying than meat-balls.  Serves a gang of hungry party-ers.

(By doubling this sauce recipe you can use all your cooked beans in it.) Bon appetit! And happy holidays to you and your guests!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d'oeuvres--each one is a perfect tasty bite!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d’oeuvres–each one is a perfect tasty bite!

At New Year’s, our family tradition, with one branch hailing from the South, has always been Black-eye Peas. It is a joy to know that there are Native People here in Baja Arizona who adopted black-eye peas into their own traditional cuisine when European padres first brought them from the Old World. Locally-grown black-eye peas (u-us muñ) may still be available from a Pima farm at and sold through the Native Seeds/SEARCH store.

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean--a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean–a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

For those who want to break away one step from tradition, it is fun to try a delicious alternative New Year’s bean—the yellow-eye. Natives of New England introduced it to Colonists and it became the real Boston Baked Bean long before newer varieties like navy beans or great northerns ever came on the scene. Yellow-eye has a flavor like no other bean and is worth trying in different dishes. I especially like yellow-eyes spiced with freshly ground pipian rojo móle from our own local Mano y Metate (

We think of cranberries as a holiday fruit but have you tried cranberry beans for warming winter dish? There are many Italian recipes for cranberry bean. My stick-to-the-ribs favorite, which delectably uses winter’s plethora of fresh greens, is cranberry beans-and-greens. Tucson’s Mission Garden is producing bundles of the best acelgas greens ever—available at Thursday’s Santa Cruz farmers market at Mercado San Augustine. I invite you to scroll back to last December 2013’s savorthesouthwest.wordpress blog for more great holiday bean recipes.

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Until I was introduced by Dr Barney Burns (co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH) to the diversity of Southwestern heirloom beans, I was a beans-out-of-the-can cook. Indeed even now, with growing awareness of heirloom foods, there are many folks whom Rod and I meet at our farmers market booth who are daunted by the idea of cooking beans from scratch. Yes, dry beans do take time—but with simple low-tech tools like the crockpot or solar oven, multitasking is a breeze. Nothing could be simpler! Cooking one’s own beans opens up a whole new array of flavor possibilities. It’s a color and flavor rainbow of Native American, Hispanic, and pioneer traditional beans which we now have available (largely through the exploratory Southwest seed-saving by Native Seeds/SEARCH over the last 30+ years). All beans are not created equal. Each heirloom has its own unique flavor and bouquet well worth tasting, and its own adaptations to the Baja Arizona desert well worth planting in your garden. Scarlet runner, for example, is long season. Plant it under a mesquite and watch it vine up into the branches, blooming with red flowers for the hummingbirds—the best in edible landscaping! Harvest the giant pods in the fall for next year’s holiday feast.

For limited budgets, buying and cooking dry beans also saves money—big-time. One pound of dry beans when cooked will yield the equivalent of 4 to 6 cans of heat-and-serve beans. Nor will you find our rich SW variety of heirloom beans on any grocery shelf. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N.Campbell Ave, Tucson and the NSS website (, or the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers market ( are the very best places to experience that AH-HAH moment when you see 18-20 beautiful heirloom varieties spread out before your very eyes.  I look forward to your visit to our market booth!

Christmas limas with recipe ideas--a yummy stocking stuffer

Christmas limas with recipe ideas–a yummy stocking stuffer–at Flor de Mayo Sunday St Phillips market booth

When one thinks of the cultures, the farmers, the planting and harvesting knowledge, the years of patient selection that all this bean diversity represents, it can boggle the mind and can truly humble the best of cooks and gardeners.

Tia Marta and Rod of Flor de Mayo are sending our thanks to those traditional farmers and to the many young  innovative organic food growers.  May the light be born again in us as we share honorable heirloom foods graciously with our family and friends this Solstice-tide!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mesquite Gingerfolk for Christmas

Mesquite Gingerfolk are tasty treats for the holidays.

Mesquite Gingerfolk are tasty treats for the holidays.

It’s Carolyn today sharing one of my favorite holiday recipes. The flavor of mesquite meal blends nicely with the warm spices we like in the winter.  These Mesquite Ginger Folk are pretty cute and they taste wonderful.  I used good quality margarine rather than butter or Crisco because I like the eventual texture and the flavor is good. This recipe makes a spicy cookie. If you want more of the mesquite flavor to come through, cut down on the spices. The dough must be well chilled before you roll it out, so this is a two-step recipe: mixing first, then later rolling and baking.

Mesquite Ginger Folk (makes about 3 1/2 dozen rolled cookies)

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour,  1/2 cup mesquite meal, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.  Stir and fluff with a fork and then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat 1 1/2 sticks margarine  with 1/2 cup packed brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in 2/3 cup molasses and one large egg. Then gradually add the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. You may need to give up the mixer for a wooden spoon.  Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled, about three hours.

When you are ready to bake, take one disk from the refrigerator .   You’ll want the dough just warm enough to roll without cracking.  While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350 F. and put out brown paper or wire racks to receive the baked cookies. You’ll also need lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking when rolled.  So get a small bowl of flour, take part of the disk, and roll it in the flour before you roll out with the rolling pin.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll out the dough about 1/8-inch thick on flour-dusted surface. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and roll out again.  When you fill one cookie sheet, bake it for about 10 – 12 minutes while you prepare another sheet.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

If you wish, you can use raisins and dried cranberries to make eyes, a mouth and buttons.  Chop the dried fruit into tiny pieces.


Sometimes it is difficult to position those tiny pieces on the cookies. But remember those tweezers you keep in the kitchen to deal with cactus stickers?  Perfect for placing the eyes and buttons.


To further decorate the cookies, perhaps make some shoes or pants, mix up some white frosting using powered sugar, a little butter and a few drops of milk.  If you have a decorator bag, use it to pipe out some decorations or just draw the decorations with a flat-end toothpick.  Either way, you’ll love your Mesquite Ginger Folk and you’ll love sharing them.

If you’d like to make some mesquite cookies but can’t face the cutting and decorating, you can use the same recipe to make drop cookies. Frost if you have time.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies in simple form.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies in simple form.

If you have not harvested your own mesquite meal, here are a few places to purchase it:  The Flor de Mayo Table at Sunday St. Phillips Farmers Market; the Native Seeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N. Campbell Ave. and for mail order; and the San Xavier Farm Store,  If you are in Phoenix, check the farmers markets there.

For more great mesquite recipes, check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. You’ll learn how to make Mesquite Apple Coffeecake, a fabulous rolled cake with mesquite and coconut, a a dozen other delicious recipes.



Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Waxing On Honey Comb

Aunt Linda Here: writing to you on a rainy Thursday morning.


This morning I am watching Santa’s cap go up in flames. The heat is nearing his face, now, poor thing. He does not look happy. The Buddha on the other hand, appears downright enLightened. On this rare rainy morning in the desert South West, the smell of rain is merging with the aroma of melting bees wax. The impact is enchanting.

The color of wax in a hive changes as the season progresses. In last month’s post, we delighted in how different nectars and pollens produce different colors and flavors of honey. So do they affect the colors and scents of the wax itself.


Honey Bees are the only creatures, that I know of, that build their homes from substance secreted by their own bodies. Solitary bees, wasps, and other relatives dig ground nests, collect mud and create mud nests, paper nests, bore into wood. In contrast, the honey bee “draws” comb using wax flakes secreted from their own bodies. What fascinates me is that they will INVOLUNTARILY secret wax flakes when there is a need for it.  One of the great delights of my life is watching the bees pass along these flakes to one another in a process called “chaining”. It is like the old toy “A Barrel of Monkey’s” where the plastic monkey’s arms entwine as they hang together.  As the build comb, honey bees link up in a similar way, as they pass a wax flake at a time, all while directing heat  to make the wax more malleable.


This comb functions as the skeleton of the hive, in that it provides structure. It is also a pantry for the honey and nectar stores. It is a nursery, for the brood. It also functions as a kind of liver. Beeswax absorbs and holds oil- and fat-soluble toxins, which are, sadly, all too prevalent in today’s environment. These toxins can build up, especially in hives near monoculture farmland (now often more polluted than cities because of our agricultural practices) and in hives in which the beekeeper treats bees to deal with mites etc. The wax can literally become toxic for the bees!  Ironically, these days it is the small scale bee keeper, even within cities, that have the purest wax both for the bees, as well as for lip balms salves etc.


Throughout history, humans have used beeswax in surprising variety of ways.  In addition to candle and salve making, the use of beeswax has been used in both honorable and quirky ways:  encaustic painting, mustache wax, use in dread locks, accordion making, bullet casting, embalming (last two are used probably in that order!) furniture polish, wood waxing , glass etching, crayons, candy making, basket making, ear candles, blacksmithing. I could wax on and on about all the different uses of beeswax. And have begun writing and crafting several recipes for this post using beeswax – from a DIY Lip balm to a Beeswax Furniture Polish, a Wax Varnish, even a Grafting Wax for horticultural grafting, even a  ax furniture “filler” . The possibilities for practical utilities using beeswax are seemingly endless.

In the end, though, I settled on candle making once again. Mostly because it smells so darn good. And it is satisfying to light a candle in these days approaching the winter solstice.

RECIPE : (in the quantities that you choose) Candle making is a kind of process where we find our own way … at least it was that way for me.

A few rules of thumb:

*Have a dedicated just-for-wax melting pot. Melt wax on low heat (or use a crock pot on “low” setting) as you would chocolate, and do not let it boil nor even smoke.

*When you are “threading”  your candle mold, ( I use rolls of wick #2/0) leave the wick uncut. That way as you release the candle from the mold, you pull the fresh wick up through the mold for the next pour.

*Pour the wax slowly for a better result.

*Organic beeswax – (you want to breath in the great “ions” that beeswax produces, and not the toxins from a more polluted wax.

*Candle molds ( check out bee keeping supply companies such as Brushy Mountain, or Dadant, or simply google “candle making  supplies” or “candle molds”). Make sure you buy molds for wax, and not for food. I have found my most interesting molds in quirky google searches. Molds can be pricy; I buy one new one a year. Once you get versed in the craft, you’ll find yourself experimenting with all sorts of things. Yuo can make sand caste molds … you can pour wax into tea cups from thrift stores … and of course you can relish in the simplicity of Hand-Dipped Beeswax Canldles and skip the whole mold thing completely. Use your creativity as your guide.

*Wicks (beeswax requires wicks are #2/0; or ask the person you are buying from for advice.)

*A large needle to thread the molds with (this is a must and you can get them from candle making suppliers; you just need one and it will last a lifetime)

A mold release spray to help the wax candle separate from the mold once it has cooled.

TIPS: Melt your wax slowly



Pour your wax into the molds … slowly for a smooth result, and allow the wax to cool. This depends on the mass of the candle and the ambient temperature.


Beeswax Candles are beautiful. Their smell is enlivening. They make great presents. Making them is a great project for any age.

They light the dark.

They are also a great lessons in the nature of change.  From the pristine new candles above, to the fully burned Buddha candle below. The real Buddha found part of his enlightenment in making friends with the nature of change and cycles and impermanence.  Here is his candle version, left hand still visible in the photo, filled with rain water and mesquite leaves from today’s rain.

I will likely rinse him off,  and put this version of him back in the wax pot to melt down for the next round of pouring candles. The cycles continue.


Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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