Sonoran herb

For a Spicy Solstice….

Chiltepin pepper from the wild, growing at Tohono Chul Park (Burgess photo)

Chiltepin pepper plant, originally from the wild, growing in the Tohono Chul Park landscape (Burgess photo)

It’s chile time in Baja Arizona!  The local goodness of our Sonoran Desert foods can assert itself tastefully—yea, vehemently!—into other imported cuisines. Tia Marta here to share a wonderful new wrinkle to celebrate this holiday season, by wedding the local “vehemence” of our chiltepin pepper with an imported tradition.

In decades since the 1940s, industrial ag and interstate grocery service have tried to make Baja Arizona into a food colony (but we are tastefully fighting back). Fossil fuels transport outside traditions to us that we do cherish and that help keep families together, like the many food traditions we celebrate at Tucson Meet Yourself in October each year.  At the top of the import list for Yuletide is one borrowed from East-coast First Nations. (See Renewing America’s Food Traditions by Gary Paul Nabhan, UA Press, for more.) This imported gift from Native People of Southern New England and coastal New Jersey bogs that I’m referring to for holiday feasts is naturally the cranberry. Thank Goodness for trade routes!

Ingredients for Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish--some local, some transported

Ingredients for Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish–my own Meyer lemon and chiltepines, plus transported cranberries, agave nectar, and red onion

Local and import come together sensationally in my recipe for a raw, vegan Chiltepin-Craberry Relish.
Yes, it is picante, sweet and tangy—and delicious! It was inspired by amazing cook and baker Cindy Burson of Country Harvest who won People’s Choice at a fair with her version. (Cindy’s Southwest treats can be enjoyed at Sunday’s Rillito Farmers Market and Wednesday’s Green Valley Farmers Market.)

Dried chiltepines for the relish--They make a great snack, great flavoring for Tom's Mix SW Heirloom Beans, and super in any salsa

Dried chiltepines to use in the cranberry relish–They also make a great snack, great flavoring for Tom’s Mix SW Heirloom Beans, and super in any salsa.

Muff’s Fresh and Easy CHILTEPIN-CRANBERRY RELISH RECIPE

Ingredients:

3 cups fresh organic cranberries, washed

1/2 medium red onion, diced

8-12 dry chiltepin peppers for picante palettes, depending on “heat” desired (4-6 chiltepines for less picante).  Start with less, then add more later if higher “vehemence” is needed.

1/2 cup local raw honey or agave nectar

2 Tbsps lemon or lime juice

1-2 Tbsps tangerine rind or Meyer lemon rind, chopped

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional ingredient)

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse all the fresh ingredients and juice at least 6 to 8 times, keeping the texture coarse.

Chill in a covered bowl in refrigerator overnight or at least 8 hours, for time to meld the flavors.

Stir the mixture;  do a taste test.  Add more honey or agave nectar, or chiltepines as needed for the sweet toote or picante palette.

Spicy Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish can keep its freshness, flavor, and color in the frig for at least a week.

Note texture of fresh relish--not too fine. (Tarahumara and Mayo spoons like this for serving can be found at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store)

Note texture of fresh relish–not too fine. (Tarahumara and Mayo spoons like this for serving can be found at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store)

Even the conservative palette will relish this holiday condiment—perfect for Christmas dinner or festive smorgasbords. Chiltepin adds a glorious kick to the sweet tart of cranberries, with a non-lingering wave of excitement to the tastebuds! You will find Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish as a fine complement not only to turkey or ham. Try it with bagels and cream cheese. Use it as a savory side, or with a salad, on any holiday platter. It’s a celebration of East meeting Southwest—Enjoy!

Here I've used Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish served with creamcheese-on-rye canapés

Here I’ve used Spicy Chiltepin-Cranberry Relish served as creamcheese-on-rye canapés

We harvest chiltepines one by one as we need them, from our own chiltepin plants. Birds appreciate our chiltepin bushes as much as we do! Some of our plants I propagated from wild chiltepines in Arispe, Sonora, and Baboquivari. Some, purchased at Tohono Chul Park’s Chiles and Chocolate event, were propagated by experts Charles DiConcini and blog sister Linda McKittrick from Sierra Madrean plants. To buy healthy, productive plants for your own garden, be sure to put the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Valentine’s Plant Sale on your calendar for February.

Fresh-picked mature chiltepin peppers--Caution: do not rub eyes after picking chiltepines!

Fresh-picked mature chiltepin peppers–Caution: do not rub eyes after picking chiltepines!

To source fresh dried chiltepin peppers for cooking and eating, visit the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson or http://www.nativeseeds.org) or stop by Cindy’s Country Harvest booth at Rillito Farmers Market Sunday.  You can see live chiltepin plants in fruit at Tohono Chul Park and at Mission Garden in Tucson.

Chiltepin-filled Heart Ornaments available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store for holiday decor and spice into the New Year!

Chiltepin-filled Heart Ornaments are available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store for holiday decor and spice into the New Year!

Another great idea:  A couple of chiltepines added to Southwest Heirloom Bean Tom’s Mix makes it a perfect potluck crowd-pleaser. You can find SW Heirloom Bean Tom’s Mix at NativeSeeds/SEARCH, or for online gifts at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

Tom's Mix 14-Heirloom Bean Mix makes a perfect gift from the Southwest--made spicy with chiltepines! Find them at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, Tohono Chul Museum Shop, Wiwpul Du'ag at San Xavier Plaza, and the UNICEF Store in Monterrey Village, Tucson; or online www.flordemayoarts.com

Tom’s Mix 14-Heirloom Bean Mix makes a perfect gift from the Southwest–made spicy with chiltepines! Find them at Rillito Sunday Farmers Market, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, Tohono Chul Museum Shop, Wiwpul Du’ag at San Xavier Plaza, and the UNICEF Store in Monterrey Village, Tucson; or online http://www.flordemayoarts.com

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Bean and Corn Cakes with Mole

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Hello, Amy Valdés Schwemm here. When I want to offer people several varieties of mole to taste, I make small batches of each sauce and serve them in mini electric crocs. Guests can spoon mole over servings of turkey or these bean and corn cakes. They make a perfect vegetarian main course or a hearty side.

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If you want a taste, meet me at The Food Conspiracy Co-op Saturday, November 21, 4-7pm. There will be other samples, including wine, and everyone (not just members) gets 10% off everything.

The recipe for Bean and Chicos Dinner Cakes was published in Furrow to Fire: Recipes from the Native Seeds/SEARCH Community, its author unknown to the editors. Chicos are New Mexican corn kernels roasted when still fresh, then dried. Sometimes they have a smokey taste that can almost be a seasoning if you cook a handful with a pot of beans. I often substitute Tohono O’odham gai’iwsa or Mexican posole. Using a bean with a creamy texture helps to hold the patties together. I’ve made it countless times, sometimes substituting ingredients wildly. They hold in a warm oven perfectly until ready to serve.

The photo above used lots of white posole and some canario beans. For tomorrow’s tasting, I’m using plenty of pintos and a little yellow polenta. No need to measure or time the polenta, as this recipe is so forgiving. Kneading in dry cornmeal when forming the patties (instead of just mixing it in) will fix the mixture at the perfect consistency.

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I like to carefully reduce the bean cooking liquid, affectionately referred to as bean juice in our family, because I can’t imagine draining it.

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Pulse everything in the food processor or mash by hand, and season to taste. Make big or small cakes to suit the occasion.

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1/2 cup chicos

1 cup beans, cooked and drained

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 I’itoi or green onion, minced

salt to taste

Options:

1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon chile powder (or substitute Mano Y Metate Adobo powder)

Place chicos and enough water to cover in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about one hour, until chicos are fairly soft. Cool slightly, then drain and coarsely chop. Set aside.

Combine beans, cornmeal, onion and chile powder and either mash by hand or whirl briefly in a food processor. Combine with the chicos, adding salt and adjusting seasoning to taste. Shape into about 1/3 inch thick patties.

In a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat, brown dinner cakes on each side. Serve with mole, pipián, or salsa.

 

My Aunt Bertie has shaped and browned lots of these little things with me. Here she is taking a break from flipping during a cooking class my family taught. We love to cook together!

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

Lizard Tail Plants

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Yerba mansa is a member of a tiny plant family. Our Sonoran Desert has many such unique plants in it.

Jacqueline Soule here to tell you of a very unusual plant blooming in my garden right now – a member of the very unique Lizard Tail Family, the Saururaceae. This distinct plant family has only seven species in it, grouped into four genera. I am writing today about Anemopsis californica, also called yerba mansa.

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What looks like a single flower is technically a cluster of tiny flowers.

Medicinal.

Yerba mansa is used as a medicinal herb, but it also makes a pretty pond plant. All parts of the plant have a distinct spicy fragrance, a blend of ginger, eucalyptus, a touch of juniper and a dash of pepper. The roots are especially fragrant, reminiscent of a cross between camphor and eucalyptus with a hint of pepper. One of the active compounds in yerba mansa is methyleugenol, an anti-spasmodic, similar in chemical structure to compounds found in other medicinal herbs.

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Even when they are newly emerged, the leaves bear a tracery of the red pigments they feature in fall.

Yerba mansa is versatile; it can be taken orally as a tea, tincture, infusion or dried in capsule form. It can be used externally for soaking inflamed or infected areas. It can be ground and used as a dusting powder. In New Mexico the leaves are used to make a poultice to relieve muscle swelling and inflammation. Spanish settlers in California used the plant as a liniment for skin troubles and as a tea for disorders of the blood.

Planting and Care.

While it is a pretty garden plant, yerba mansa would not appear in xeriscape books. It requires consistently moist soil and will not tolerate drying out between waterings. But by definition a xeriscape should include some oasis, and this is often a water garden.

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Yerba mansa features large leathery leaves when it gets ample water.

Yerba mansa is valuable in the water garden. Koi and other fish do not browse it like they do many other plants, thus it can readily spread and help clean the water. It also appears to help keep fish from getting bacterial infections such as Pseudomonas fluorescens (causing fin rot and fish dropsy) and fungal infections such as Saprolegnia.

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Great for the water garden, yerba mansa’s antibacterial properties can help keep your fish healthy.

Cooler autumn weather can bring blotches of maroon to the leaves and stems. If the temperatures are cool but not freezing, the entire plant may turn color. If the temperature falls below 20 F, the leaves die. Not to worry, the plant readily comes back from the roots. The plant is considered hardy to USDA Zone 5.

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Yerba mansa will send out runners seeking to colonize new territory. It will not take root where there is not ample water – like in the desert outside the water garden!

In our area the plant is gaining popularity and can now be found in a number of nurseries that carry water garden plants.

Harvesting and Use.

Roots for medicinal purposes should be collected in the fall preferably after the first freeze. After the first freeze the plant will begin to store the useful chemicals in its root system. Harvest the thick fleshy roots under the main part of the plant, not the thin roots on the runners.

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The smaller white roots are the ones harvested and dried for their medicinal properties.

Wash roots to remove clay and silt, then set them to wilt for several hours before cutting them into small pieces (roughly 1/4 inch square). Continue to dry the chopped roots until firm and dry.

About Jacqueline Soule

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 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 text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by 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: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Time for Some Thyme

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Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris)  is best grown with a dappled noon-time shade in the summer in the southwest.

Special for Savor the Southwest  February 2015
by Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule

Spring is springing out in my garden – and the little thyme cutting I got from Savor Sister Muffin Burgess back in at our anniversary party in November is finally starting to take off.  November was a terrible time to take cuttings of this warm climate herb – but the great thing about herbs is that humans have been mistreating them for 7000 years or so, and the weak ones have mostly died out.

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There are many species of thyme, like this species in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, used for the herb blend za’atar.

Thyme is a large and very popular genus, with over 350 species and countless cultivars grown around the world. Aside from looking lovely in the landscape, thyme is a strong herb used in cooking, and has some proven medicinal properties as well. It can also be grown indoors in bright, indirect light.

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Many herbs that do in the Southwest are originally from a similar climate – like this Thymus vulgaris growing wild on the rocky hillsides of the Galilee.

This lovely, fragrant, tasty, and healthful herb in native to the rocky slopes of the mountains of the eastern Mediterranean region, in the area that is now mostly Greece. Since they are pre-adapted to low water conditions, most species of thyme can be grown here. I grow my thyme plants where they get roof run-off, thus I rarely need to water them; and yet they offer a lush look to my entryway with their glossy green leaves.

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Not just tasty, thyme is also another pretty face in the garden! For peak flavor, it is best to harvest this (and most culinary herbs) just before they bloom.

Make sure you grow your thyme in well-drained soil. You may have to add some sand to your soil. I killed several thyme plants until I had finally added enough sand to their bed.

There are many thymes to choose from, but here are the species most commonly found in the nursery.

Common or culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a low woody plant barely reaching a foot tall. It quickly becomes leggy with bare wood showing so harvest and use or dry your thyme often. (You can give friends jars of your dried herbs as truly personal and unique gifts.)

Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) makes an attractive and useful groundcover. It is culinary too! Harvest as needed.

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Creeping thyme, with tiny leaves and charming purple flowers, is perfect for a fairy garden.

Lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus) is a delicious and fragrant low-growing variety with glossy green leaves, and goes wonderfully with fish dishes.

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Lemon thyme is great for flavoring fish dishes – two flavors for the price of one!

Equally fragrant and delicious is the golden lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus ‘Aureus’). With wonderfully variegated leaves, it looks good in the landscape.

Not generally used as culinary herbs, two popular species of creeping thyme are useful in the landscape. Mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanginosis) both grow well between shady flagstones, and smell great when stepped on.

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Add some fragrance to your landscape – plant this heat tolerant woolly thyme between the flagstones of your path.

Sprinkle thyme (either fresh or dried) in soups, salads, on meat dishes or use in herb breads. Use an ample number of sprigs in herbal vinegars and oils for an intense and refreshing flavor.

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We use ample thyme in our cooking. This 8 ounce jar gets refilled several times a year.

For a quick meal at the end of a long day make Sopa de Farigola, or Thyme Soup, a dish popular in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, and thus part of our Sonoran heritage as well.  Fresh eggs and day-old bread are topped with a boiling broth made from water, sprigs of thyme and some olive oil. Great for replacing electrolytes after a day working in the garden!

More about thyme in my books which I will be selling and signing at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14 & 15 this year – Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014, $23), and Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing & Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press 2011, $15) also available at Tucson area bookstores, nurseries, botanical gardens, and state parks.

JAS avatar  © 2015, 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.

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Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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

 

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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.

Rhubarb_Pie

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

Savory Cilantro

Coriander_fresh

Cilantro is easily grown in our area in the cool winter months.

Jacqueline Soule posting today on a great herb to start growing now.

Most folks think of cilantro as the quintessential Mexican herb, but it isn’t from Mexico. Cilantro is also called Chinese parsley, but it’s not from China either. The seeds of cilantro go by the name coriander, and are a popular flavor in French sauces, and now we are getting closer. Originally from southern Europe, cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) has been carried around the globe by its fans, and has made itself popular in many regional cuisines.

Say “cilantro” here in the Southwest, and most folks think of salsa. And while cilantro can get along with the heat of chilies in salsa, it quickly dies with the heat of a summer day. Therefore you will want to grow this herb in the cool winter months.

Hate the taste of cilantro? You are not alone. Scientists agree that there appears to be a genetic component to cilantro taste preference. Those that enjoy the herb find it pungent and tangy, those that don’t like it often say it tastes soapy. It’s your genes, and both experiences are equally valid.

Cilantro has been used for millennia as a culinary and medicinal herb. An infusion of coriander seed is said to soothe upset stomach, aid indigestion, as a carminative against flatulence, and was reputed to be an aphrodisiac. It was prized in Father Kino’s time as an ingredient in herbal vinegar used to preserve meat.

Planting and Care.
Cilantro is a cool season crop, and is best planted in our area in September. It should grow through the winter and into April before starting to flower, also called bolting. Leaves are more flavorful before bolting. Once bolting begins, reconcile yourself to the fact that you will soon have ample coriander seed, plus seed to plant next year. Harvest the seed if you want it, because otherwise the lesser goldfinch and doves will clean it all up.

Coriander_fruit_001

Coriander “seed” are technically a single seeded fruit with a dry papery husk. (Only a botanist would care!) The papery husk can be removed or left when using this herb.

Like many members of the parsley family, cilantro is a tad fussy about growing conditions. Virtually every member of this family grows best in a well-drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. The good news is that this makes them easy to grow in containers. Use a container a foot or more deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.

Cilantro is best grown from seed, because like many members of the parsley family, it does not transplant well. Seeds require darkness to germinate, thus the recommended depth is 1/2 inch deep. Cilantro can also be bought as a seedling from a nursery but be careful not to damage the roots when transplanting it.

Cilantro does best with six or more hours of winter sun. Mature plants can take frost to around 20oF, so cover if a harder frost is expected.

Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let cilantro dry a little more between watering once the plants get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.

coriandrum_sativum_bundle

Cilantro roots look like tiny carrots, and are eaten in some cultures.

Cilantro gets very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your soil at the start you don’t need to add fertilizer. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February you could apply a half-strength general purpose fertilizer.

Cilantro is considered a good companion plant to anise and potatoes.

Cilantro could be justified as a garden plant if only for the job it does in attracting pollinators to the garden. Bees enjoy the nectar-rich flowers and the resulting coriander honey is prized for its flavor.

Coriandrum_sativum_flower_008

Coriander flowers are wonderful to attract pollinators to the garden.

The seed provides the culinary herb coriander, and I harvest a great deal of it, but I also like to leave some stalks with seed behind so that flocks of lesser goldfinch will grace my garden with their bright bodies and cheerful chatter.

Harvest and Use.
Cilantro leaves tastes great when fresh but lose much flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor. Select healthy leaves, rinse, pat dry but leave some moisture. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or other container. Use directly from the freezer.

coriandrum_sativum_on_talapia

Cilantro chopped and sprinkled over freshly cooked tilapia.

The seeds, used as coriander, should be harvested after they begin to turn brown and when outer coat cracks, but before they drop off the plant and scatter. Cut the stem below the seed heads and place the whole thing into a paper sack to dry. To clean the seed, rub them gently to remove the outer shell. Many people skip this step.

 

Note: You can read more about growing cilantro in my latest book “Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening” (2014, Cool Springs Press, $23). I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, or Rillito Nursery. Or buy from me in person (autographed copy!) after one of my next free talks for the Pima County Libraries. More at http://www.library.pima.gov/

 

Photos copyright free and courtesy of Wikimedia.  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. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Gardening, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

Fermented salsas

molcajete

fermented salsa,with fresh cilantro and tunas (prickly pear fruit) added before serving

Amy Valdés Schwemm

Amy Valdés Schwemm

Naturally fermenting salsa makes a richer and more complex flavor than simply adding vinegar or lime juice, but it does take a little patience. I love tart salsas and sour foods with a bite. Grandma and Grandpa Schwemm on my dad’s side passed on a tradition of sauerkraut, and my mom’s family loves chile. How could chiles fermented like kraut not be my favorite food?

Fermented salsa is a source of pro-biotic microorganisms, recently rediscovered as essential for the digestive system. Home fermented foods probably provide more active and diverse cultures than what comes in a capsule at great expense.

late summer is chile season at Tucson CSA, Walking J, Santa Cruz Farmers' Market Consignment

late summer is chile season at Tucson CSA, Walking J, Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market Consignment

Chiles for this preparation can be fresh or roasted or even dried. I’ve used everything from dried chiltepines to fresh Big Jims and sweet peppers. Hot, fleshy chiles like Jalapeño, Serrano, Guero, Wenks Yellow Hot, and Sinahuisa are ideal.

deseeding chiles

deseeding chiles

Sometimes I meticulously seed and dice the chiles, sometimes I only cut off the stems and coarsely chop in the food processor.

chiles, onion, garlic and salt

chiles, onion, garlic and salt

I usually add onion, garlic and herbs, as the season and whim direct.

chopping chiles reminds me of Uncle Bob and cousin Doug

chopping chiles reminds me of Uncle Bob and cousin Doug

Add salt to the salsa, 2% of vegetables’ weight. This is roughly 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt per cup of diced vegetables, more or less. Salt slows and directs biological activity to make the food more delicious. Lactobacilli thrive in salty environments where other organisms cannot, and the lactic acid they make further inhibit harmful bacteria. Since this is a condiment, I don’t mind it a little salty. There are enough beneficial bacteria on the fresh produce and in the air, so no starter culture is necessary.

diced chiles

diced chiles

If the chiles are not very fleshy or I want a thinner sauce, I add a little brine made with 2 teaspoons salt per cup of water. Thinning the sauce is a good idea when the chiles are very hot!
Put the salsa in a jar with a weight on top, keeping the pieces of chile submerged in exuded juice or brine. I use a smaller jar as a weight.

pureed jalapenos with  diced multicolor sweet peppers

pureed jalapenos with diced multicolor sweet peppers

Cover the tower with a tea towel to keep out dust and insects, and keep at room temperature.

fermenting chiles can be messy

fermenting chiles can be messy

How long before it’s ready? Test daily in warm weather to see if it is sour enough for your taste. In winter, the process is slower, taking up to a couple weeks. If white mold forms on the surface, skim off the top. It is harmless. If the mold is any color other than white, or below the surface of the liquid, discard the whole batch. Better safe than sorry.
When the salsa is tart and delicious, it can be eaten as is or pureed. For a smooth salsa, it can be strained. Sometimes I add fresh herbs or minced I’itoi onion tops.

pureed salsa with diced I'itoi onion tops

pureed salsa with diced I’itoi onion tops

Store fermented salsa in the refrigerator with an airtight lid.
Chef Molly Beverly from Prescott, Arizona suggested fermenting a sauce from Mano Y Metate Pipian Rojo, so I have some of that going now. I can’t wait to taste it!
elote salsa
For more details about fermenting food, see Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. For an encouraging primer on safely fermenting food, find Wild Fermentation also by Katz. This is one of my all time favorite cookbooks.

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

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