All That Bountiful Basil

by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Last month I wrote about basil  in these pages.  In my Gardening With Soule Blog I wrote about how to grow basil in the desert.  Now let’s look at more basil uses, and some plant care in our heat not discussed previously.


Hot Plants. 

If you bought your basil plants at a big box store, chances are it is not an ideal variety of basil to grow here.  In the image below, the plant shows signs of both excessive light and heat stress with yellowing leaves and some sunburned and browned leaves.  Basil harvested from such a stressed plant will taste bitter, not really worth the water it takes to keep the plant alive.  If you did end up with a large leaved basil, consider growing it on a covered patio or under shade cloth.

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Some varieties of basil, like this large leaf cultivar, do not appreciate hot sun and high temps.

Basil Blooms.

If you want basil seeds, let your basil bloom.  Otherwise, you should remove and spikes of blooms – ideally before they get too big and use up the energy the plant could use making more luscious leaves instead of flowers.

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These spikes of basil blooms were pinched off the plant.

Remove the spikes of blooms by pinching them off.  Yes, you can use pruners or scissors or a knife, but scientific evidence shows that good old fashioned fingers are the best tool for the job.  Why?  Because when we cut, we cut through plant cells, but when we pinch, the plant ruptures between cell walls.  The plant heals more quickly when the damage is between the cells instead of right through the middle of them.

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The best tool for removing basil blooms is your own hand.


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The plant heals more rapidly when hand pinched, even though a tidy-minded person might not like the ragged look to the pinch site.

Harvesting Basil.

You can harvest basil leaves any time you need some.  If you are careful about it, your plant will just keep making more leaves, especially if you harvest just above a node of young leaves.


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Yes you should pinch your harvest – just like you pinch blossoms. The scissors are in the picture to indicate where to cut – just above a node of young leaves.


Using Your Basil.

Tons of ways to use basil, but I am fond of one I just learned – basil spreadable pseudo-cheese.  (I have to come up with a better name!)

You will need: a clean bandanna, a quart of plain Greek yogurt, a bowl, a colander, time, and some basil.

Put the colander into the bowl and line the colander with the clean bandanna.  Dump the yogurt into the bandanna and let this sit in the ‘fridge overnight.  The whey will drip out of the yogurt.  (You can leave it for 24 hours if you want.) From a quart of yogurt, I got almost a cup of whey.

This un-wheyed yogurt becomes thick and spreadable, almost like cream-cheese, and it does not stick to the bandanna!  It is not as creamy as cream cheese, but if you add flavorful herbs like basil, it is entirely tasty!

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Chop your basil finely for this dish.


Dump your yogurt-cheese out of the bandanna.  Harvest some basil, chop it up, mix it into your yogurt, and let it sit for at least four hours to help the basil flavor to merge into the cheese.

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Let your basil flavor infuse into the cheese for at least 4 hours. Longer is just fine.

Using the Whey.  

Since I got a cup of whey, I did not want to throw it away.  I tried a sip – not my cup of tea!  Since it is an animal product it shouldn’t go into the compost heap either.  I put it into a smoothy with sweet fruit and with a dollop of honey it was fine.


About Jacqueline Soule

JAS avatarJacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

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.



Bountiful Basil

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Basil comes in over 150 varieties. Here is a trio grown in Renee’s Garden. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.


by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Summertime is basil-time in the Old Pueblo. As the nights turn to their sultry summer phase, the sun provides light for hours on end, and the soil temperatures become toasty warm – in other words, we enter our tropical phase of the year – and basil is truly delighted. Originally native to India, basil is genetically a tropical plant, even though it is now grown around the globe wherever (and whenever) it is warm enough.

basil lemon mrs burns famous nss

Mrs. Burn’s Famous Lemon Basil is a lemony flavored basil that grows well indeed in our climate. Photo courtesy of Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Basil is a real taste treat. It can be used in Italian cooking (like the pesto recipe below), fresh, in green salads, and it even has a reputation as a medicinal herb.

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Salad leaf basil features large leaves. Not as strongly flavored as other basils, it does taste great in salads. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Basil does grow well in the Tucson area, but it isn’t the easiest herb to grow. It has some very specific preferences if it is to thrive. I will put growing tips up on my Gardening With Soule blog on June 4th. Why wait? Because the 4th of each month is national “You Can Grow That” Day.


I was in Philadelphia and spotted a bunch of basil growing in a raised bed. Ideally, you want to pinch the blooms off to encourage more leafy growth.

The National Institute of Health reports that Americans consume too much salt. Cooking with flavorful herbs like basil could help you reduce your salt use and stay heart healthy.  Here’s an easy to make pesto to get you started.

Basil Pesto

4 oz. fresh basil leaves (a generous double handful)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled (double amount of onion may be substituted if garlic is an issue)
8 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Rinse basil and pat dry.
2. Toast pine nuts in an ungreased skillet over medium heat until golden. Cool.
3. Place cooled pine nuts, basil, garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree until creamy.
4. Stir in the cheeses and serve over pasta or rice. Also excellent with quinnoa or toasted tofu. Vegans can omit the cheese or use shredded soy cheese.


JAS avatarAbout Jacqueline Soule

Jacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

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.

Lovely Lavender

lavandula _5487

by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

If you want to grow and use your own herbs, or if you simply desire an attractive plant for the landscape, you can’t beat lavender. Cultivated for centuries, this charming low growing perennial has wonderfully fragrant flowers and leaves.

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Lavender is forms a fragrant mound and can bloom for months with some added water.

Lavender Uses

The name of the plant 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. Lavender essential oil is popular in aromatherapy. Tea made from leaves and flowers has been used to treat sleeplessness, restlessness, headache, flatulence, and nervous stomach. At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studied herbal medicines, recommends using lavender for insomnia and circulatory and gastrointestinal disorders.

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Lavender also grows well in containers, but unlike many herbs, is fussy about being moved.

Growing Lavender

Lavender is easy to grow in our area. There are a number to choose from. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) both tend to be stressed by our summers, but grow well in a garden that gets only morning sun. The French or toothed lavender (Lavandula dentata) does best in my yard in full sun with some noon-time summer shade. Perhaps the fuzziness of the leaves helps reflect sunlight and reduce water loss.


English lavender has difficulty surviving the Southwest summer. Photo by Karelj


French lavender is more tolerant of the heat than its’ English cousin.

Like most herbs, all of these lavenders do best in well drained soil. They will need watering during the dryer months, but can often survive on rainfall during monsoon or winter months. Fertilize in moderation or not at all to encourage greater production of the fragrant oils. Harvest and prune often. Like most herbs, lavender should be trimmed two to three times per year to control rampant growth and keep the plant producing quality blooms.

Native Lavender

Ideally however, plant the native desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi), a shrub often found growing along area washes. Desert lavender is a shrub reaching 4 to 6 feet high and covered with fragrant gray green leaves. Summer brings spikes of fragrant purple flowers that butterflies adore.

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The native desert lavender is more of a shrub than its’ European cousins.


Harvest Lavender

Harvest stalks of lavender blooms as the lower-most flowers open. This gives you buds with optimum fragrance.

Dry your lavender, like all herbs, out of direct sunlight.


It is delightful


to watch over time

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as the flowers unfurl.

Live Green

No matter what species of lavender you plant, you’ll be living green. Growing your own lavender reduces lavender imported from half a globe away, usually southeastern Europe. Growing your own also insures that you have a good source of quality organic lavender. For those exploring the energetics (chi) of products, growing your own lavender and harvesting as needed offers the many benefits of strong chi.

Native desert lavender or European species, lavender adds refreshing fragrance to your living spaces, both indoors and out.

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Lavender and Parry’s penstemon grow well beside one another and attract many native pollinators to the garden.


Special Book Signing:

Eastside Costco, Saturday April 4, from 12 noon to 3 pm

Northwest Costco, Saturday April 11, from 12 noon to 3 pm

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).

JAS avatar

All photos (except where noted) and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule.

All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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.


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.


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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Onion Planting Time!

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The Southwest is ideal for gardening all year long.

Jacqueline Soule with you here to share some timely planting tips.  Speaking as a gardener – one of the best things about living here in the Southwest is that every month is the month to plant something! Right now, in these cool months with short days and long nights, it is time to plant onions.

If you have never before had a vegetable garden, onions are a great way to start. Of all the garden vegetables, they are tolerant of abuse and forgiving of mistakes. In the ground, in large or small pots, under the shrubs in the front yard of your HOA home (the weed-police are mollified by “bulbs”), wherever you have a little space you can plant some onions. As long as we get rain every ten days, you may not even need to water them. Onions fresh out of the ground have so much more flavor you owe it to yourself to try them.

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Onions can be tucked into almost any space in the yard. These I’itoi onions stay small.

Which ones? There are more varieties of onions than you can shake a stick at, a number of different types with conflicting names (bunching, bulbing, multiplier) and technically a few different species, but rather than start a discourse on all of that, lets just key into the fact that the days are short, thus you need to plant “short day” varieties.

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Onion sets can be planted in pots with potting soil.

Now? In the coldest time of year? Yes! But you will plant “sets” not seeds. Sets are already started from seed onions, or, in the case of multiplier onions and garlics, they are divisions off a larger bulb.

How to plant sets? Just set them into the soil. (Sometimes gardening terminology makes sense.)  Plant with the green side up, the bulb entirely below the soil.

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Look in the background in this shot. Some varieties will grow faster than others.

Most of our local nurseries know that now is the time for onions and have a selection of sets to choose from. Big box stores don’t – just another reason to shop local. In past years some of the Farmer’s Market vendors also offered onion sets.

A general planting guide follows.

Light.  Remember the whole “short day” thing?  The short days of winter will mean that the onions will need as much as you can give them.

Soil is not as critical as with most vegetables. But for best overall health, plus full flavor and good final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended. Or plain potting soil if you grow them in containers.

Water is needed on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves. In general this means two or three times per week, but maybe more if the onions are in pots.

Fertilizer is not much needed by onions. If you want to, use one for root crops, high in nitrogen and potassium. Avoid fertilizer for flowers, like a rose or tomato food. Flowering takes energy away from creating succulent bulbs.


These onions got too much flowering fertilizer. Rather than develop good bulbs, they spent their energy producing flowers and seeds.

Harvest – once the tops die down and start to turn brown (usually in late May into June).  For long term storage the garden books from “back east” tell you to dry your onions in the sun – but don’t do that here!! – they will get sun scald and taste yucky. Dry onions in a cool dark place that does have good air flow. I put mine on screens in the laundry room and leave the ceiling fan on low for about three days. Once they have dried onions will store without rotting.

Storage & Use. Some varieties of onions store better than others. Plan on about four months maximum for best flavor and texture. (Ours are eaten so fast this is not an issue.) Don’t forget to save your onion skins to make a great natural dye for Easter eggs and textiles.

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I keep a bag to add my onion skins to every time I cook.

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Onion skins produce a warm brown dye.


For more about onions and other vegetables and fruits that will thrive in your Southwestern garden, please consider my book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014), available at Antigone, Arizona Experience Store, local botanical gardens, state parks, and nurseries.

© 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. JAS avatar



Petroselinum crispum flat leaf parsley

Flat leaf parsley grows well in the winter garden here in the middle desert regions of the Southwest.

Special for Savor the Southwest October 2014 by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Ever notice that restaurants often provide a sprig of fresh parsley on each dinner plate? They may not even know why, but it is a holdover from Victorian times and parsley’s reputed value as a digestive aid. Most diners avoid this strongly flavored green, but they shouldn’t! It may well be the most nutritious thing on the plate! Rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 B9 (folate), C, and K as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. Parsley also helps the body in manganese absorption, a mineral important in building and maintaining healthy bones.

Petroselinum crispum salad

In Europe, salads may consist of parsley, onion and tomato, lacking the salad greens often seen in American salads.

Parsley is one of those plants that is easy to add to the garden, or even just a pot on the patio. And now is the time to plant them! First – there are several parsleys to choose from. Curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) or flat leaf parsley (P. neopolitanum), and popular for stews, parsley root (P. crispum var. tuberosum). All of these forms of parsley are members of the Carrot Family.   [[By the way, cilantro is als in the same family and can be grown just like parsley.]]


Petroselinum crispum var tuberosum root

One variety of parsley is grown for it’s root – tasty in stews and can be stored for months in a root cellar.

Soil. All carrot kin grow best in a well drained, even sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. That makes them easy to grow in containers. Use a pot one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.

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Just a few plants of parsley can be enough so you don’t need a giant package of seeds.

Light. Six or more hours of winter sun to do well.

Plant. Parsley can be bought as a seedling from a nursery or grown from seed. One or two plants are usually enough for most families so seedlings might be a better option.

Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let parsley dry a little more between water once they get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.

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

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Curly leaf parsley grows well in the arid Southwest.

Harvest and Storage. Parsley tastes wonderful when fresh but loses 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 yogurt container. This can be used directly from the freezer.


If you let your parsley flower, it should attract butterflies to your garden. Plus you will then get seeds to plant next year.

Not only does parsley look pretty on the plate and in the garden, it also attracts winged wildlife. Indeed, one species of swallowtail butterfly use parsley as a host plant for their larvae. Caterpillar are black and green striped with yellow dots, and will feast upon parsley for a brief two weeks before turning into lovely butterflies. Along with butterflies, bees visit the blooms. Seed eaters such as the lesser goldfinch also adore the seed. I let some parsley develop flowers and go to seed each year so the animals can enjoy it once I am done harvesting the leaves. And I save some seeds for replanting.

Petroselinum crispum seed crop

Do save some seed for next year. The best thing to plant in your garden is seed of what did well in your garden!

JAS avatarJacqueline A. Soule has been writing about plants and growing in Tucson for decades. Her latest book “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press $22.99) is available at local bookstores and botanical gardens. (Call first though, some venues have been selling out.)

©  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. Photos may not be used.

Hearty Jojoba

jojoba green fruit

Green jojoba fruit dangle below the branches, slowly ripening in the desert sun.

posted by Jacqueline A. Soule

If you know how I title most of my blogs, you now have a hint on how to pronounce jojoba – it’s pronounced ho-ho-ba. (The “j” is an “h” sound in Spanish. Which reminds me of the time at the busy health clinic when “Hakalina” did not recognize her name called out by the nurse – but that’s another story.)

Jojoba is the O’odham name for the plant (Simmondsia chinensis) and it came into Spanish via the work of Father Kino. Indeed, Father Kino wrote in his journals about the plant. In Bolton’s 1919 translation of Kino’s journals, Kino writes of a visit with “Pima Indians” (pg. 93) and states that, among other items “. . . they also have bezoar, the medicinal fruit called jojoba, blankets, cotton fabrics, curious and very showy baskets or pitchers, macaws . . . and other conveniences.” Later, Kino describes the fruit as “. . . like the almond, and with a very salutary and effective remedy for different kinds of sickness.”


Jojoba shrubs are either male or female. Here a male shrub offers it’s pollen filled flowers to passing pollinators.

Other common names for the plant include goat nut, deer nut, pignut, wild hazel, quinine nut, coffeeberry, and gray box bush. Although there are references to jojoba as nuts, they are, botanically speaking, a seed.

Jojoba was used in most areas where it is native. The uses varied with tribe. O’odham would crush the seeds to yield an oily paste useful for dry cracked skin, chapped lips, cuts, scrapes, and burns. Seeds were ground and pressed into cakes, and small portions were eaten in moderation as food. Too much jojoba has a laxative action. Seri used seeds as an emergency food, but more commonly as part of a shampoo process. Seeds can also be made into necklaces.


You can purchase pressed jojoba “oil” in many stores. I use the oil in making lotion.


Currently, jojoba is grown commercially for its “oil,” in reality a liquid wax ester, expressed from the seed. This oil is rare in nature. Technically it is an extremely long straight-chain wax ester and not a triglyceride, making jojoba and its derivative jojoba esters more similar to human sebum (body oil) and sperm whale oil than to vegetable oils. Jojoba oil is easily refined to be odorless, colorless and oxidatively stable, and is often used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and as a carrier oil for specialty fragrances. It also has potential use as both a biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks, as well as a biodegradable lubricant. Plantations of jojoba have been established in a number of desert and semi-desert areas.


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Jojoba plantation in one of the semi-arid areas of India.

Jojoba is currently the Sonoran Desert’s second most economically valuable native plant (overshadowed only by the Washingtonia palms used in ornamental horticulture). Plant breeders are doing selective breeding to develop plants that produce more seeds, seeds with higher oil content, and characteristics that will facilitate mechanical harvesting.

A few interesting taxonomic notes. Jojoba is the only species in its plant family, making it quite unique among flowering plants. While there are around 400 monotypic genera, this is the only monotypic flowering plant family. The scientific name, Simmondsia chinensis, is an example of the need for good penmanship. Jojoba does not originate in China! Johann Link, the botanist naming the species, misread Nuttall’s collection label “Calif” as “China.”

Jojoba habit

Jojoba shrubs live well in the desert.

Harvesting and Use.
Jojoba seed on a single bush will ripen slowly over several months. This is one of the traits breeders are seeking to change. Seed is ready to be harvested when the hulls easily fall off and a slight tug releases it into your hand. If it resists, it isn’t ripe.

Store harvested seed in jars or even in the freezer. Grind jojoba seeds in a mortar and pestle for topical use. Alternatively toast the seeds and munch as an occasional snack.

If you have the technology, you can harvest seeds and press them for the oil. Or simply plant them in your native landscape and let the native wildlife use the seed.

Planting and Care will be covered in a future blog.


To learn more about jojoba and other native plants used as herbs, please come to my free presentation “Father Kino’s Native Herbs” at the Main Library on Saturday Sept 13 at 1:30. More at

Some of the information in this article is excerpted from my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). 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


Savor Sister Jacqueline Soule posting today.

Chinchweed or limoncillo is known to scientists as Pectis papposa, a member of the Compositae family, now called the Asteraceae, and arguably the largest plant family out there.  If you aren’t “into” the Compositae, it is generally considered just another one of those DYC’s (Dratted Yellow Compositae).  (Well, we scientists don’t say “dratted” but we don’t want the parental controls to censor this blog.)


Pectis papposa is just a “DYC” to some, but it can be so much more!

This sprightly summer blooming annual is found across the desert Southwest from New Mexico to California and northern Mexico (in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts) at elevations below 6000 feet.  With surprising promptness after the first summer rain, the desert floor is carpeted with the small yet bright yellow flowers – DYC’s.



A carpet of Pectis papposa. Too lovely to trod upon!


Hopi, Zuni, and Havasupai all use the chinchweed plant as a condiment, especially to flavor meat.  There are also references to its use as a fresh green and potherb.  In Mexican markets, bundles of fresh or dried plants are sold as limoncillo and used as a culinary spice, generally to flavor meat. There are also references to its use as a dye plant.


The leaves of limoncillo are dotted with a number of glands filled with flavorful oils.

Planting and Care.
Sow seeds of this charming summer annual anywhere in your yard you wish them.  Plants look especially lovely in a cactus garden, and appear to prefer well drained soil.  Since chinchweed is a summer annual, sow in the warmer months, from April onward.  Ideally have the seeds in the soil prior to the first monsoon rain, generally around San Juan’s Day or summer solstice.   This may be tough as seeds are generally not available in seed catalogs.  You may have to wild collect some of the herb this year, and while you are at it, collect seeds for your own next year.  Once you have some limoncillo your yard it seems to cheerfully find new places to tuck itself, including in areas of reflected light, which is often a tough site for plants to thrive in.



These tiny plants will find their way into unexplored corners of you yard. A weed only by common name, the seed is excellent food for native birds.


Harvesting and Use.
As a culinary spice, chinchweed may be used fresh or dried.  Simply chop up the fresh material or crumble the dried and sprinkle on meat.  If you like lemony chicken, then limoncillo is a great local herb to use!  Fresh cinchweed greens add a nice zing to stir fry, but I have not tried them cooked alone as a potherb (yet).  This will be part of my New Years resolution to grow and use all of the native plants in my Father Kino’s Herbs book (More on this at 30 minutes in on America’s Web Radio –  For dye, pluck the flower heads off and use them fresh or dried.  I could not find if there was a specific mordant.


Harvest the flower heads for dye and the leaves together with the flowers for culinary use.

Now I have thought of a new way to think of this DYC – it’s a Delightfully Yummy Compositae!  And I hope you will consider some for your yard.


DYC stands for Delightfully Yummy Composite with Darling Yellow Crowns!

 [For another species of DYC flowering now, and some of its uses, please visit my blog on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens –]

The information presented here is a sample of what appears in my book Father Kino’s Herbs, Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press, 2011).  Available through  Free public lectures on growing and using our wonderful native plants, at a number of branches of the Pima County Library.

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