Monthly Archives: April 2016

Everybody Cooks Desert Wild Plants

It’s Carolyn Niethammer with you this April Friday, my favorite time of year when the Sonoran Desert is bursting with life. The rains weren’t as heavy as El Niño had promised, but there was enough moisture so that our arid-adapted plants could produce a colorful and abundant spring. When I was a young reporter for the Arizona Daily Star we used to have a feature called “Everybody Cooks.” I loved going out into the community and talking to good cooks from all walks of life — Mexican nanas, musicians, business owners, Jewish homemakers — about what they made for holidays and everyday family meals. I recalled those good times earlier this month at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Arid Abundance Potluck.

People arrived at the Arid Abundance Potluck with so many creative uses of the delicacies of a Sonoran desert spring that I just had to document the event.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth, the manager of the NS/S retail store, started us out with a cholla bud appetizer. There’s an old joke about how a cook made chicken soup in 1880. It starts: first you catch the chicken. This is sort of like that. You do have to harvest, clean (meaning remove the thorns) and dry the cholla buds. Or you can go the the NS/S store and buy some already cleaned and dried. Chad boiled the dried cholla buds for about 45 minutes, drained them and then chilled them in white balsamic vinegar overnight. When he was ready to serve them at the potluck he cut  each of them in half and arranged them on a plate and drizzled them with prickly pear syrup. Toothpicks are handy for picking up the delicious little morsels.




Nancy Reid serves up  her rich and delicious  Green Chile-Cholla Bud Quiche

Nancy Reid, a retail associate at the NS/S store,  brought a green chile and cholla bud quiche that she had modified from a recipe in a wonderful but out-of-print NS/S cookbook. She began by melting a tablespoon of butter in the bottom of an 8-inch round pan. In a bowl, she beat 4 eggs. Then she added 3/4 cup cooked cholla buds, 3/4 cup chopped green chiles, 1 cup of cottage cheese, 2 cups of shredded colby/jack cheese, and a little salt. It went in the oven at 325 degrees F. for 40 minutes.




Laura Neff with her salsa.

Laura Neff , NS/S retail associate, with her salsa.



What’s a southwestern meal without salsa? Laura Neff’s version includes 1/2 cup dried cholla buds boiled for 45 minutes and drained, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1-2 finely minced jalapenos, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice. She combined everything except the cholla buds in a food processor. The cholla buds were chopped by hand and added  at the end.




My friend Connie Lauth wasn’t at the potluck but she made this gorgeous quiche recently for company. Connie lives on the desert at the very end of a road into the Tucson Mountains. While Chad and Laura used dried and reconstituted cholla buds, Connie just walked out her door and picked some fresh ones. She used nopalitos from Food City but by now there are plenty of fresh, new-growth prickly pear pads ready for harvest.

Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Connie’s Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Here’s Connie’s recipe:

Connie’s Desert Pie

1 cup of cholla buds

1 cup of nopalitos

½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup milk,

1 ½ teaspoons pico de gallo seasoning

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro

1 frozen deep dish pie shell

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

Dethorn cholla buds by holding them with tongs and burning them off over a gas stove.. Rinse. Microwave in a covered dish on high for 4 minutes.

Cut gathered or purchased nopalitos into 1/4-inch dice. Microwave with red bell peppers for about 4 minutes.  In a bowl, beat eggs and milk, add seasonings.  Layer egg mixture with vegetables and cheese in the pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes until a knife inserted in center comes out clean


If  you are inspired to try your hand at more desert gathering and cooking, my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicous Recipes for Desert Plants can be your guide to 23 easily recognized, gathered and cooked  desert edibles.  If you want to harvest some nopales (prickly pear pads), you can find lots of recipes in The Prickly Pear Cookbook. Both books  are available in the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061  N. Campbell or on their website. The books are also available from Amazon and B&N.


Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Castor for Sonoran Summers

Riccinus in NC 8088

Developing seedpods on a castor plant are striking.

Jacqueline Soule here today to talk about a great plant for the summer herb garden, castor bean (Ricinus communis).  It is called ricio or higuerilla in Spanish, and called “blech” by small children dosed with it’s oil.  It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae, the spurge or poinsettia family, which is widely considered a plant family to avoid consuming, so who first figured the oil was a good laxative and spring tonic?!  Not only for internal use, but the oil was popular 3000 years ago for body lotion, hair dressing, and for lamp oil.

Riccinus in NC 8090

Yes, some highly effective medicines, insecticides, and uses of the oil come from the castor seeds (they are not botanically beans), but it is not a plant for home remedies.  All parts of the plant contain both useful and highly toxic compounds.  I mention the plant today because it was used in the Southwest starting in Father Kino’s time, indeed was planted in his mission gardens, plus it is a lovely ornamental plant.  I like to grow castor in my modern day garden as a link to such ancestral gardens.

Riccinus communis AMAP IMG_4616

The seed pods dry to brown and easily release the seed.

Castor beans are toxic due to ricin, a chemical present in the flesh of the seeds, but not present in the oil.  Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be four to eight seeds, reports of human poisoning are rare as the seed coat is quite durable and can pass intact through the human digestive system.  Poisoning occurs when animals ingest broken seeds or break the seed by chewing.

Planting and Care.

Castor plants are striking ornamentals.  They can vary greatly in growth habit and appearance. The variability has been increased by breeders who have selected a range of cultivars for leaf and flower colors, including scarlet, bronze, or maroon leaves, topped by large, decorative seed pods in shades of red, orange, or maroon.  Plants make an excellent temporary screen or exotic backdrop for the back of the border.

Riccinus in NC 8086

In this North Carolina garden, the castor plants provide a backdrop to the annual beds.

Intolerant of frost, castor plants can be started indoors and planted out once the soils warm, or planted directly in the soil in spring.  For best results, soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. The large seeds should be buried about one inch deep. Castor plants prefer full sun and should be kept evenly moist to get growing.

Ricinus communis seeds

Harvesting and Use.

It is not recommended to attempt processing of castor oil at home.  But do save some seed of your plants, as there is some effort to outlaw their sale.

kino festival 2016

The 19th Annual Festival of Kino will be held throughout the town of Magdalena, in Sonora Mexico,  18 to 22 of May.  This year the celebration commemorates 50 years since finding Padre Kino’s bones.

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 Mission (founded by Father Kino), Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. 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).

© This article and photos are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. 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.

Categories: Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Salad

cholla 2016

Amy collecting cholla buds

Some years, spring seems to last about a week in the desert, going from winter to summer too fast. When the weather is beautiful, we know to celebrate these days outside!!!!

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Romaine hearts and assorted red lettuces

Winter lettuces are still around for a short time more, and the weather is finally warm enough that I feel like eating a salad. Here is a salad made with ingredients I had on hand. I traded for most items, the exceptions being the items I made. I hope this serves as an inspiration to go to a farmers’ market, use little bits of what you have in the refrigerator, go into the desert near your home, and forage in your yard.

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Hakurei turnips, Chioggia and Golden beets, Carrots, Kholrabi, , and French Breakfast Radishes.

Hakurei “salad turnips” are so sweet and tender, they can win over stubborn turnip haters, and are a treat raw for turnip lovers.

I steamed and sliced the beets, peeled and sliced the kholrabi, and simply sliced the turnips, carrots and radishes.

I'itoi onions and dill.

I’itoi onions and dill.

For fresh herbs, I used dill and I’itoi onions. I like the green tops as much as the white parts.

Crusts of Small Planet Bakery Cottage Wheat make excellent croutons. Just chop, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder (my guilty pleasure), then toast in a skillet until crunchy.

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Heels of Cottage Wheat.

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Cast iron skillet croutons.












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Brined goat feta.


Mango Salsa.

Last fall, I goat/house sat for a friend, and this is the feta I made from the milk. Mango the goat has mellowed over the years since I first learned to milk and she first learned to be milked.


The heard on the grassland.









Fresh cheese curds draining whey.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

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Fresh flowers for garnish.




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Desert Honeysuckle, Anisacanthus thurberi.

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Foothills Palo Verde, Parkinsonia microphylla.

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Chuparosa, Justicia californica.

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

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Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Enjoy!








Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Succulent” Events with Succulent Tastes–and Invitations….

It’s show time in the desert–S’oo’ahm masad or “yellow moon” for the Tohono O’odham–the month in which seemingly everything in the Sonoran Desert blooms a glorious yellow, arroyos lined with blooming blue palo verde and mesquite, hillsides covered with paper flower, palo verde and cactus blossoms.

Staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) flower, bud and ant protector

Staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) flower, bud and ant-protector (MABurgess photo)

These spiny, possibly-threatening desert plants have amazing nutritious gifts to pollinators and other hungry creatures, including ants, packrats… and humans.

Tia Marta here with an invitation to learn lots more about our many species of Sonoran Desert chollas, how they fit into the fabric of desert life, and how they have been used by traditional people for generations.  Come join  Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society’s SONORA XI gathering next weekend Friday-Sunday, April 15-17, 2016, for a rich opportunity to enjoy demos, tastes, lectures, and exhibits.  You can learn more about this downtown Tucson event (held at HotelTucsonInnSuites) and register at  On Saturday, April 16, I invite you to attend one of my ethnobotany demonstrations at the open conference.  I’ll guide you through careful “hands-on experiences” with edible and useful succulents, complete with some surprising and yummy bites!

De-spining cholla buds at Mission Garden Workshop (MABurgess)

De-spining cholla buds at Mission Garden Workshop (MABurgess)

Cross-section of staghorn cholla flower bud showing stamens and ovules (MABurgess)

Cross-section of staghorn cholla flower bud showing stamens, stigma, and ovules (MABurgess)

Delicious Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad with Cholla Buds at Mission Garden workshop (MABurgess)

Delicious Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad with Cholla Buds at Mission Garden workshop (MABurgess)



Last weekend we celebrated the beginning of the cholla harvest at Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden in a workshop led by Flor de Mayo’s Tia Marta (   We explored its ecology, taxonomy, traditional preparation, its culture and archaeological evidence.  The class was topped with a feast using cholla buds in several innovative and delectable dishes–one with heirloom White Sonora Wheat.  For great cholla recipe ideas, scroll back to an earlier Savor blog post   For additional interesting cholla information and dried cholla buds for purchase, check out

Young new-growth stem of prickly pear in leaf (Opuntia engelmannii) ready for harvesting (MABurgess)

Young new-growth stem of prickly pear in leaf (Opuntia engelmannii) ready for harvesting (MABurgess)

Another desert food staple–worthy of being considered a medicine as it is so effective in balancing bloodsugar–is our own   prickly pear.  With de-spining and preparation you can enjoy its tangy taste as nopalitos, pickled, stir-fried, or in salads.  Enjoy nopal dishes at some of Tucson’s favorite restaurants like Janos’ Downtown Kitchen or Teresa’s Mosaic.  Attend the demo nopal preparation and tastes at the SONORA XI Conference….(

White Sonora Wheat with swelling seed heads at FOTB's Mission Garden (MABurgess)

White Sonora Wheat with swelling seed heads at FOTB’s Mission Garden–to mature in May (MABurgess)




Seeing the heirloom winter White Sonora Wheat growing tall and green at Mission Garden, its swelling kernels in the “milk-stage,” I’m envisioning the harvest to come, and to plans for La Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador, when the wheat, first introduced to S-chuk-Shon by Padre Kino, will be maturing and ready to thresh.  My mother’s wonderful caregiver Rosa has introduced us to a delectable recipe she created celebrating both White Sonora Wheat and the fresh vegetables currently available at farmers’ markets.  Her recipe for Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora Wheat follows–light as a souflee.

Rosa serving her Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)

Rosa serving her Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)


Rosa's delicious Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour

Rosa’s delicious Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)



2 Tbsp heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour

1 lg egg or 2 small eggs

1 cup market vegetables, sautéed in olive oil (shaved carrots, chopped fresh spinach, minced I’itoi’s onions bulb and tops…)

2+ Tbsp org. broth, veg or chicken

salt to taste; butter for curing skillet


Saute chopped vegetables in olive oil, then simmer with broth until soft.   Allow to cool. Beat eggs with White Sonora Wheat flour.  Mix with vegetables. Pre-heat small iron skillet, melt butter, pour in mixture.  Let omelette puff.  Turn when slightly brown on bottom, then gently brown on reverse.  Serve w/salsa fresca or sliced avocados. (Another wonderful variation on her omelette is to add prepared cholla buds!)

Find dry cholla buds at the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Philips farmers’ market, at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, at the San Xavier Farm Coop booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz market at the Mercado, or at the Tucson Cactus&Succulent Society’s SONORA XI conference next weekend.  You can find the freshest greens for Rosa’s Veggie Omelette, including local baby spinach, onions, etc at our many Tucson farmers markets, especially at Tom’s Marana-farm booth at Sunday St Philips market (, or at the Community Food Bank booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz market at the Mercado.  Easily grow your own shallots for the omelette with NativeSeeds/SEARCH’s I’itoi’s onions–the snappy little spreading onion that keeps on giving.

Come witness ever-growing inspirations for your own garden by visiting Mission Garden at the foot of A-Mountain, Tucson–it’s a must!  There are wonderful docents there to guide you every Saturday morning now that the weather is warming.  In Mission Garden we see examples of cultivated food and native medicine plants that have fed and helped humans in this valley for over 4000 years!  With that track record for desert living, chances are these same plants can help support us into an unsure future of hotter and drier weather–with assurance and nurture.  We owe inexpressible thanks to those farmers and gardeners who have preceded us!

[For more info about succulent events, tours, happenings, and products, check out;;;,]

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

On Trees

Hello from the Land of Blossoms! Aunt Linda here in Washington D.C. where cool breezes and cherry blossoms are as plentiful as political headlines. The nations capitol  is at the very peak of a Cherry Blossom Bloom. These trees were a gift to the US from Japan, in 1912. What I hadn’t ever been aware of is that that these trees (along the Tidal Basin) are from a 1,500 year old tree in Japan.   I felt a quickening of excitement as this news reached my ears. And I wondered if that  that very tree might still be alive. I did a little investigating, and YES,  it lives. Click here to see a photo of this ancient tree. I believe it is the second tree featured.


My appreciation of trees has grown exponentially.

In many ways they are unsung heroes. They offer so much to us, to wildlife, to the planet. Aside from their Beauty, they provide juicy fruit and nuts;  nesting and roosting sites for birds and other wildlife. Pollen and nectar are exchanged for pollinating services of native and european bees, as well as a myriad of pollinators. Trees Purify Air. Create Shade. Take a hike through a forest and you will re-experience Silence.  Trees drop litter that nourishes the soil below them. Here in D.C. the trees tower above with canopies of big leaves. In the Sonoran Desert most trees are smaller, and the leaves tiny –  as an adaptive strategy to conserve water.

Trees can be a great reminder of the interconnectedness of all things. “The leaf takes from the air its richest food, and from the sun its most valuable property, and in silence changes them into things which our life could not exist.” (The Book of Knowledge, 1890, p3177)

Jut two days ago, an article in the American Forest article (3/29/16) speaks of the “Mutually Beneficial” relationship betweek trees and bees. “Although the cherry blossoms do not produce fruits, bees are still an important factor in their pollination. Bees also help to pollinate local gardens and plants, contributing to the flowers and greenery we enjoy in city parks and squares during the warmer months..


This week, I also I came across the woven bookmark( below ) in an old old bible, and was reminded that many homes in the US  commonly kept used a hive or two. I learned this a few years ago, when I was sitting with 10 elder women, listening to their stories. All but one  had grown up with a few hives at home. And almost all had “helped out with bees”, as young girls.


It looks like this practice may be coming around again. Even in the Nations capital. This is, for me, great news because  both trees and bees interrelate with the environment in very beneficial ways.

An article in American Forests  (3/29/16) states:

“Since beekeeping in D.C. has been legalized, the influx of new local beekeeping groups has been incredibly beneficial to the local environment.Bee hives can be found at several government agencies as well as in rooftop gardens in Georgetown and at The George Washington University”.


Want to feel more like an interconnected being, but not sure if planting a tree or keeping a honey bee hive is for you?  You might consider “adopting a hive”.  I just today found out about this and I kind of wish I had thought about it myself.  Click:

I do not have a recipe this week. Rather, an invitation: be inspired by a tree, and Take a Stand for something you care about. And like a tree, Offer something, that only you can give.



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