medicinal plant

Ornamental Medicinals–for Showy Color and Healing Gifts

Yellow trumpet flower–tronador (Tecoma stans)–is super-showy in a desert landscape. It will bloom multiple times through warm and hot seasons triggered by rainfall or watering. Its foliage and flowers have been used as a tea for treating blood sugar issues of insulin-resistant diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

Attention:  native-plant-lovers, desert gardeners, Southwest culture buffs, curanderas, survivalists, artists and the just plain curious!  Set your iPhone Calendar ready to mark right now for a long-awaited event:   the Grand Opening of the Michael Moore Memorial Medicinal Plant Garden, this coming Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8am-10am at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Tia Marta here to give you a little “taste” of how you can incorporate what you learn about our native medicinal plants into your own landscaping–to add not only sensational seasonal beauty around you, but also to put their gifts of traditional medicine right at hand, in your own yard!

[A little knowledge can be dangerous, so DO use reputable reference books such as those by Michael Moore, Charles Kane, John Slattery, and DesertHarvesters.org  if you intend to use your desert landscape plants for medicine.]

This showy orange-flowered prickly pear, collected by Dr Mark Dimmitt in the Chihuahuan Desert (Opuntia lindheimeri), is now a favorite in desert gardens all over Baja Arizona. Plentiful young pads of all prickly pears (flat new stems called nopales in Spanish, nowh in Tohono O’odham)–are an important traditional source of blood-sugar-balancing mucilage plus available calcium for bones or lactation, when prepared properly. (MABurgess photo)

Prickly pear fruits (i:bhai in Tohono O’odham, tunas in Spanish, Opuntia engelmannii) add landscaping color and a feast for wildlife. They ALSO are important traditional medicine with their complex carbs used for sustained energy, blood-sugar balance and high available calcium for preventing and treating osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

Sweet catkin-like flowers of mesquite covers this handsome “Giving Tree” in spring, to mature into healthy sweet pods by late May and June. Its beauty is far more than bark-deep. Almost every part of mesquite can be used medicinally–leaf, sap, flower, bark, branchlets and bean pod! (JRMondt photo)

Native Mexican elderberry–sauco in Spanish (Sambucus mexicana)–makes an effective screen as a shrubby, dense tree. It bears cream colored flower nosegays that become clusters of dark berries (tasty but toxic unless cooked). Its flowers and foliage have been used also for curbing fever and as a diuretic. (MABurgess photo)

Two important books are burning on the presses  by our own Baja Arizona ethnobotany writer-philosopher Gary Paul Nabhan ,  entitled:

Mesquite, an Arboreal Love Affair and      Food from the Radical Center (Island Press)

available at upcoming events in Tucson.  Plus another new one– Eat Mesquite and More by Brad Lancaster’s DesertHarvesters.org, will be celebrated at the UA Desert Lab on Sept.19.  Mission Garden will also feature Nabhan’s latest Sept 29 sponsored by BorderlandsRestoration.

As the nights get cool, toss a handful of desert chia seed in your garden and scratch it into the soil for a sky-blue (and useful) addition to your wildflower mix. Medicinally, desert chia seed–da:pk in Tohono O’odham (Salvia columbariae)–has proven to be a cholesterol remover in addition to its traditional use for sustained energy and blood-sugar balancing.  Chia’s foliage has been used as a topical disinfectant and throat gargle tea. (MABurgess photo)

For a mound of glorious color in a rock garden, landscaped hillside or spring accent, our desert Goodding’s Verbena is perfect. And what a handy source at your fingertips for brewing up a soothing sedative tea that is even safe for children! (MABurgess photo)

You may find many of these showy medicinals like Verbena gooddinggii,  desert willow, Tecoma stans, native velvet mesquite, honey-mesquite and screwbean, or elderberry at upcoming fall plant sales at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Sept 29-30, Tohono Chul Park Oct.13-14, and at Desert Survivors Sept.25-29, 2018.

Beautiful flowers of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)–known as ahhn in Tohono O’odham, in Spanish as mimbre–are an important addition to desert landscaping. Not only can it be brewed for a gentle, refreshing tea, but its anti-fungal properties can be a rescue when needed. (MABurgess photo)

I hope these photos have been an inspiration for you to delve deeper and to plant a medicinal!  Members of Tucson Herbalist Collective (better known as THC), including Tia Marta here, will be on hand at the Michael Moore Memorial Herbal Medicine Garden Opening, Tucson’s Mission Garden Sept 22, to introduce you to many gifts of our desert medicinals, share samples of herbal teas, tastes, and answer questions.  Please pass the word about these neat events by sharing this blog with potential followers.  See you there!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Awesome Amaranth

Jacqueline here with a confession. I confess I am not a fussy gardener. I prefer plants that I can plant and forget about until harvest time.  Likewise, in the kitchen, I prefer foods that are easy to prepare, needing few steps to provide a satisfying meal. Lucky for me the Sonoran Desert abounds in such plants, and amaranth is just one of them – great in both the garden and kitchen.

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There are over 60 species of amaranth, and while several species are considered weeds, many people around the world value amaranths as vegetables, for the seeds, for dye, and as ornamentals. Amaranth grows best in the heat of summer, and it is not too late to plant some.

Some species of amaranth are eaten as greens – and are anything but green! Foliage ranges in hue from crimson, to red, to vivid magenta, all due to natural pigments called betalains. Whatever their color, they are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, B3, B6, C, vitamin K, and folate, along with dietary minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and especially manganese.

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The root of mature amaranth is a palatable parsnip-like vegetable. It is fine added to stews or cooked and mashed.

Amaranth seeds, like quinoa, teff, and buckwheat, contain “complete protein” (a complete set of the amino acids needed by humans). These examples are called “pseudograins” because of their flavor and cooking is similar to grains, but unlike grain, they do not contain gluten. (By the way, “true” grains are in the grass family.) As with rice and other grains, use two cups liquid to one cup seeds.

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Amaranth is related to quinoa.

 

Amaranth greens and seed are used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for their richness in minerals and vitamins – to help the body recover from a variety of ills, including infections, rashes, and migraines.

In India, amaranth is recommended for people with low red blood cell count. Several studies have shown that amaranth seed and amaranth seed oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.

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Young amaranth leaves are tasty right off the plant, in salads, or they can be steamed as a potherb. In Greece, their native green amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is used in a popular dish called “vleeta.” Leaves are boiled, then served with olive oil and lemon, usually alongside fried fish.

Amaranth grows very rapidly and their large seed heads can weigh several pounds and contain a half-million seeds. Mature seed heads of amaranth are ideally harvested while still somewhat green, before the bracts open to release the seed. Thus seed will drop where you can more easily capture it, like within a paper bag.

These seeds can be boiled, parched or even toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a Mexican treat called alegría, which will have to be a topic for the future, or see the chapter Using Father Kino’s Herbs for a recipe.

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A quick dinner when you don’t want to heat the kitchen too much is steamed amaranth greens and scrambled eggs.

JAS avatarWant to learn more about growing amaranth? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article 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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Perennial Herbs for Honey

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Thyme is tasty in the kitchen and a great herb for honey bees.

Jacqueline Soule here to discuss perennial herbs that can be grown in Sonoran home landscapes. Herbs that both honey bees and our native solitary bees – not to mention us humans – all use and enjoy.  I have been thinking about this topic a great deal as we celebrate National Pollinator Week the third week of June each year, plus June is National Perennial Plant Month.  (National Honey Month is September, so look for the honey recipes then!)

Yes, honey bees and native bees are disappearing.  Intense scientific research into the problem has led to the conclusion that there are many factors.  One culprit is pesticides, another is genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in crops (Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 2008. 70(2):327-33).  Air pollution makes it harder for honey bees to navigate and they get lost and die.  Habitat destruction threatens native species. All these factors point to one more reason to support organic farmers.  Plus grow some bee food in our own yards.

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Sweet marigold comes to us from the mountains of Sonora, and can be used in cooking anywhere it calls for tarragon.

I realize that a list of plants can be boring to read, but lists are very handy when you want to think about plants for your yard. We five Savor Sisters have written about many of these herbs over the years (since we started this blog in 2013) and I have inserted links where I could.

Perennial Herbs for the Southwest & Bees

yarrow (Achillea milifolium) – afternoon shade in summer
wild hyssop (Agastache species) – Sononran mountain natives
garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) – full sun to part shade

Allium tuberosum AMAP 4590 web

Garlic chives do just fine in alkaline desert soils. Harvest some leaves anytime you want a mild garlic flavor.

yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) – best in a water garden
Arizona wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana) – Sononran native
golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria) – afternoon shade in summer
chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) – afternoon shade in summer
chiltepin (Capsicum annuum var. aviculare) – Sononran native, found under trees (Sorry folks – too many links!  We use this a lot!)
brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – full sun, Sononran native
hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – afternoon shade in summer
French lavender (Lavendula dentata) – afternoon shade in summer
horehound (Marrubium vulgare) – afternoon shade in summer

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Oregano is a charming plant for pollinators, and for cooking.

bee balm (Monarda species) – some species Sonoran mountain natives
marjorum (Originum majorana) – part shade
oregano (Originum vulgare) – part shade to full sun
slender poreleaf (Porophyllum gracile) – full sun, Sonoran native
rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – sun to shade
wild rhubarb (Rumex hymenosepalus) – blooms in winter, dies back to storage root
rue (Ruta graveolens) – sun to shade
sage (Salvia officinalis) – part shade in summer
sweet marigold (Tagetes lucida) – great in a water garden or part shade
tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – afternoon shade in summer
thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – afternoon shade in summer
valerian (Valerian officinalis) – afternoon shade, dies back to storage root
violet, heartease (Viola odorata) – full shade in summer

There you have it – 25 herbs I have successfully grown in my Sonoran Desert yard – with little tips for keeping them going. There are other herbs I could put on this list – but we haven’t covered them yet, so stay tuned for updates!

Wishing you, and your bees, a sweet Sonoran Summer!

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Yerba mansa is a California native plant that has strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

JAS avatarWant to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© Article 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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Featured image is slender poreleaf, Porophyllum gracile.

 

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Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Pear Prickly Pear Desert Dessert

Hello, Amy here, preparing a dessert for some new friends completely new to the desert, passing through on their way to Costa Rica. A few pears that had seen some travel were sitting on the kitchen counter…

So I pared, sliced and put them in the oven with a few cubes of frozen prickly pear juice.

After baking and stirring, they looked like this!

Then I made a crumble topping, staring with plenty of desert seeds, from left to right: saguaro, amaranth, chia, barrel cactus.

The bulk of the mixture was mesquite meal, rolled oats, pecan meal, butter, sugar (evaporated cane juice). For seasoning, I used cinnamon, cardamon, dried rose petals and dried ocotillo flowers.

Once mixed, I crumbled the mixture over the pears and put back into the 350 degree F oven to bake until browned and crunchy.

It is best served warm, here with a little homemade goat yogurt, but cream or ice cream works, too!

The recipe can be found in the Desert Harvesters’ Cookbook:

This recipe is so forgiving. I was short on oats so increased the pecans. I doubled the cardamom, traded evaporated cane juice for the brown sugar, substituted water for milk, changed the orange/apple juice to prickly pear, and doubled the seeds. Coconut oil works fine instead of butter for this, too.

 

Amy’s Apple Crisp

2 pounds apples, local organic heirlooms if possible (Or pears. No need to weigh!)

2 tablespoons orange, apple or prickly pear juice (or more)

 

Topping:

1 cup mesquite meal

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup seeds, like amaranth, chia, barrel cactus, saguaro

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice or brown sugar (0r less)

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons milk or water

Slice the fruit into a baking dish, add juice, and bake at 350 degrees while preparing the topping. Mix all the topping ingredients in the food processor, distribute over sliced fruit, and bake at 350-375 degrees F until browned. Enjoy!

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, heirloom grains, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Marvelous Mints

Mint is one of those plants that want to spread everywhere in the garden, and that can be a good thing if you use a lot of mint – like I like to.  Mint is useful for all manner of beverages, from mint tea to mint julep to crème de menthe, or you can use it to make jelly, various sauces, make tabouli, throw some in salad, in wine,,,, the list goes on, but you get the idea.  Oh, and mints are used medicinally and for bath and beauty products too.

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Mint gets a bad rap because it can spread in the garden and crowd out other, less aggressive, plants.  The solution is to grow your mint in pots – and make sure those pots are up off the ground so the mint can’t creep out the drainage hole.  I put my pots of mint up on bricks.

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There are over 100 species of mint, plus many hybrids, and more being bred all the time – to offer new flavors – like “berries and cream mint” I spotted the other day in Rillito Nursery in Tucson. Since we are here to savor the Southwest, today I will talk about using mint for culinary purposes.

Mint and Sweets

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Mint is an herb that offers a tangy counterpoint to foods, especially sweets. A slice of luscious chocolate torte offered with sprigs of mint is one good example. Several bites of rich creamy torte followed by a nibble of mint offers a refresher for your palate, allowing you to savor the chocolaty flavor all over again when you bite back into it.

 

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Mints work well with all manner of sweet things. Lime juice and chopped mint leaves combine to make a tangy and refreshing frosting on orange flavored cupcakes.

Mint and Fruit

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Mint pairs well with many fruits. Like savoring the torte, a few bites of strawberry followed with a nibble of mint offers a refreshing and more flavorful experience.

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Don’t limit your mint use to dessert, wake up your morning yogurt and granola with a sprig or two of mint. Mint is said to aid digestion.

Mint and Drinks

Summer is coming – perk up your lemon-aid and make it even more refreshing with some sprigs of mint.

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And last but not least, plan ahead for Kentucky Derby Day, and make some mint syrup to make mint julep with. Here is the recipe I got several decades ago from my friend Karen from Kentucky. Sorry that I don’t recall her last name, but I remember her sweet nature every year as we watch the Derby and sip minty drinks.

Mint syrup. In a mason jar, put one cup sugar, one cup compressed fresh mint leaves, and add one cup boiling water. Stir as needed to help dissolve the sugar. When cooled, store in the back of the fridge for up to a month. Mint syrup can be used for mint juleps but it’s also a dandy way to sweeten iced tea.

Mint julep. In a glass add 2 ounces of bourbon, ½ ounce mint syrup, sprigs of mint, and stir, bruising the mint leaves. Fill the glass with finely crushed ice. Optionally garnish with fresh mint. Sip and enjoy!

 

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, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article is 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 are courtesy of Pixabay and may not be used.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, fruit, herbs, Kino herb, Libations, medicinal plant | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Pretty & Pretty Zesty – Oxalis

Oxalis 1102808_1280Jacqueline Soule here today, posting at the end of the month – in time to get ready for next month!  For  February, I wrote about the edible flowers called heartease (also called pansy and violet).  Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day it’s time to add another edible flower to your repertoire – oxalis (also called shamrock and wood sorrel).  Oxalis has a long history of use as human food, including here in the Southwest.

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Oxalis Overview
There are over around 600 species of Oxalis, plus numerous horticultural varieties, and all of them contain the same chemical that gives rhubarb it’s tart flavor, oxalic acid.  Don’t be put off by the “acid!”  Vinegar is acetic acid, and you’ve had that before.

Oxalis tuberosa wiki free

Most Oxalis species have tubers, some quite large, and those are sold for eating as “oca.” They can be tart and are generally mixed in stews, soups, or with other tubers.  In Michocan, Mexico, the vegetable vendor recommended mixing them with potatoes and turnips to add flavor.  I promptly bought some and grew them for many years, eating only the leaves and flowers and preserving the roots to grow more of these lovely plants.

oxalis wrap 1974 webEnjoy.
Oxalis commonly sold as “shamrocks” have tiny, scaly tubers, about the size of a mung bean, so the leaves and flowers will be the part you will use. Flowers and leaves can be added to salads and soups for a zesty, citrusy tang. Or capitalize upon this lemony flavor and puree leaves with fresh dill and a drizzle of olive oil to use on fish – delightful!  The flavor of oxalis also works well to make a “lemon” chicken.

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So far I have also mixed diced oxalis flowers and leaves into omelets, fritattas, potato salad, egg salad, and put it in “wraps” with cream cheese, turkey, or ham.  A friend chops oxalis and adds it along with fresh oregano her goat cheese.

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Grow.
Oxalis plants grow well in the Southwest, but they may go dormant is summer. Not to worry, they come back from tubers as the weather cools – as long as you keep the soil dry while they are dormant.

The pink flowered species found in Tucson barrios grows well in our alkaline soils, and there is much botanical discussion as to it’s true name (I won’t bore you with the details). I call mine barrio oxalis when I share tubers with friends. What ever the correct name may be – it adds zest to many of my meals.

Oxalis tetraphylla 04

Caution.
Don’t eat oxalis just purchased unless it is labeled “organic.” Ornamental plants such as oxalis are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants are not legally treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

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, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© Article 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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.  Featured image is courtesy of the Netherlands Bulb Information Center.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Heartease

In a few short days it will be February – and it can be a dreary month, often rainy and cold, even in southern Arizona. All hearts need some easing in this upcoming shortest of months. Luckily, here in southern Arizona, February is the month we can easily grow one of the most hearteasing and cheerful flowers on the face of the earth. Heartease is the common name for Viola tricolor, best known as one of the mothers of the pansy. The simple beauty and delightfully friendly tricolored faces of heartease, pansies, and violets have long been admired by poets, artists, lovers, and cooks!

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Use.
Pansies and violets have a long history of human consumption. The flowers, fresh or candied, were a favorite edible decoration at medieval banquets. Tarts made from pansies or violets were a Victorian delicacy.

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Top a custard tart with berries and heartease.

Heartease flowers can be used to flavor and color salads, herbal butters, jams, jellies, syrups, desserts, herbal vinegars, and even wines. Studies indicate that flowers contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and C, so along with adding color to the salad they are healthy for you.

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All of these are high in Vitamin C.

Ethnomedicinally, pansies and violets have been used to treat health problems ranging from epilepsy to depression. A tea made from the leaves was prescribed for quelling anger and inducing sleep. Roman revelers wore wreaths of violets in hopes of preventing hangovers.

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Smoked salmon salad with purple pansies – colorful and yummy.

 

Grow.
Heartease, pansies and violets grow well in Tucson from seed sown in October. At this time of year it is best to buy “seedlings” or already growing plants. Replant seedlings into the ground or containers in partial to full sun, and keep these temperate climate plants watered.

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Tiny Viola odorata is incredibly fragrant and grows well in our area.

I like planting pansies and violets in containers with potting soil for three reasons. First, Viola do best in rich, moist soil with good drainage. Second, I put the containers up on a table with metal legs so the critters can’t climb up and eat my plants. Third, these charmers are up where I can easily see them and enjoy their beauty. Harvest them too, when I’m making a dinner salad.

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Yogurt with chia, berries, and hearease. A great way to start the day.

Caution.
Ornamental plants from “big box” nurseries are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants from a nursery are not treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

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, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article 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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Real Smut–Good Smut

Aroused by so much truly disgusting smut in the news these days (not “fake smut” at all), I am motivated to expose another perspective here.  Lets talk ‘smut of a different color’ to distinguish current human smut from sources of the word itself.  “Sooty,” “smudged,” “covered with black flakes of soot” seems to be how the term’s usage began, and of course that came to mean “tainted” or “stained,” its figurative, moral usage of today.

Corn smut–better known as “Mexican Corn-Truffle”–on teosinte (the ancient precursor of domestic corn) growing in the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store “landscape” (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to tell you about –believe it or not–Good Smut!  Smut the Food, CORN SMUT, an incredibly interesting, nutritious, even ceremonially-important food!  However, spured on by the USDA, farmers, not in the know about corn smut’s food history and value, have tried to eradicate it from US corn fields for years.  Corn smut is a reaction to spore invasion by Ustilago maydis which gets into young kernels and causes reactive growth.  Admittedly, corn smut does look unappealing, weird, even tainted or disgusting if you are looking for the perfect corn cob, hence the moves in modern agriculture to get rid of it. (Just search images of corn smut on the internet for an eye-full!)

Fungal growth of Ustilago maydis (corn smut) on commercial corn (internet source)

On the positive side, corn smut has had a very beneficial role in research on human breast cancers.  Looks are not everything–This “ugly” growth has been a blessed gift to life-saving biomedical research.  We might know very little about these cancers without DNA lab studies using corn smut fungus’ DNA.  “Corn Soot,” as the fungus was termed by the people of Zuni, NewMexico, was also used traditionally as herbal medicine to hasten childbirth then to reduce bleeding after childbirth.  [You can read lots more in a neat article by Kevin Dahl in Etnobiologia 7, in 2009, pp.94-99; or in Stevenson,M.L,1915, Ethnobotany of the Zuni, Ann.Rpt.Bur.Am.Ethnology 1908-1909, pp.31-102.]

Cuitlacoche (also spelled and pronounced huitlacoche) in the Aztec (Nahuatl) language, i.e corn smut food, has been used since time immemorial as a nutritious delicacy by Native People from MesoAmerica into what is now the Southwestern US.  Nutritionally, cuitlacoche actually has more protein even than its host, corn.  Corn by itself, however, does not contain a critically important amino acid building block in the human diet, lysine, which cuitlacoche provides. Corn smut would be a significant addition to a vegetarian diet.

Alas, because of its looks, corn smut has been almost completely relegated to oblivion in the USA.  Not too many years ago I used to buy it canned, moist and ready to use, at Food City in Tucson, but recently I’ve asked for it at several Hispanic foods outlets like LaCarniceria on W.St.Mary’sRoad, El Super in South Tucson, and at every Food City.  Nada–Young store attendants don’t even know the word!  Obviously cuitlacoche is out of favor.  Too bad, what popular market demand can do.  We will have to grow our own smut from now on, or travel deeper into Mexico to find the right stuff….

Small bulbous “buds” of cuitlacoche (corn smut) harvested from teosinte for cooking (MABurgess photo)

Because….there are some super recipes for this delicacy!  To create better press for corn smut as food, restaurants now market it as “Mexican Corn Truffle.” Some gourmet bistros have tried to create awareness of it, to no avail.  When and if you find corn smut at a farmers’ market, or if you grow it yourself, you can find some great CUITLACOCHE  recipe ideas online.  Just Google “Cuitlacoche Recipes” for fabulous “new” takes on tacos, quesadillas, soups, meat sauces, enchiladas, tamales, stuffed chicken….

Normal non-infected teosinte “cob” maturing on the stalk. Note the green kernels aligned vertically at angles. (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche (corn smut) on NSS teosinte cob (MABurgess photo)

Inspired by NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store Manager Chad Borseth (who sings the praises of corn smut), I like to make a smut stir-fry or sauce-base with onion, green chiles, garlic and corn “truffle buds” whole or sliced in olive oil.  Using the same ingredients with butter and eggs in the frypan, I make a Cuitlacoche Omelette or Scramble.  It’s an off-the-wall delicious surprise, simple, nutritious–IF you can find that critical ingredient!

Or, I saute diced corn smut with onions, mild green chiles, bison burger, and leftover potatoes, and slip it all in the oven for the flavors to meld.  It makes a heart-warming Cuitlacoche Casserole perfect for a wintery supper.

Here’s a visual caution:  When you cook cuitlacoche, the color sometimes will turn darker–like soot.  Aahhhh, but the taste is a delicate delight:  woodsy, earthy, richly mushroomy with a bouquet of fresh corn, hints of Hobbit food.

Teosinte corn smut diced for scrambling or adding to a cuitlacoche omelette (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche Casserole made with ground bison burger, onion, potatoes, mild green chiles, and diced teosinte corn smut (MABurgess photo)

For more on Huitlacoche, check out the NativeSeedsSEARCH article in SeedHead News by Dr. Melissa Kruse-Peeples at http://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/nss-blog/293-huitlacoche.

Happy reading!  Then order your favorite heirloom corn seed from the NSS 2018 Seedlisting, http://www.nativeseeds.org, or the Whole Seed Catalog and plan right now to PLANT them this next summer season in your own garden.  If cuitlacoche buds out at the tip of your maturing cobs then rejoice– and enjoy its traditional flavor and sustenance!

This kind of smut is well worth experiencing – and don’t forget to spread their spores.

Beautiful cuitlacoche, corn smut at the top of an ear of corn

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Savory Cinnamon

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special for Savor the Southwest by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Many of our winter dishes include cinnamon. Cinnamon is traditionally spice used in winter cooking, like pumpkin pie, snickerdoodles, and gingerbread.  Growing up in Tucson, our hot cocoa always had a sprinkle of cinnamon in it.  I remember the first time I encountered “American Cocoa” made with tons of sugar and marshmallows.  Even at age eight I thought it way too sweet.  I prefer a nice “Mexican Cocoa,” and part of what makes it so good is the cinnamon.

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Mexican Cocoa Mix
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup chopped Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
1 cup powdered creamer
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Blend this together well and store in a quart jar.
To make the cocoa, place 1/3 cup of mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup boiling water.

This can make a nice gift – place in a quart canning jar with a few whole sticks of cinnamon around the inside.  Those cinnamon sticks are great for stirring the cocoa with, and can be nibbled on for hours.  Avoid excessive cinnamon stick consumption however, it can have a laxative effect.

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The Botany of Cinnamon
The word “cinnamon” is directly from Hebrew and is found in the Old Testament – where “kinamon” is mentioned in the same context as the treasures of gold, silver, myrrh, and frankincense.  In those long ago days, the rolled “sticks” of cinnamon bark came overland from the rainforests of Sri Lanka on the backs of beasts of burden such as elephants, dromedaries, and camels.  It was so sought after, it was one of the spices that spurred world exploration.

The spice itself comes from the inner bark of an evergreen rainforest tree which is now grown in large plantations.  The bark is carefully harvested to not kill the tree. As the bark dries it curls into “sticks” or “quills,” which are used whole or ground.  Meanwhile, leftover parts and pruned branches are used to make the essential oil sold as “Cinnamon Oil.”

 

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There are numerous species of cinnamon.  The most popular for culinary use is the pungent and slightly sweet Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum).  With a very cinnamon fragrance, “Cassia Oil” comes from Cinnamonum cassia, with the immature fruits called cassia buds used as a spice.  Camphor from Cinnamonum camphora was one of the raw materials in the manufacture of celluloid.  Now camphor is primarily used medicinally.

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, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© Article 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 courtesy of Pixabay.

Categories: Cooking, herbs, medicinal plant, Mexican Food | 1 Comment

Easy to Grow – Caraway

Jacqueline Soule (Gardening with Soule in the land of El Sol) this week to share a wonderful plant to raise this winter.

Caraway has a long history of use as both a culinary and medicinal plant. Evidence of the seed has been found among Mesolithic (middle stone age) food remains, indicating that it has been used by humans for over 10,000 years. Caraway is also mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medicinal manuscript from 1500 B.C.E. Caraway was used in Roman cooking, and Olde English cooking as well, since it is listed in the “Form of Curry,” a cookbook written by Richard the II’s cook in 1390 C.E.

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The entire caraway plant is useful. Leaves, roots, flowers, and seed are all edible. As a spice, primarily the seed is used; by Austrians in beef dishes; by Germans to season pork; by Hungarians in goulash; and by Swedes and Norwegians to flavor their bread. Caraway seed is also tasty in eggs, cheeses, baked goods, pastries, fish dishes, or with many types of steamed vegetables, in pickles, or in fruit dishes such as compote, apple sauce, or some chutneys. I mix caraway seed or leaves with tofu and stir-fry for a pleasantly different flavor. Others use the leaves raw in either green or fruit salads, or in soups and stews. The roots may be eaten raw, steamed, or added to soups and stews.

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With all these wonderful uses of the plant, you may wonder if caraway will grow in the southwest. The answer is a resounding yes! Start caraway seeds in October in your winter garden. Or plant the seedlings any month without a freeze. If you intend to harvest the roots, be sure that you keep the soil evenly moist throughout the season, otherwise they can be bitter. Caraway can be grown in the yard, in the oasis area of a xeriscape. It also does well in containers at least two feet deep.

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Ethnomedicinally, caraway is used to promote digestion, stimulate the appetite, and relieve cases of diarrhea. In most cases it is prepared as an infusion, and has a slightly sweetish taste to it. There is no known indication of toxicity, but all plants contain defensive compounds to deter pests, thus it is best consumed in small doses. People with food allergies to other members of the carrot family, such as dill or cilantro, should also avoid caraway.

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Caraway is easily grown, a prolific seed producer, and a delicious addition many dishes. Adding some caraway to your garden or yard is a green action. It will reduce, at least a little bit, importation of caraway seed from eastern Europe, the principle growers. It can also add a wonderful new flavor dimension to your food.

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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, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article 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 courtesy of Pixabay.

Categories: Beekeeping, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Mexican Food, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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