Sonoran Crafts

Beautiful Brittlebush

Brittlebush is one of the most common and conspicuous wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert; seasonally providing a glowing golden-yellow cloak for the desert.  Yes, the wood is brittle, hence the name.

encelia_farinosa_habitBrittlebush has a long history of native use.  The resin collected from the base of the plant is often yellowish to brown in color.  This resin can be heated and used as a glue.  The O’odham and Seri use it for hafting, to hold points on arrows and, in the case of the Seri, harpoons.  A different sort of resin is collected from the upper stems, is more gummy and generally a clear yellow.  The Seri use this to seal pottery vessels.  As a child, I learned from Sells area Tohono O’odham children that this upper stem resin makes a passable chewing gum.

kino-webEarly on the Spanish priests learned that brittlebush resin made a highly fragrant incense, akin to frankincense in odor.  In 1702, Father Kino wrote “. . . in this journey inland and on other occasions I have found various things – little trees, fruit, incense, etc. – all species which are peculiar to . . . [this area]  . . . alone, and samples of which I bring, to celebrate with the incense, by the favor of heaven, this Easter and Holy Week, and to place five good grains of incense in the Paschal candle.”

To harvest resin, use a sharp blade, like a single-edge razor blade, to make a shallow vertical slit about one inch long along the stem.  The resin will ooze out of this cut and dry on the plant.  Return in a day or two to collect the resin.  A healthy, well-maintained plant can have numerous cuts made all over it, just have care to not girdle the stem.

encelia-leaves-2825-webIn the 1960’s, I was taught by a longtime cowboy that a brittlebush stem makes a dandy toothbrush.  Simply select a largish branch and peal off the bitter bark, no need for toothpaste.  He had learned the trick years before from an old cowhand.  Whether this was self-taught or learned from natives, it is impossible to say, although the Seri use brittlebush to treat toothache.  For toothache the bark is removed, the branch heated in ashes, and placed in the mouth to “harden” a loose tooth.  Modern dentistry advocates using mildly alkaline solutions to help maintain oral hygiene, which makes me wonder about the pH of brittlebush sap.
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Some Southwestern folks will bundle the leaves and stems and use them to smudge with, much like smudging with white sage.

Flowers are long-lasting in bouquets but do leave some flowers on the plant, because the seeds of brittlebush are an important food source for native seed-eating birds.
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Planting and Care.  
Brittlebush is a lovely addition to any xeriscape.  The shrub generally reaches around three feet tall and naturally forms a symmetrical globular form.  The fragrant silvery leaves are soft and fuzzy, and work well in fresh floral arrangements.  The golden yellow flowers appear in early spring and cover the bush, but in an interesting array.  Flowers open first on the warm south-facing sides of the bushes and blooming gradually moves up and over the bush, ending with the north-facing branches.
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While it can take full sun, brittlebush does best in a location where it gets noon-time shade in summer.  Avoid planting the shrub near sources of reflected light, like pools or hot south-facing walls.

Brittlebush plants grow best with  rejuvenation pruning every three years.  Just pretend you are a hungry javalina and cut the plants to around six inches tall.  Do this in the fall.  Bloom will be sparse the following year unless you give them some extra water to help them recover.

The above was partially taken from my book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today.”

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: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | 2 Comments

Pine – as an Herb and More

By Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

As December approaches, let’s look at an herb that many bring into their homes for the holiday season – the pine. Why not opt for a living Christmas tree (or Chanukah bush, as some of my friends call them)?  They are evergreen …. plus green.

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Humans around the world have used pine as herbs for eons. They used whichever species of pine lived near them to treat just about every sort of affliction. Pine has especially used for the ailments that have truly plagued humankind, like internal and external parasites and the aches and pains of being human and getting older.

In almost every case pine needles or bark are used as a tea (infusion) to either drink or bathe tissues. For intestinal parasites, the tea was drunk, for external ones such as ringworm (a fungal infection) or lice, the tissues were bathed with pine tea. Pine oils and resins have also been extracted, purified, and used medicinally.

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At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studies herbal medicines, recommends using pine oils externally for rheumatic and neuralgic complaints, as well as for upper and lower respiratory tract inflammation.

Ideally, harvest and dry pine needles before use. This allows some of the more acrid compounds to evaporate. The active ingredients are predominately in the oils and are not lost by drying.

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Modern housekeepers around the world use pine based cleaners to keep the house smelling clean and fresh, little realizing that this harkens back to a yesteryear tradition of using pine products, including turpentine, to kill off pests, treat colds, and dress wounds.

Pines can be grown here in Tucson. Once established, they will need extra water in the hot dry months, especially May and June. Indeed, pines are a very green landscape plant. They provide housing for wildlife, especially hawks and owls, plus shade your home helping reduce energy consumption for cooling. The needles can be used as a wonderful mulch for plants around your yard or garden.

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For a living holiday tree that you can plant in your yard, chose from the eldarica (Pinus eldarica) from Afghanistan or Aleppo (Pinus halepensis) from the Middle East.

What about a Southwestern pinyon pine? If you can find some – go for it! I do have to warn you, they grow in higher altitudes than Tucson and will be stressed by our comparatively hotter summers. Extra water should help them survive.

pine 544503_1280What about the pine beetle now attacking Tucson trees? The beetle is the six-spined engraver beetle, one of 11 species of insects living in the inner bark of pine trees. It typically infests the thicker-barked and deeply fissured main tree trunks of older trees. An obnoxious pest to be sure. It appears to only be an issue with larger mature trees. A young tree should be able to grow in your yard for many years. Be sure to keep it healthy with extra water in the dry months.

Dr. Soule is trained as a botanist. She teaches workshops on plants and writes science and garden articles. Jacqueline has been using, growing, researching and writing about herbs for over three decades.

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, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© This 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 may not be used.

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Categories: Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Leave a comment

A Useful Desert Broom

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People complain that they want more green in their landscape. Desert broom is one option for bright green foliage.

Desert broom is called escoba amarga in Spanish, and also called a weed by many.  But I advocate you take a moment to consider this shrub more fully.

Desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides) is a vigorous plant – often the first plant to grow on a cleared stretch of desert (or over the septic tank).  It can be useful to have such a tough plant in your landscape palatte.  Along with landscaping it is useful in a number of other ways.

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Sad to say – some people think the only good desert broom is a dead one.

Uses.

Desert broom has a history of use as a medicinal plant.  A decoction made by cooking the twigs of desert broom is used to treat colds, sinus headache, and in general “sore aching” ailments. The Seri use this when other medicinal plants are not available. The same tea is also used as a rub for sore muscles.  (Perchance Father Kino used some after one of his epic rides.)

Studies done on plant extracts show that desert broom is rich in leutolin, a flavonoid that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering capabilities. Desert broom also has quercetin, a proven antioxidant, and apigenin, a chemical which binds to the same brain receptor sites that Valium does. However, many members of the Sunflower family also contain compounds that cause negative side effects, thus caution is advised.

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Desert broom seedlings are often among the first plants to appear in a cleared area. The rabbits do not eat them.

As it’s name indicates, branches of desert broom do make a passable broom for sweeping the dirt floors of an adobe home.

Desert broom is so plentiful, and many of it’s seep willow cousins are used as dye, so I had to do the experiment. The result – yes! It does dye wool. Various mordants result in differing shades as seen below.  Other members of the Baccharis genus have excellent colorfastness.

baccharis dye on wool crop

Baccharis on wool with different mordants. I use the chemical symbols to mark my mordants. Al = alum, Cu = copper, FE = iron.

Desert broom can be used as filler in fresh and dried floral arrangements, with long lasting color and minimum mess since it has few leaves to lose.

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This plant gets chopped often for filler in my flower arrangements. Regular clipping helps keep it a dense and bushy.

Desert broom comes in separate male and female plants. The females release their tiny fluffy seeds at the same time a number of other plants release their pollen, thus the seeds of desert broom often get erroneously called an allergen. The pollen of the male plants is released in fall and can be allergenic.

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No, desert broom does not have yellow flowers. In this case a desert broom grew up through a Cassia.

Planting and Care.
Plants may be purchased at nurseries or can be grown from seed. Avoid over-watering in heavy soils as desert broom will drown.

Desert broom will accept shearing and can be trained into a decent, short-lived privacy hedge. Such a short lived hedge is helpful while the longer-lived, taller, non-allergenic, but slower growing Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) reaches hedge size. Desert broom can also be useful in the landscape since it grows in heavy clay or saline soils where few other plants thrive.

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These plants get sheared once a month by landscapers with power tools. Note that the native desert broom is growing more vigorously than the non-native cassia from Australia.

JAS avatar If 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 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 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.

Categories: Dye, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Prospector&Burro

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.

 

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

 

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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!

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

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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

Gifts from September Gardens–intentional and otherwise

Tia Marta here to share some culinary ideas happening now in Baja Arizona herb gardens, and to extend an invitation to visit el jardinito de hierbas at Tucson’s Mission Garden to experience the herbs in action!

Estafiate--all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana--in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Estafiate–all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana–and Mexican arnica beyond (close-up of flower below), in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photos)

Heterotheca--Mexican arnica flower (MABurgess photo)

Of all the herbs in our Southwest summer gardens—presently rejoicing in monsoon humidity and in the soppy tail of Hurricane Norbert—I think the most exuberant has gotta be Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil……..

Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

In its versatility, Mrs Burns’ lemon basil provides many possibilities for the kitchen and the cosmetic chest, the first being olfactory delight. Brush its foliage lightly with your hands and you get an instant rush of enlivening yet calming lemon bouquet. Like Monarda or lavender, this lemon basil is definitely one to plant in a “moon garden” for nighttime enjoyment, or along a narrow walkway where you have to pleasantly brush up against it, getting a hit en route, always a reminder that life is good.

I wish this blog could be “scratch-and-sniff” so you could sense the sweet lemony aroma of this heirloom right now. Maybe technology can do that for us someday, but meanwhile, find a Native Seeds/SEARCH aficionado who has planted it and get yourself a sprig to sniff.   On any Saturday morning, come visit and whiff this desert-adapted basil at Mission Garden (the living history exhibit at the base of “A”-Mountain created by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace). There, among Padre Kino’s heirloom fruit trees, in the monsoon Huerta vegetable plot, a group of herbalists known as Tucson Herbalist Collective (usually referred to as THC—like far out, righteous herbs, man, whatever) has planted a patch of traditional Mission-period medicinal and culinary herbs within reach of the fence. Lean over and touch Mrs Burns’ lemon basil for a real treat. At present (mid-September) “her” basil is a mound of dense smallish leaves and is sending up a zillion flower stalks sporting tiny white flowers. High time to snip the tops to encourage more foliage. Snippings can be used to zest a salad, to bedeck a platter of lamb chops, or to dry for a long-lasting potpourri.

Close-up view of Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Close-up view of Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Mrs Burns’ lemon basil—not your typical, soft, floppy-leafed basil—is bred for desert living, with smaller, sturdier foliage. Yes, it does need water, but it can take the desert’s heat and sun. This heirloom’s history is worthy of note and relating it honors the Burns family. The person who put “Famous” into the name Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil was Dr. Barney T. Burns, one of the founders of the seed conservation organization NativeSeeds/SEARCH and an amazing seed-saver himself, whose recent passing we mourn and whose life we gratefully rejoice in. It was his mother, Janet Burns, transplanted from Canada to Carlsbad, NM, who, with a neighbor over several decades, continued to grow and select surviving, desert-hardy seed in Southwestern heat. Barney contributed her basil seed as one of the first arid heirlooms to become part of the NSS collection. Interestingly, these tiny seeds have since traveled around the globe. One year Johnny’s Seeds picked it up, grew it out for their catalog, and sent NSS a check for $600 in royalties, having profited considerably from its sale.

You can use Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil leaf in many marvelous dishes. Layer fresh leaves with slices of farmers’ market tomatoes and thin slices of feta or fontina cheese and droozle with flavored olive oil. (I like Queen Creek Olive Mill blood-orange.) And OMG—this basil makes phenomenal pesto. Include this lemon basil with roast chicken for the best lemon-chicken ever. Dry it and put it in stuffing. Add a few fresh leaves to salad for a taste surprise. Or, add a sprig to soups to add a tang. You can even bedeck a glass of V-8 or your Bloody Mary with a lemon basil sprig to fancy up your presentation.

 

Handmade soap with Mrs Burns' Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Handmade soap with Mrs Burns’ Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Once when I enthusiastically grew a 50-foot row of Mrs Burns’ basil, it produced for me bags of dried herb, inspiring some fragrant projects. I distilled the aroma-rich herb to make a gentle hydrosol spray which, I feel, carries medicinal/psychological qualities of soothing, pacifying refreshment. By first infusing this marvelous herb in jojoba oil, I create beauty bars—with Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil as the exfoliant in the soap—available at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, the Flor de Mayo booth at St Phillips Farmers Market, or at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

In my mass planting of lemon basil, I observed bees going totally ecstatic over the profuse flowers and so wished that I had had bee boxes close-by. If any desert bee-keepers want to try a new gift to their bees and to us consumers of honey, I recommend they plant this one. Can’t think of anything finer than Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil honey!

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Here in culinarily-exciting Baja Arizona, as we promote the uniqueness of Tucson as an International City of Gastronomy, it is fun to consider another of our unique local food plants, a wild and unlikely weed which pops up with monsoon rains in low places, including at Mission Garden and is respectfully spared there. Known as i:hug by the Tohono O’odham (pronounced eee’hook), devilsclaw or unicorn-plant by Anglos, and Proboscidea spp by taxonomists, ours is not to be confused with the herb devilsclaw of commerce, Harpagophytum procumbens native to South Africa. Our native i:hug (of which there are a few species, some yellow-flowered, some pink) is a weed of many uses.

Tohono O'odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

It is primarily known as the fiber used by Tohono O’odham, Akimel O’odham, and N’de weavers to create the striking black designs in their coiled basketry. Otis Tufton Mason’s tome Aboriginal American Indian Basketry, first published by Smithsonian Institution in 1904, shows beautiful specimens of unicorn-plant weaving, and mentions its use by many desert people including Panamint basket-makers of Death Valley.

I have a feeling that the devilsclaws that are volunteering now at Mission Garden are the children of plants that have been grown by Native People in that very place along the Santa Cruz for many centuries.

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

As an ornamental, unicorn-plant or devilsclaw can be a welcome surprise of greenery in late summer into fall, making a mound of large leaves sometimes 2’ high and 3’ wide. Tucked among its spreading fuzzy branches, under velvety maple-leaf-shaped foliage, will appear tubular flowers edged in pink. Should you need a cooling touch on a hot day, just lightly brush one of its big leaves and you are instantly refreshed. The velvety look of devilsclaw foliage is actually one of the plant’s defenses against water-loss. Each leaf is covered with fine hairs. At each hair tip is a gland containing a microscopic bead of moisture. Hair causes wind-drag, slowing evaporation from the leaf surface. What evaporates from the glands acts to cools the leaf—what remains can also cool our skin, should we touch it.

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Most interesting of all are the foods that our native devilsclaw can provide. After pollination of the flower, a small green curved pod emerges like a curled, fuzzy okra. When young, that is, under about 2 ½” long, and before the pod develops woody tissue inside, these small green unicorns can be steamed as a hot vegetable, stir-fried with onion, green chile or nopalitos, or pickled for a Baja Arizona snack.

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

When the long green pods of devilsclaw ripen, the skin will dry and slough off leaving a tough, black, woody seed-pod that splits with very sharp tips. (Beware how they can grab—they were “designed” to hitch a ride on a desert critter’s hoof or fur and thus spread the seed.) With care, and sometimes the need for pliers, open the pod and out will come little rough-surfaced seeds. If your incisors are accurate, and if you have lots of time to get into meditations on i:hug, you can peel off the rough outer seed skin. Inside is a yummy, oil-rich and fiber-rich seed that looks like an overgrown sesame seed. (In fact, scientists at one point had classified Proboscidea in the same taxonomic family as sesame but it now stands in its own.)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod.  White inner seeds delish after peeling (MABurgess photo)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod. White inner seeds are delish after peeling. (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames.  Peeled inner seed between fingers is ready to eat. (MABurgess photo)

When I see cutesy figurines of roadrunners or Christmas ornaments made with devilsclaw pods, my first thought is, wow, what a waste of a good treat, but then gladly, I realize that this unique plant produces more than enough fresh pods and mature pods to satisfy all the purposes of Nature or hungry and/or creative humans. Give i:hug a try!

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cool Summer Bean Dishes….with Heirlooms

Sonoran Caviar in Mayo mesquite bowl (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran Caviar in Mayo mesquite bowl (MABurgess photo)

For picnics, barbeques or simple pick-me-ups, here are some fun ideas to bring a variety of heirloom beans into your summer fare.  We usually think of beans as winter food, but in the heat of August these tasty bean treats will help chill you out with gusto.

Tia Marta here to share ways of bringing the original “fast food” into your summertime menus.  Fast–that is, cook ’em first and have them “at the ready” for dressing them to suit any mood or occasion.  I am a founding member of the Heirloom Bean Fan Club, always amazed by the array of bean possibilities we have in the Southwest available to us.  Here in Baja Arizona we are blessed with inherited gifts of delectable, nutritious, desert-adapted beans from Native farmers, traditional Hispanic families, Black, Chinese, Anglo and other newcomers.  They grow well in our backyard gardens, bedecking our tables with colorful goodness.

All American sun oven set up on patio table-available thru Flor de Mayo (MABurgess photo)

All American sun oven set up on patio table-available thru Flor de Mayo (MABurgess photo)

When the summer sun fully hits our porch about 10am, out comes our sun-oven to help us pull the heat of preparation out of the kitchen.  Unfolding its reflector “wings,” I place a saucepan of pre-soaked Native tepary beans–the ones the Tohono O’odham call s-wepegi ba:wi or red tepary–covered by plenty of drinking water, nothing else necessary.  About every half hour or hour (you don’t have to be too regimented if you don’t feel like it), I go out and re-adjust the orientation of the sun-oven, vertically and horizontally, to keep it as close to perpendicular to the sun as possible.  The teps will be smelling good and testing done about 2pm if the sky has remained relatively bright.

Tepary beans, done by 2pm in solar oven, temp 300 (MABurgess photo)

Tepary beans, done by 2pm in solar oven, temp 300 (MABurgess photo)

Now, with my well-cooked teparies, if I’m not ready for kitchen cookery action I let them cool down then store them labeled in the frig or freezer.  If I am in cook mode, I drain them, reserving the liquid for soup, and let them cool while I chop veggies.  My plan–“Sonoran Caviar”–the best salad ever invented for desert rats in need of a pinch of picante.  This is the culinary creation of desert survival instructor, raconteur, and one-of-a-kind character George Price, and my thanks go to him for bringing even more excitement out of teparies!  Give it a try.

George's Sonoran Caviar--teparies with NSS heirloom garlic (both available at St Phillips Sunday farmers market)

George’s Sonoran Caviar–teparies with NSS heirloom garlic (both available at St Phillips Sunday farmers market)

Sonoran Caviar recipe:

Ingredients:

4 cups cooked brown tepary beans, drained and cooled (from less than 1 lb dry beans)

1 cup diced red onion

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 crisp Anaheim Chiles, diced, skinned, and de-seeded

1 Tbsp crushed garlic

1 Tbsp Tony Chacere’s Original Creole Seasoning (to taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp black pepper ground

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.  Chill in refrigerator for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.  Stir again before serving.  Buen provecho, George (Be advised that this one serves 6 hungry folks including teenage boys.)

[His Sonoran Caviar will get rave reviews at any pot luck or picnic.]

Flor de Mayo beans in Mayo palm basket (beans and baskets from Sunday St Phillips market)

Flor de Mayo beans in Mayo palm basket (beans and baskets from Sunday St Phillips market)

In the realm of cool summer dishes, I can always count on Heirloom Flor de Mayo Mixed Bean Salad (my namesake!).  When I was in college, Mother sent me a little book by Barbara Goodfellow, Make it Now Bake it Later from the ’60s.  It has inspired my hostessing ever since, especially my adaptation for this sweet recipe which delights in everything from your garden:

Marinated Mixed Bean Salad with Flor de Mayo heirlooms (MABurgess photo)

Marinated Mixed Bean Salad with Flor de Mayo heirlooms (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Flor de Mayo Mixed Bean Salad Recipe:

(Fool-proof for picnics and barbeques–and it keeps well for days in the frig)

1 cup (or more) cooked heirloom Flor de Mayo beans for bright color (or another SW heirloom such as Ojo de Cabra, Rio Zape, Bolita, Cannellini–all taste wonderful in this marinated salad)

1 cup cooked green beans or snap beans from your garden (or organic canned)

1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (organic canned garbanzos/chickpeas) from your winter garden

1 cup cooked GMO-free corn kernels (off the cob or canned)

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 Tbsp chopped shallots, chives,  sweet onion, or I’itoi’s onion from the garden

1/2 cup organic sugar or agave nectar

1 cup organic cider vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

Drain cooked beans.  In mixing bowl dissolve sweetener and spices in liquid.  Add beans, chopped green pepper and onion, then mix.  Let stand in refrigerator overnight, mix again.  When serving, reserve liquid for other marinades.  Serves 6 generously.

Mortgage Lifter burrito in whole wheat tortilla--first step for making heirloom bean roll-up appetizers

Anasazi Bean burrito in whole wheat tortilla–preliminary for making heirloom bean roll-up appetizers

Another fun way to get your complex carbs and vegetable protein is to make heirloom bean dips– then to get fancier using the dip, the next step is Easy Heirloom Bean Roll-ups.  For the fastest, most crowd-pleasing bean-spread, I use either Mortgage Lifter beans or Anasazi beans–both great.  Mortgage Lifter is a giant white runner bean, also known as Aztec white runner or Bordal.  Grown in your garden, it will vine over itself and its neighbor plants with big white flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Easy Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers Recipe:

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked Mortgage Lifter beans, or purple & white Anasazi beans

4 oz low-fat cream cheese (1/2 block of neuchatel)

1 Tbsp Red Devil hot sauce

1 tsp ground cumin seed

pinches of sea salt, to taste

3 or 4 medium whole wheat tortillas

Drain cooked beans (reserving liquid if you need to make a thinner texture after mashing).  Mash beans and cream cheese together with pastry cutter or bean masher.  Mash in all other ingredients. [You can sometimes find traditional Tarahumara madrone-wood bean mashers at NativeSeeds/SEARCH or at Flor de Mayo.]  At this point you have the best dip ever, and also the filling for instant burritos ready to feed to drop-in visitors.  Read on for further Roll-up directions…..

Heirloom bean "roll-ups" Step 1--with Anasazi beans

Heirloom bean “roll-ups” Step 1–with Anasazi beans

Rolling up heirloom bean hors d'oeuvres--Step 2 before cutting

Rolling up heirloom bean hors d’oeuvres–Step 2 before cutting

To finish these festive heirloom bean appetizers…spread the bean mixture onto 3/4 of one tortilla leaving a chord of the circle uncovered.  You will see why when you roll it up.  Begin rolling the tortilla tightly from the bean-covered edge and continue to roll snugly.  The bean spread will squeeze toward the unrolled edge, filling it.  The rolled tortilla will be held together by the bean spread.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and dip.

Place tortilla rolls on wax paper and chill in freezer or frig long enough to become firm for cutting.  Place chilled rolled tortillas on cutting board one at a time.  Slice in 1/2-inch rounds and place the disc-shaped spirals on a serving tray.  Chill until served.  Bedeck each Heirloom Bean Roll-up with a sprinkle of paprika or a cilantro leaf.  Each tortilla should produce about 6-8 roll-ups.  (With any leftover bean mixture, enjoy it as dip or in a burrito.)  These appetizers are a tasty celebration–and a tacit bow to Southwestern farming traditions.

Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers and yellow pear tomatoes in chicken hors d'oeuvre tray (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers and yellow pear tomatoes in chicken hors d’oeuvre tray (MABurgess photo)

By the way, you can find all of the wonderful Southwest heirloom beans to use in these recipes either at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, or at our Flor de Mayo booth at the charming St Phillips farmers market on Sundays in the shade of spreading sycamores and mesquites.

Traditional Native tepary beans--colorful mix available at Tohono Chul Park gift shop, NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Flor de Mayo booth at farmers market

Traditional Native tepary beans–colorful mix available at Tohono Chul Park gift shop, NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Flor de Mayo booth at farmers market

For the experienced or the novice desert gardener, now is the time to do the last planting in your monsoon garden.  One of my Tohono O’odham mentors taught me that the second week in August is really the last opportunity to put bean, corn, melon, or squash seed in the ground.  Even better to give your garden a jump-start by planting starts!  Right now at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store you will find a variety of healthy seedlings hungry to be in the soil–and on sale.  Come give them a future–and a delectable future for your palette in the months to come….

Happily planted--seedling Magdalena Big Cheese Squash seedling from NativeSeeds/SEARCH monsoon plant sale still on!

Happily planted–Magdalena Big Cheese Squash seedling from NativeSeeds/SEARCH monsoon plant sale (still going)

Happy gardening–and healthy eating to you from Tia Marta!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Desert Lavender

posted by Jacqueline A. Soule

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

 

Hyptis_emoryi_flowers_002

 

 

 

Hyptis_emoryi_habit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

lavendula in Hungary

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Herbal sachets can be made with desert lavender.

Lavender_Sachets

 

 

 

 

 

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

herb_tea_JAS_004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Lavendula in vodkaelsnaps_(4917058844).jp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

lavendula syrup over figs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

© 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

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

Desert Mistletoe for Food and Fun

Jacqueline Soule here today to discuss a edible “weed.”  Most people associate mistletoe it with kisses and winter holidays. Sad to say, here in the desert southwest, many homeowners think of our local mistletoe as a weed to be eliminated from their trees. In reality, they should be thinking of it as a crop to be harvested!

Phoradendron_californicum_6 by Stan Shebs

Desert mistletoe fruit is the only mistletoe fruit that is edible. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

There are many species of mistletoes around the world. The mistletoe plants themselves are all toxic. The berries of most species are toxic. The one exception is our local desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, bearing not only edible but highly palatable white to reddish translucent berries. Native peoples ate only the fruits of mistletoes growing on mesquite, ironwood or catclaw acacia. Found growing on palo verdes or Condalia (desert buckthorn) the fruits are considered inedible.

 

Phoradendron_californicum_1 by Stan Shebs

Plants of desert mistletoe can become quite large and offer a bountiful harvest of berries. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

According to literature, the Seri consider mistletoe fruit ripe and harvestable once it turns translucent. Harvest is done by spreading a blanket below the plant and hitting it with sticks to release the fruit. Seri consumed the fruit raw. The Tohono O’odham also consumed the fruit raw. River Pima ate the fruit boiled and mashed, which made it the consistency of a pudding. The Cahilla gathered the fruits November through April and boiled them into a paste with a sprinkle of wood ash added to the pot.  (Bibliography at the end of this article.)

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent.  This is just normal variation within the species.  Photo by S. Shebs.

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent. This is just normal variation within the species. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, desert mistletoe plants (not the fruit) contain phoratoxins which can easily lead to death via slowed heart rate, increased blood pressure, convulsions, or cardiac collapse. Some of these compounds can cause hallucinations, but there is no way to judge dosage. People seeking a “high” from mistletoe still turn up in morgues each year. Native peoples used plants other than mistletoe to seek visions, and if one desires visions, one would be wise to follow their example. Although toxic, if used in a well-ventilated place, the foliage of desert mistletoe can be used in crafts and as a dye, producing a pale beige to dark sienna.

Mistletoe dye on cotton

Mistletoe dye on cotton. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

Harvesting and Use.

Mistletoe berries are ripe once they turn translucent and you can generally see the red seed inside. They also become soft and squishy, losing their hardness. Watch the phainopeplas, when they start devouring berries, then the fruit is ripe! I have only eaten the berries fresh, and find them reminiscent of elderberry in flavor. I was going to experiment with making a jelly this year, but missed my window of opportunity.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

As a dye, mistletoe plants themselves are used. They can be fresh or dried. Place the herbage in the pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, strain. Add an alkalizing agent (ammonia) to intensify the color. You can dye both protein fibers (wool, silk) and plant fibers (cotton) with this solution. Ideally mordant with alum prior to dyeing, but post-mordant baths also work.

paper with desert plants 004

A blend of half paper pulp and half mistletoe plant material yields a nicely textured craft paper. Photo by J. A. Soule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All manner of desert plants can be used in papermaking. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than discarding the spent mistletoe herbage from making dye, I have frozen it for later use in papermaking. Grind the cooked mistletoe in a blender and mix it half and half with paper pulp to create a lovely, rough-textured, craft paper with a warm brown hue.

 

 

Note: This month I have been looking at desert mistletoe in some of my other online articles.

Desert mistletoe and human use is presented here, the third in a series on the topic.
Desert mistletoe and wildlife can be read at: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe
Desert mistletoe as part of a native garden caan be read at: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe

This article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule, 2014. The topic is covered more extensively in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). If you live in Tucson, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.

 

For the last eight months, Savor the Southwest has been brought to you every week by four Savor Sisters, me (Jacqueline), Tia Marta, Aunt Linda and Carolyn. Look for our fifth Savor sister, Amy Valdes Schwemm will make her first appearance in June, otherwise she will return to post whenever a month has five Fridays.

 

Bibliography for this article
Felger, R. S. and M. B. Moser. 1985. People of the Desert and Sea. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Hodgson, W. C. 2001. Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Kearny T. H. and Peebles R. H., et al. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Rea, A. M. 1997. At the Desert’s Green Edge. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Tohono O’odham Nation (s.d.). When Everything Was Real: An Introduction to Papago Desert Foods. Tohono O’odham Nation, Sells, AZ.

 

© 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seasonal Flavors and Scents of the Southwest Spice Up the Holidays

Wake Up Holiday Salads With Chiltepines!

Contributed by Tia Linda

Chiltepines add zip to holiday salads.

Chiltepines add zip to holiday salads.

The red, round fruits of  the ancient chiltepin are making a comeback this year, after a rough bout with erratic weather patterns.  This is “their” time of year, as they mature between October and December, giving us just enough time to dry them for use throughout the holidays.  Marinated Kale Salad is easy to make, and offers a fresh, raw energy to the heavy-ish meals often served at the holidays. Prepare it the night before you wish to serve it, to give the juices of the lemon and tomatoes time to work their magic and soften the raw kale.

Here’s the recipe: In a bowl, combine 3 bright red chiltepin (crushed),  3 medium tomatoes (diced), the juice of 5 lemons,  about half a cup of olive oil, and salt to taste.  Then chop about 5 cups of raw Kale (also grows in your garden this time of year, here in the SW) as finely as you wish and add it to the mixture.  Place it in some kind of container with a tight fitting lid so that you can periodically shake the green mixture, allowing the juices that inevitably fall to the bottom of the container the chance to coat the kale above.

Kale salad lightens heavy holiday meals.

Kale salad lightens heavy holiday meals.

Make a Sonoran Scents Pomander

Contributed by Jacqueline Soule

Pomanders are used to add fragrance to stored clothing while they are said to also deter moths.  Pomanders have traditionally been made by sticking cloves into oranges, or mixing cinnamon and nutmeg with applesauce.  For those of you that love the scent of creosote bush, here is a Sonoran Pomander recipe I invented.

Dry creosote leaves until well dried.

Dry leaves of creosote bush.  Collect more than you think you need!

Dry leaves of creosote bush. Collect more than you think you need!

Turn them into leaf “powder” in a blender.  Mix three parts leaf powder to one part applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Form into walnut sized balls, or pat into thick disks.  If you get the mix too wet and have no more leaf powder, use a mild spice (like nutmeg) to add more “powder.”  Don’t use something moths eat, like flour or mesquite meal.

You can use nutmeg if you run out of powdered leaves.

You can use nutmeg if you run out of powdered leaves.

Use small cookie cutters to make impressions if you wish.

Use small cookie cutters to make impressions if you wish.

Add ribbon if you wish to hang them (later!).  Poke ribbon into the center with a toothpick.
Allow to dry for three to seven days.

Insert ribbon into still moist pomander with a toothpick.

Insert ribbon into still moist pomander with a toothpick.

Notes:
* Substitute white glue for some or all of the applesauce.
* Hang one of these in your car and carry the desert with you as you drive!

* To learn how to grow creosote in your yard, visit my other blog on creosote, available on http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/lovely-larrea/

* You can also read more about using creosote bush (and other native herbs) in my book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using them Today (available at amazon.com).

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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