Monthly Archives: August 2015

Joy of the Mountains in Tucson

Jacqueline A. Soule here to tell you of a wonderful perennial herb to plant in your garden or landscape this coming month.  Oregano comes to us from the arid mountains of the eastern Mediterranean, including present day Greece and Turkey.  Oregano grows well here in the Old Pueblo forming a lovely low mounding landscape plant with a little added water.


In shady sites of our Southwestern yards, oregano can grow quite green and lush.

The name, oregano is translated from the Greek as joy of the mountain. (oros = mountain, ganos = joy) so imagine the rocky Greek mountains as you plant your oregano. Rocky or sandy soil (not clay) works well. Some afternoon shade in summer is best for healthy plants.

Origanum vulgare 'Hot & Spicy'

Origanum vulgare ‘Hot & Spicy’ likes the heat and has very strong flavor. Like most herbs, it does best in well drained soil and does not thrive if overwatered. Photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers.

Oregano comes in many species, subspecies and varieties. For the best type able to grow here in the Old Pueblo, go with the true Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare subspecies hirtum. Since many nurseries do not label with correct scientific names, look at the leaves. The one you want will have smallish leaves with silvery hairs on them. When you rub a leaf between your fingers, it should release a strong fragrance of oregano. Avoid the oreganos that are mildly scented, musky scented, or have larger, not very hairy leaves. Indeed, you may run across marjoram (Origanum majorana) or even Italian oregano (Origanum X majoricum). These have their place in the kitchen and in the garden, but don’t plant them next to Greek oregano. The more vigorous Greek oregano will over run the others.


Majoram is closely related to oregano. It also grows well here.

Like many herbs, the best time to harvest oregano is just before it blooms. Many herbs increase their production of essential oils as they go into bloom since it is a time when they really need to protect themselves from pests. When you first start growing oregano, harvest may mean pinching a few stalks back with your fingers. Once your patch gets larger, trim it with strong kitchen scissors to about two inches high, so it forms a low mat of leaves. Don’t worry, it will get tall again.

Origanum AMP_6655

Ideally farvest any oregano you wish to use before it flowers. Once it begins to flower, I like to leave the blooms for the pollinators.

Dry all herbs out of direct sunlight. I spread the cut stems on top of folded paper bags placed on top of the bookshelves. A ceiling fan running during the day helps dry them quickly. The quicker the drying, the less breakdown of the chemical compounds inside the leaves, and thus the sweeter the oregano flavor and less bitter the background notes.


In the nursery look for the oreganos with very hairy leaves. It is one sign og a true Greek oregano.

Besides its culinary uses, oregano is used medicinally as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. The oil of oregano is reported to destroy organisms that contribute to skin infections and digestive problems, strengthen the immune system, increase joint and muscle flexibility, and improve respiratory health. The medicinal properties or oregano appear to be from high concentrations of thymol and carvacrol. Caution is needed since carvacrol appears to reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. Moderation is, as always, important.

Origanum layering AMP_6648

Spread out the branches of your oregano and bury all but the tip. The branch will root where buried (blue arrow). This is called layering and is and easy way to propagate your herbs.

Please do tell me your favorite way to use oregano in the comment section below.  We Savor Sisters love to hear from our readers!

Origanum AMP_6652

As well as in the ground, oregano can be grown in pots. Normally one doesn’t mix iris and oregano but I needed a spot to put the iris, and then it was about to bloom,,, and if you are a gardener, you know how it goes.

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tumacacori National Historical Park (National Park Service Cenntenial this year!), Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
All photos (except where noted) and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

You Say Purslane, I Say Verdolagas

Purslane just sprigs so far due to late rains at my house.

Purslane is  just sprigs so far this year due to late rains at my house.

Here's how it should look once we get some more rain.

Here’s how it should look once we get some more rain.

If you’ve had any decent monsoon rain by now, you may have a vitamin powerhouse coming up in your yard.  Purslane, also called verdolagas, grows in many Southwest backyards in the summer.  It prefers rich, recently turned soils so look for it under your rose bushes or in a flower garden. It has small fleshly leaves about the size of a fingernail, pinkish stems, and grows close to the ground.  I have only a small patch this year where a small rain barrel spilled over. There should be more, but rains have been skimpy in our part of downtown Tucson.

It’s sad but true that right now people are out in their yards pulling these plants out and tossing them in the garbage (or compost for the more enlightened). They should be tossing them in the wok (see recipe below.) Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus. One cup of cooked purslane has 25 milligrams (20 percent of the recommended daily intake) of vitamin C.

Especially important to those of us eating a modern diet, purslane is very high in an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. Certain fibers also help in controlling blood sugar.

Sometimes all this talk of nutrition can turn people off  — you might be saying “OK, but what does it taste like?” Delicious, actually. There are lots of ways to use purslane. The mild lemony flavor goes with everything. Purslane can be eaten raw chopped in salads or sautéed . Add it to a stew.   Or toss it in the blender when making a green smoothie and it will add body as well as vitamins.

There’s something else, too. Something beyond just the vitamins that come from eating plants from your own yard. It’s a connection to the land you live on, the seasonal treat that Mother Nature has provided. By eating with the season, you become more than a mere spectator to life’s cycle. You think about these tiny seeds that wait for the rain, then manage to live as the sun beats down with 100-degree fury. And there’s the connection to past generations of people who lived here and ate these plants–a connection that broccoli will never give you.

My friend Roni Rivera-Ashford taught me to put a bowl under the colander and catch the water you use to rinse the purslane. You will find lots of very tiny black seeds in the water.  Botanists tell us that a single purslane plant can produce up to 200,000 seeds. Pour that water with the seeds on a potted plant and you’ll have purslane next year.

Since it’s free and (usually) abundant, why not try some?  Here’s the classic prepartion cooked up in Mexican kitchens every summer.

To prepare the purslane, first chop and sauté  some onion and garlic in a little oil.  When the onion is translucent, add the purslane.


Next, toss in some chopped fresh tomatoes.

IMG_0881At this point you can eat it, maybe with a little cheese on top. Or to make a heartier meal, saute some small bits of chicken. Now you’ve got a great side dish. Or how about filling for some enchiladas.

Dip the tortilla in chile sauce, add some purslane and roll.

Dip the tortilla in chile sauce, add some purslane and roll.

My favorite is tostadas. Yum!



Interested in more ideas for using the wild foods of the Southwest?  Check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest  where you’ll find recipes for 23 delicious wild plants, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook with lots of recipes for both the prickly pear fruit and pads.   Here’s a little video with ideas for other local wild plants to add novelty and nutrition to your diet.

Categories: Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Prickly Pear Upside-down Cake, Summer in Tucson


Amy Valdes Schwemm here today, with glochids in my hands.


Figeater beetle, Cotinis mutablilis


Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market Workshop


“I want to be a scientist!” she said.


Nopalitos en escabeche (pickled cactus pads with carrots, garlic, I’itoi onion, chiltepin, Mexican oregano)


Prickly pear kombucha

Harvest party at Bean Tree Farm. Classic Barbara Rose cocktail with too many ingredients to list!

Harvest party at Bean Tree Farm. Fancy cocktail by Barbara Rose!

Prickly pear vinegar

Prickly pear vinegar

Prickly pear jelly on Sourdough Sonoran Wheat, Barley, Almond crepe

Prickly pear jelly and nut butter on sourdough Sonoran wheat, barley, almond crepe

Apple, prickly pear and friends compote

Apple, prickly pear and friends compote

Peach prickly pear cobbler

Peach, raspberry, prickly pear cobbler

Prickly pear upside down cake

Prickly pear upside down cake

Prickly Pear Upside-down Cake

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup prickly pear juice

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 prickly pear fruit, glochids singed over fire, peeled, seeded and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a 9 inch springform pan, put 1/4 cup butter. Put pan in the oven just until butter is melted. Sprinkle with brown sugar and arrange prickly pear fruit on top. Mix flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Separately, mix prickly pear juice, 1/2 cup melted butter and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 3o minutes or until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. I like the cake to have some brown edges. Cool, invert on to a serving plate and enjoy. IMG_3286

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Poet’s Late Summer Smoothie – Savory or Sweet

There is so much poetry in nature.  It is a poetry that speaks without words.

Here’s some poetry I came across this morning while doing chores.

  • While collecting eggs – A muted colored, still moist snakeskin. Recently shed, it had unhinged itself from it’s serpentine owner with the help of friction (as it passed underneath the white enamel tub that the duck/hens use for bathing and drinking). I was more mindful collecting eggs in the dim pre-dawn light, lest it’s new skin version had found its way into the nesting boxes. No words written on the skin, but it spoke of a form now too small for its serpentine body.
  • While tending the garden – I found poetry in pollen grains hitching a ride on bees; and in bees acting as the legs of plants. No words uttered as they go about their work, but they complete a reproductive act that many plants cannot do on their own. Poetry.  (Below: the poetry of bees at work on the ingredients we’ll use in the Poet’s Recipe: Mint, Strawberries, Pomegranate)

Honeybee on a mint flower


From my garden: white strawberry flower and a strawberry fruit forming just below it. This plant is still producing in August!


Honeybee at work on a strawberry flower; you can see her pollen sacks (on back legs) are being filled with strawberry pollen!


Side by Side – tow different stages: fruit and flower.


Two honeybees at work on a pomegranate flower; here in the yard.


Another view of a honeybee on pomegranate flower; the darker shape behind the large right petal is a pomegranate fruit beginning.


Here you can see the flower to the left and a young pomegranate fruit beginning to mature, to the right

  • Why talk of poetry? 1) Because poetry is, in part, about being Present. And present to the world right in front of us. And  2) Poetry is also, often, about Associations.  The natural world gives us many many examples of associations  (interconnections),  like spiderwebs and hummingbird nests (see March 2015).  And even bees and ice cream.
  •  Which leads us right into this weeks recipe, and invites us all to be poets –  both Present to what is in front of us, and more aware of the Associations/connections in front of our eye; and on our tongues.  What do bees and the ice cream (or yogurt) you hold in your hand  have to do with each other?  I am so glad you asked. The milk that came from the cow (or goat or sheep) for your ice cream means that the grasses that the cow ate were pollinated. Whether your cloven hoofed bovine (cow) ate range grasses and shrubs, or field grown grasses like alfalfa, chances are a bee pollinated those grasses.

I guess you could call this grass fed milk


                                                  RECIPE: POET’S LATE SUMMER SMOOTHIE


Garnish your Poet’s smoothie with mint leaves (the left leaf is a pomegranate leaf that I placed just for fun; you do not want to eat it) and fruit of your choosing.

Savory Version: (Below)


In a blender combine:

2 cups of Plain Yogurt (I used goat, but that is strong for many people

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds.

2 Tablespoons each of mint mint, cucumber.

Add milk if you like a thinner version.

Sweet Version (Below)


2 cups Ice cream or Sweetened Yogurt,

1 cup fruit and berries of your choice. I added pomegranate, strawberries, and blueberries.

Honey to taste.

Milk if you like a thinner treat; the consistency seems to vary depending on how much juice is in the berries and whether or not you use yogurt or ice cream.


Vegan Version:

2 cups Coconut Milk Ice Cream  – and blend with the flavors you like.

Note that the berries in the photos are not pristine nor perect – perfect for this kind of a snack so you can use up the berries/fruit  you have,

Categories: Sonoran Native | 8 Comments

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