Posts Tagged With: Martha Ames Burgess

A Gastronomy Tour thru Time–from Ancient to Now!

Bedrock mortar hole where ancient desert people milled mesquite, legume pods, and other seeds  (MABurgess photo)

All around us in the desert–in our own Tucson Basin and beyond–there is evidence in the rocks that people long ago were gathering, processing, growing and eating bountiful desert plant foods.  The same plants (mesquite beans, amaranth, chia, corn…) are providing us today with a smorgasbord of yummy ingredients for new culinary creativity.  The pre-history and history of our diverse food cultures–not to mention the amazing inventiveness of our local chefs, farmers and gardeners–led UNESCO to name Tucson the first International City of Gastronomy in the US!

Tia Marta here to tell you about upcoming GASTRONOMIC TOURS created to celebrate our diverse local food heritage.  Are you ready for total immersion in culinary bliss?  Tucson’s Presidio Museum is sponsoring tours of our food heritage in the heart of Old Town.  Look for announcements about The Presidio District Experience:  A Progressive Food Heritage and History Tour.

Tucson’s Presidio San Augustine Museum–a living-history treasure at the center of downtown where visitors can envision life of 18th century Spanish conquistadores and their families on the new frontier.

In the style of progressive dinners or “round-robins” the tour will begin at the Tucson Presidio Museum, developing a sense of Tucson’s setting and cultures over the recent 10,000 years.  Participants will enjoy samples of traditional wild-harvested desert foods, then surprising Spanish introductions.  Next tourers venture forth afoot to taste Hispanic and Anglo family traditions plus nouvelle cuisine desert-style at some of our one-of-a-kind historic restaurants.  Past meets present in a symphony of taste sensations with spirits, entree, bebidas or dessert at each new venue.

These tours are educational-plus!  Feeding not only body and satisfaction-center, knowing Tucson’s gastronomic history feeds the mind and soul as well.  Tours are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, March 25, April 8, 15 or 29, from 1pm-3:45pm.  Check out , go to the event calendar and click on Heritage Tour for details and registration for each date.

Seedlings of heirloom white Sonora wheat seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH and BKWFarms, planted early Feb and gladly doused by mid-February rains, growing rapidly, to be harvested in May (MABurgess photo)

Now, with the goal of merging plant knowledge with many food cultures into one tasty recipe, I’d like to share a quick and easy idea to enhance a pot luck or dinner for a few:  Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits. 

A traditional milling of amaranth with stone mano on a metate.  Today, hard amaranth seed can be easily ground in a grain mill or coffee mill.  Traditional Tohono O’odham gatherers ate “rain spinach” or juhuggia i:wagi (Amaranthus palmeri) when summer rains started, then harvested these ollas of small seeds from the spiny stalks later when the weeds dried.   Plan to harvest your wild amaranth (aka pigweed) seed next September if monsoon rains are good.  Amaranth grain is 15-18% protein and high in iron, fiber and phytonutrients!  (MABurgess photo)

One of many species of Sonoran Desert saltbush, traditionally used by Tohono O’odham.  It can be dried and pulverized as baking powder. (Atriplex hymenolytra) (MABurgess photo)

Bringing together Amaranth, Mesquite, and sea salt from Tohono O’odham traditional fare, and Hispanic White Sonora Wheat introduced by Missionary Padre Kino, in a very Anglo-style biscuit from my Southern background,  here is a fast, tasty, local and nutritious complement to any meal:

Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits 

You will need:

1/2 cup mesquite flour [from NativeSeedsSEARCH or desert]

1/2 cup amaranth flour [home-milled from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s whole grain, or Bob’s Red Mill amaranth flour]

1 cup white Sonora wheat flour (or Pima Club wheat flour)  [from Ramona Farms, San Xavier Coop Association, or NativeSeedsSEARCH]

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup milk (or sour milk, rice milk, soy milk)

Mixing organic white Sonora wheat flour from BKWFarms, plus amaranth flour, roasted mesquite flour, and butter for Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain Biscuits (MABurgess photo)

Preheat oven to 450 degreesF.  [You can use a solar oven but it will not get quite that hot.  Solar biscuits come out harder–reminiscent of cowboy hard-tack.]. Sift together flours, baking powder, and sea salt.  Cut in the butter to small pellet size.  Add milk.  Stir until soft dough forms.  Either drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet for “bachelor biscuits” OR, turn the dough ball out onto a floured board.  Knead a few turns.  Pat or roll lightly to about 1/2-inch thickness.  Use any shape cookie cutter to form biscuits–small for bite-size, large for cowboys, initialed for kids.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 12-15 minutes until barely golden.  Serve hot, rejoicing in the diversity of heritage foods still available from local farmers or in nearby desert!

Rolling out mesquite, amaranth, white Sonora wheat biscuit dough with Mayo Indian palo chino rolling pin purchased from NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain (Mesquite-Amaranth-White Sonora Wheat) Biscuits hot from the oven (MABurgess photo)










A landmark in the heart of Tucson’s Old Town, this restaurant, shops and music venue occupy the oldest existing structure in the neighborhood, across Court Street from Tucson Presidio Museum

Two heirloom wheat flours introduced by Missionaries (White Sonora “S-moik Pilkan” and Pima Club “Oras Pilkan”) grown by a traditional Piman farmer at Ramona Farms; also grown at San Xavier Coop Association and organically at BKWFarms Inc in Marana (available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store)               (MABurgess photo)











You can find many traditional desert foods and artworks depicting these botanical and culinary treasures at   Flor de Mayo native heritage foods can be purchased at ArtHouse.Centro in Old Town Artisans at LaCocina Courtyard, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and online catalog, at Tumacacori National Historic Site, Tucson Presidio Museum Shop, Saguaro National Park Bookstore, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Join us at Mission Garden ( Saturday, March 31, 2018 for a public tour by Herbalist Donna Chesner and ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess about Desert Foods as Medicine.

Hoping to see you in Old Town for a gastronomic tour this spring! Plan now for some of that immersion experience in local culinary bliss….


Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Cordial Tribute to Time Itself–Valentine’s Dessert Toasts

Time–to be exact, good timing, plus duration and patience–are necessary ingredients in making most good dishes.  All of these are enlisted in creating festive cordials. Here, a native fan palm cordial made with tiny wild dates (in bowl), harvested & put up in the fall…after months later… produced a luscious cordial for a sweet Valentine surprise.  Time to celebrate! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s tip a toast to Father Time who allows magic to be wrought upon our local desert fruits.  The joyous results of his temporal magic can be festive and delightful cordials.  With a little industry, when our desert fruits are ripe in late summer or fall, there can be heartwarming dessert drinks to help celebrate chilly winter evenings–and especially fine for your favorite Valentine.

Tia Marta here, with an additional toast, this one to the father of Slow Knowledge, agricultural philosopher/author Wendell Berry.  His “slow knowledge”–yea wisdom–comes with growing one’s own food (or wild-harvesting), watching the near-imperceptable progress played by Nature and Father Time on leafing, flowering, fruiting, fermentation, decay of individual plants, small or tall, in garden, farm, wild desert, forest.  Being present is a key to “slow knowledge,” something sorely missed if one is always absorbed in a device.  Lack of slow knowledge may lead to atrophy of human brain neurons. There is evidence that practicing slow knowledge, being out in Nature, in fact enhances brain function and development, broadens associative thinking, deductive and inductive reasoning, adds serenity, promotes compassion….Hey what’s not to like about it?

We had left our Meyer lemons on the tree past the holidays to fully sweeten up. When frost was predicted, we quick-harvested 52 giant juicy fruits from one little tree! (MABurgess photo)

Meyer lemon does well in a low desert garden. It’s juice is so sweet and even its thin rind is edible!  All parts of Meyer lemon are used in creating limoncello.  Juice and thinly sliced rind all go into the mix to mull. (MABurgess photo)

Time and tequila produced the finest limoncello ever with Meyer lemon!  (MABurgess photo)

I’d like to share four of my favorite ways–four cordials– to celebrate time, with fruits that our Southwest gardens, orchards, and even prickly desert can supply in plenty:  1) Native fan palm “Desert Oasis Cordial” depicted above made with the seedy dates of our ubiquitous Washingtonia filifera (Read more by searching Jan.20, 2015’s post in this blog archive), 2) special Meyer Limoncello, 3) Prickly Pear Cordial, and 4) Colorado Cherry Cordial.  They are really so easy to make with speedy prep-time– a good investment in one’s spare minutes when there is a bumper crop of fruits shouting for attention.

General Cordial Instructions:  In order for all four cordials to “make,” i.e. to sit and mull, you will need a sanitized sealable crock or large canning jar.  Wash and cut your fruits (no need to cut the teensy native palm dates), measure equal quantities of:

a) fruit,

b) spirits (I use good 100% agave tequila or mescal, but vodka also works fine), and

c) a natural sweetener (I use agave nectar but my mother used sugar successfully).

Pack fruit into jars, add sweetener, cover with spirits, seal, and set aside in a cool, dark place for as many weeks or months as possible, checking periodically for progress or problems.

After mulling for months in tequila, the halved prickly pear tunas have lost their bright purple color but have lost none of their great flavor! Mash to free up their juices.

Decant by filtering prickly pear fruit&juice mix, separating fruit, seed, and remaining spines using a masher and coffee filter set in a funnel over a bowl or measuring cup to capture the precious cordial.

Several folded layers of cheesecloth set in a funnel can be used in decanting the prickly pear cordial.

Essentially, with the help of Time, you are making a sweet herbal tincture. Decanting is the next step.  Remember those gorgeous rosey red prickly pear tunas gathered carefully in August?  (Yes, planning ahead is paramount.  Put it on your calendar now for next August.)  At harvest, I washed and removed as many spines as possible, cut them in half, and set them in the canning jar, seeds and all, with the other ingredients.  Now at decanting time I must make sure to filter out all solid parts to clarify the cordial.  Coffee filters or layered cheesecloth resting in a funnel over your catcher-cup or bottle will work perfectly.  After filtering, store your cordial in glass indefinitely–to enjoy on special occasions.

Prickly Pear Cordial sits next to its drought-stressed provider, Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) the winter after a grand August harvest. What gifts these plants provide!  Given rain, they bounce back to give more next year.  (MABurgess)

Colorado Cherry Cordial with delicious “marinated” cherries to be used for topping on ice cream. (MABurgess photo)

You can view native fan palms on the University of Arizona campus, lemon trees at the Tucson Botanical Garden, and Engelmann’s prickly pear close up at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and at Tucson’s Mission Garden.  Find more traditional foods at and  And watch for upcoming City of Gastronomy tours in Tucson beginning in March at Tucson’s Presidio Museum–Stay tuned at

Now a cordial toast to you, dear Savor Blog Follower!  May you delight in these spirited fruits of the desert and delight in the time they take to bring us this cheer!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Real Smut–Good Smut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Huitlacoche, check out the NativeSeedsSEARCH article in SeedHead News by Dr. Melissa Kruse-Peeples at

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

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

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

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

Sweet New Ideas for the honorable old Sweet-lime

Surprisingly aromatic and gracefully sweet despite its continued green, the heirloom Mexican Sweet Lime is ready to harvest at Mission Garden. This ancient and honorable citrus was brought to Tucson by the Padres and is a proven producer in our desert kitchen-gardens and orchards. Note the characteristic “nipple” on the base of the fruit which distinguishes it from other citrus.  (photos by MABurgess)

Boughs are hanging heavy with fruit in the Mission Garden’s living history orchard at the foot of A-Mountain!  With chilly nights at last descending upon us, it is time for all of us in low desert country to harvest citrus for the holidays.  The heirloom SWEET-LIME, brought by Father Kino to the Pimeria Alta more than 3 centuries ago, is a living, lasting gift to us, conserved and propagated now by ethnobotanist Jesus Garcia of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Kino Mission Fruit-tree Project.

Citrus time again in Baja Arizona! I’ve harvested Meyer Lemon, Mexican lime, and tangerine from my trees, and I hope to buy an heirloom sweet-lime from Mission Garden to plant in mi huertita–my mini-orchard.

Tia Marta here, wanting so much to share this amazinging sweet-lime with you–and doggone technology has not caught up with my wish to have you just scratch and sniff it right now!  (When will techno-dudes ever perfect the digital transmission of olfactory joys?).   For the time being you will just have to visit the Community Food Bank booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market, or come in person to visit the Mission Garden any Saturday 10am-2pm (within the adobe wall off S.Grande Ave.  See for directions.)

Mexican sweet-limes –sliced and ready to eat– There is NO puckering up with THESE limes; their gentle sweetness and bouquet will thrill your tastebuds! (And note gladly: the seeds are small and few.)

It’s easy to juice sweet-limes in a manual squeezer.

Ideas for sweet-lime juice:  Amazing what baby-boomers are getting rid of these days.  I found a manual juicer at a yard sale which is perfect for citrus halves and even for sections of pomegranate.

With sweet-lime juice you can wax creative.  For a festive punch, try it mixed with prickly pear juice that you have saved frozen from your August harvest.  Or, for more colorful punches, mix sweet-lime juice with grenadine, or your home-squoze pomegranate juice, or jamaica tea.  It also tastes great with mango.  Another admired Tucson ethnobotanist, Dr Letitia McCune, ( is an expert in cherry nutrition so of course I had to try sweet-lime with tart cherry.  Yum!

Sweet-lime juice and tart cherry punch–a glass full of flavor and colorful cheer for the holidays!

Here are more ideas for sliced or diced sweet-lime fruit:

Sweet-lime, sweet sliced tomato, and rosemary Garni, topped with pine nuts and drizzled with olive oil.

Peeled and diced sweet-lime fruit makes an incomparable aromatic addition to a fruit salad. Here sweet-lime chunks are tossed with sliced red grapes and bananas, dressed with chia seed and agave nectar.

No need to throw away these fragrant sweet-lime rinds! Everything has a use.

Crytallized sweet-lime and tangerine rinds make a marvelous home-made holiday candy.

SWEET-LIME CANDY RECIPE:  For a simple-to-make holiday treat of sweet-lime and other citrus rinds, boil sweet-lime rinds for 5-10 minutes to denature some bitter oils, drain completely, add equivalent amount of organic sugar (i.e. if you have 2 cups of sliced rinds then add 2 cups of sugar).  Do not add ANY liquid.  In saucepan, cook on medium heat until a thick syrup forms (at the hard-ball stage).  With tongs, remove each syrup-coated slice and place to dry and harden on a cookie sheet or waxed paper.  Each will crystallize into a crunchy piece of aromatic candy to excite both the youthful and mature palette.

AN EVEN BETTER SERVING SUGGESTION:  (Ah-hah!–You have already thought of this!)  “Enhance” your punch into a fabulous SWEET-LIME MARGARITA by adding a jigger of your favorite local Bacanora, Sotol or mescal spirits to your sweet-lime punch.  Then pow!!–taste that “nutrition”!  If you happen to add prickly pear juice, you even have a built-in hangover helper.  Happiest holiday wishes to all!  Wassail wassail as we hail the heirlooms!

(All photos by the author, copyright 2017)

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

So Many Pumpkins…So Little Time!

Tohono O’odham Ha:l “TO pumpkin” –a striped cushaw winter squashes with their corky peduncle attachments–and bright orange Tarahumara pumpkins (a NativeSeeds/SEARCH harvest) MABurgess photo

Pumpkin-bashing may be fantastic sport after Halloween, and indeed it can create great compost with the right follow-through, but I’m in the camp of those waste-not-want-not folks who enjoy pumpkins and squashes for their wholesome flavors and vibrant nutrition (not to mention their esthetic colors and sculptural forms–see last month’s post).  Tia Marta here, delighting in the diversity of our Southwestern heirloom pumpkins and sharing some diverse ways to enjoy them.

An assortment of Dineh Hubbard-type pumpkins from a Navajo community in northeastern Arizona (MABurgess photo)

The so-called “Magdalena Big Cheese squash” from Sonora, shaped like an ancestral jackolantern, has a glorious color inside and great flavor, here pictured at Mission Garden grown from NativeSeeds/SEARCH seed. (MABurgess photo)

Pumpkins are easy and fun to grow over the summer if you have a nice sunny space where the vines can sprawl, a little plot of good deep soil for the roots, and consistent water.

[Do you think that the word squash has a bad rap?  You’ll notice that I prefer to use the word pumpkin for many of the squash group within the Cucurbit family that mature with a harder shell and an be saved for longer periods.]  Pumpkins can actually take many forms–not just the carve-able Halloween type.  I think of squash as the early, thin-skinned stage of several different pumpkin relatives in the Cucurbitaceae family.  There are four different species of pumpkins that Southwestern Native People have created into a diversity of successfully adapted crops over the centuries.  You can plant seed of all 4 species in one garden as they will not easily cross-pollinate.   Dig into the NativeSeeds/SEARCH website to explore the wide realm of Southwest indigenous squashes.

Three different pumpkin lineages–the light green “Mayo Blusher”(Cucurbita maxima), the striped “TO ha:l” (C. argyrosperma), and golden-orange “Magdalena Big Cheese” (C.moschata). Surprisingly, they can all be grown together and remain pure because the different species will not easily cross.

Now for the fun of “internalizing” these colorful and nutritious foods–  Look what happens when you open one up!

Rich orange betacarotenes of Mayo Blusher pumpkin can brighten many a meal– and a nutrition panel!  After de-seeding you can roast a half pumpkin turned open-side-down in the oven or solar oven.  Served with melted butter, there isn’t anything finer nor simpler to prepare!  (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham teacher and mentor Juanita Ahil told how, when she was young, her family would take a whole TO ha:l on long trips in their wagon.  When they rested the horses they’d make a fire, roast the ha:l whole on the coals, and when done cut and serve chunks in the shell communally with the family.  That was dinner–easy, packable, nutritious, sumptuous, no mess to clean up, just toss the shell.

Winter Pumpkin stir-fry–Skin and dice fresh Mayo Blusher (or any hefty heirloom winter squash) into chunks to stir-fry with onion or garlic. Enjoy as is, or add herbs and other veggies as desired. Don’t be hesitant to even try adding curry to this stir-fry for a healthy pizzaz.  Yum!  (MABurgess photo)

A delectable one-dish meal with stir-fry pumpkin:  Mayo Blusher turkey-skillet–the perfect way to use turkey left-overs!  You can use TO Ha:l, Magdalena Big Cheese, Dineh pumpkin, or any other winter squash (or other meats). to achieve flavor-filled variations on this wonderful dish. (MABurgess photo)

Carrying the stir-fry of heirloom pumpkin to the next level, try it in a stir-fry one-dish meal with meat.  Here I have sautéed ground turkey before adding it to the Mayo Blusher and onion stir-fry.  Add fresh diced green peppers or diced I’itoi’s onions for color and flavor–or if you have a picante palate, dice a jalapeño into the entire dish, gradually testing it to your own level of “heat.”  This is an innovative use of left-over turkey a few days after Thanksgiving.

With roasted or steamed Mayo Blusher (or other pumpkin heirloom) you can make a slightly sweet dish pleasing to a younger palate.  Add agave nectar to taste, pine nuts and/or pumpkin seeds to add crunchy texture.  (MABurgess photo)

After steaming or roasting your pumpkin (here I”ve used Mayo Blusher again as we had a bumper crop), add 1 cup of mashed pumpkin as a substitute for the wet ingredients in any coffeecake recipe. It will add flavor, color, and nutrition.  (MABurgess photo)

Many hard-shelled winter squashes/pumpkins have the helpful attribute of storability without refrigeration.  I kept a whole Tohono O’odham Ha:l in the shade of my back porch all winter long until March when I cooked it up.  Its weight was getting lighter but it had lost no flavor!  Steamed or roasted pumpkin leftovers can be stored frozen ready for quick defrosting, a more effective use of space than storing whole pumpkins.

Shiny Mayo Blusher (Cucurbita maxima)  seeds washed, dried, ready to save for planting–or to roast as a healthy snack

Tohono O’odham Ha:l seed saved from a pumpkin, cleaned & saved for summer planting or winter snacking

Honoring those ancient Southwestern farmers through the ages (and those who still grow traditional squashes and pumpkins), let’s rejoice in their agricultural creativity and plant a seed next summer.  Meanwhile, with heirlooms from farmers’ markets, we can reap the benefits of their beautiful culinary contributions.  Enjoy a pumpkin served in new and delightful ways this holiday season!




Categories: Cooking, Gardening, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An ARTISTIC Harvest of Desert Foods

Living sculptures and a study in color–the fall harvest at Mission Garden, Tucson–Tohono O’odham Ha:l,   NSS Mayo Blusher, Magdalena Big Cheese pumpkin, membrillo fruit, T.O 60-day corn and chapalote corn (MissionGarden photo)

You salivate.  Or you catch your breath with it’s beauty!  Maybe the trigger is your taste-buds’ association with the truly GOOD foods from our Sonoran Desert… Or maybe the esthetic forms and colors of these foods clobber an “appreciation center” in our soul… We don’t even have to taste them–We react!

In Georgia O’Keefe-style, up close and intimate with heirloom beans–“Boyd’s Beauties” original watercolor by MABurgess

Shapely Dine Cushaw –a big-as-life watercolor by MA Burgess

For me,  just one look at a harvest of desert crops makes me want to PAINT it!  Over the years I’ve grown out many seeds for NativeSeeds/SEARCH (that admirable Southwest seed-conservation group saving our precious food-DNA for the future).  With each harvest–before I extract the seeds or eat the wonderful fruit–I’m always blown away by the sheer colors, patterns, sensuousness, or sculptural shape that each seedhead, each pumpkin, each pod, kernel, or juicy berry displays.  And the kicker is–they are oh-so-transient!  I am compelled to document each, capturing its esthetic essence pronto before it proceeds to its higher purpose, gastronomic and nutritional.

Tia Marta here, inviting you to come see some of my artistic creations depicting glorious desert foods and traditional cultural landscapes.   Next weekend–Saturday and Sunday, October 21-22, is Tucson’s WestSide ArtTrails OPEN STUDIO event!  You can see artworks in action (along with some inspiring fruits of the desert that inspire the art).  Check out and click on the artist’s name (Martha Burgess) for directions.  Join us 10am-4pm either day.

Velvet Mesquite’s Lasting Impressions–Imbedded handmade paper sculpture by MABurgess

In addition, at our OPEN STUDIO TOUR you will see a retrospective of Virginia Ames’ lifetime of diverse creative arts, including pastels, needlework, collographs and silkscreen, with her own interpretations of traditional foods and food-plants.

Tohono O’odham Autumn Harvest–large-scale watercolor by Virginia Ames

Cover of new children’s adventure picture-book of the Sonoran Desert Borderlands (in 3 languages); by Virginia Ames, illustrated by Frank S. Rose, and edited by Martha Burgess

Her children’s book about the saguaro in the Sonoran Desert Borderlands, entitled Bo and the Fly-away Kite will be available too.  It is illustrated by Tucson artist, plant aficionado and author Frank S. Rose, with the illustrator in person 1:30-4pm to sign copies and discuss desert plants.

Nature photography by J.Rod Mondt (WildDesertPhotography) will enhance our exhibit with his wildlife images, especially featuring our precious pollinators.

Honeybee heavy with pollen–photo by JRod Mondt

And only at the OPEN STUDIO of Martha Burgess, October 21 or 22 can you try tastes of the Native foods that you see in our artwork (from recipes you may find in earlier posts of this very blog).

Find more samples of our artwork at our website, also at Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop and at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson).  “NOW PLAYING” at the Tucson Jewish Community Center is an exhibit by the group of diverse WestSide artists–among them yours truly Tia Marta.  The public is invited to the reception at TJCC on Wednesday Oct.18, 6:30-8pm.  Virginia Wade Ames’ books can be found on searching by author.

Add to your fall-fun calendar:   Friday and Saturday, Oct.27-28–not to be missed- the wild and festive Chiles, Chocolate, and Day of the Dead celebration at Tohono Chul Park, 9-4 both days.  Flor de Mayo’s Native heirloom foods will be arrayed deliciously and artistically there for purchase.

Now–with 3 art events featuring my desert food images– first check out for details of our upcoming Open Studio Tour Oct 21-22, click on “Artists” and scroll to Martha Burgess for directions.  It will be truly a feast-for-the-eyes, a visual harvest a-plenty.  We’ll see you there!

Categories: Sonoran Native, SW foods in the Arts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blessed Monsoon Weeds!

Yikes–look what has happened all around us!

Verdulagas — purslane — exploding in the garden. (photo by ChadBorseth, NativeSeedsSEARCH store mgr.)

With our recent record-breaking rainfall in Baja Arizona, weeds continue to go rampant. Now, what to do with them? Tah-dah–Eat them before they eat up all your garden space!

Tia Marta here—admitting I actually don’t believe in weeds at all—Weeds are gifts to be used, relished gastronomically and nutritionally, admired as amazing strategists,… appreciated!  Weeds are much-maligned plants with a different way of surviving than our regular “garden variety” plant.  They know genetically how to hustle to “make hay while the sun shines.”  So if you need to deal with a bounty of weeds coming on like gang-busters in your garden or nearby in the desert, I’d like to share some fun ways to consume and internalize them.  If we are what we eat, perhaps their “energies” may be a form of speed on some ethereal plane.

Fresh young quelites  (Amaranthus palmeri), aka pigweed and carelessweed, popping up with summer rains–ready to pick!  (MABurgess photo)

Quelite, weed of many names– careless weed, pigweed, Amaranthus palmeri, known as “rain spinach” or Juhukia i:wagi to the Tohono O’odham–is popping up in great green swaths wherever rainwater has pooled. It grows faster than one can imagine. The scourge of cotton farmers, it is, on the flip side, a positive boon to traditional harvesters—Native, Hispanic, African or Asian. As climate change digs its teeth into desert environments, our native Amaranth “weed” holds great potential as a rapid-responder “dry-land” crop for the future.

When flower stalks of Amaranthus palmeri emerge, leaves toughen. Be sure to harvest only the tender leaves. (MABurgess photo)

Mature, drying Amaranthus palmeri image taken at Mission Garden. The seedhead is spiny but contains nutritious seeds! (MABurgess photo)

The nutrition of Amaranth, our rain spinach, is way up at the top of the chart. Consider that 100g of young shoots provides 42 calories packed with 3-4 grams of protein, 3mg iron, and 4-11 mg of available calcium.

If your Amaranth patch matures faster than your harvesting schedule allows, don’t fret–all is not lost. As long as there are soft, non-fibrous leaves to pick, they are fair game for steaming or stir-frying as greens or quelites. Later, when the arching spike of spiny seed capsules matures and dries, you can harvest seeds (carefully with gloves) and winnow the tiny grains in the breeze. THEY are fabulously nutritious too. Amaranth seed is 15-18% protein—far higher than most cereals. They can be cooked as hot cereal or ground into flour– full of healthy, gluten-free carbs and fiber. Amaranth weed seed baked into bread adds a pleasing and healthy crunch. If you want quantity and lack patience to harvest wild carelessweed, the NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, has grain-amaranth for cooking or milling, also popped amaranth for adding to baked goods or confections for Dia de Los Muertos. [More to come on that topic in early November.]

Caution:  Here’s a trick plant that may look like Amaranth but it is a perennial that leafs out with summer rains, especially in the Tucson Mtns area–Ambrosia cordifolia–not good for eating–better for soil stabilization. (MABurgess photo)

Delicious and healthy grain amaranth and popped amaranth, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store for cooking.

Another “weed” that is probably at this very minute creating mats of green in your garden is verdulaga. Traditional Tohono O’odham know it as ku’ukpulk, and some gardeners refer to the same puffy-leafed ground-sprawler as purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It can be added fresh to any salad for a juicy, succulent texture and tang. And check the nutrients, especially if your body needs available calcium. Every 100g (a little less than ½ cup) of verdulagas provides 0.3mg iron, 19mg calcium, high omega-3-fatty acids and lots of vitamins A&C. Rinse your verdulagas in a bowl of water, then toss the water back in the garden where the many teensy seeds that have dropped to the bottom can go for a “second round.”

Caution:  Another “trick plant” is this purslane- look-alike called “horse purslane”-Trianthema portulacastrum. It will taste a little soapy if you try it. (MABurgess photo)

Picked and washed true verdulaga/purslane, ready to make into pesto (MABurgess photo)

Here is an idea for Monsoon Pesto made with tasty weeds! Pestos of course can be made with almost any greens—e.g. with kale in the winter—so why not use what Nature provides locally and now?  Both amaranth or verdulaga can be used in your favorite pesto recipe for a healthy and tasty Southwest vacation from basil. [A word of caution: If you harvest from the wild, be sure to collect at least 50 feet from a roadway, or upstream from any road along an arroyo. Know your plants when harvesting!]



2+ cups well-packed, fresh, washed Amaranth or Purslane greens
2-3 cloves heirloom garlic
¼ cup pinyones shelled (pine nuts), or any other fresh nutmeats, or soft seeds such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2/3 cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or ancient Utah salt, and ground pepper, to taste (all optional)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

In a food processor, combine wild weed greens (Amaranth or verdulaga), garlic, and pinyones, and process on the  “pulse” setting until finely chopped.
With processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the texture is smooth and fine.
Add the cheese and pulse briefly just to combine ingredients.
Taste, then season with salt and pepper as needed. (It may not need any.) Give one last pulse after seasoning.
(Pesto can be stored in frig or freezer.)
Serve on crackers with cream-cheese, in pasta, on pizza made with local white Sonora wheat flour for another local twist, or simply spread on good bread for a fantastic snack, as seen below!

Monsoon Weed Pestos–The top row is Purslane Pesto with Pine Nuts. The darker green is “Pigweed & Pepita Pesto” made with pumpkin seeds–(here served on harvest seed bread squares)–Both Weed Pestos are SO delicious (MABurgess photo)

As you taste either of these nutritious weed pestos with eyes closed, you can SAVOR the wild Southwest bouncing back into its burgeoning monsoon mode and relish the desert’s rhythms. This is Tia Marta’s wish for you– Happy weeding and eating your way through monsoon season!

Amaranthus palmeri seedheads growing too tall for a selfie –but soon ready to harvest for seed

(You can read about Winter/Spring Weeds in my blog from February 14, 2014. Interestingly, the weeds that flourish with our Sonoran Desert summer rains in the heat are totally different from the species that sprout in winter with cool/wet conditions here. The metabolism of winter vs. summer weeds involves totally different biochemical strategies—tho’ they are all similarly nutritious.)



Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsoon Mesquite Bosque Butter

Mature pods of velvet mesquite–ready for monsoon planting  or eating!  (JRMondt photo)

Tia Marta’s 12’x12″ pod net, slit into center on an imaginary radius to wrap around trunk and over understory plants, edged with duct tape on non-selvedge sides (MABurgess photos)

Mesquite pods shaken from tree onto harvesting net

I finished the split center edges of my pod-harvesting net with hems in which to optionally insert saguaro ribs or PVCpipe for easy set-up around a mesquite tree trunk

This past week, at the last hurrah before these wonderful monsoonal rains began, Tia Marta here was out with my handy dandy self-invented pod-harvesting net to bring in some of our Sonoran Desert’s bounty–just in time to avoid the aflatoxin hazard which comes with higher humidity.

Some velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) have a rich raspberry color–Wish you could taste this one–We compete with the wildlife for them. (MABurgess photo)

Plump pods of sweet velvet mesquite, full of pulp for making Bosque Butter. Every tree’s pods have different shapes and tastes.  Be choosy!–collect from the trees with the plumpest and sweetest pods. (MABurgess photo)









Mesquite orchardist, miller of primo mesquite flour, died June3, 2017


With a song of thanks for this desert super-food–and with thankful recollections of some amazing mesquite aficionados–I would like to share one of my favorite mesquite recipes.  This post about mesquite is a tribute to the “gotmesquite guy” Mark Moody who recently passed, and whose fabulous mesquite flour via farmers’ markets and NativeSeeds/SEARCH has fed many a happy desert-foods buff over the years.  (Check out my piece in the online EdibleBajaArizona for more about Mark.)

Mesquite “Bosque Butter” and “Bosque Sauce” a la Tia Marta

This delectable recipe for Mesquite Bosque (pronounced boss’kay) Butter was inspired by a crack team of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Docents in the 1970s -80s who assisted in our first Mesquite Harvesting Workshops, possibly the first ever done in English.  In particular I’m honoring the memories of docents Mike and Jean Mentus, Gerry Dennison, and Linda Stillman, who helped me invent this condiment and teach Museum members about it.

This recipe uses the whole dry pods freshly harvested–not milled meal (although you could enhance it with extra mesquite meal if you desire.)


You will need:  3 bowls(2 for straining, 1 for compostable fiber), 2 stirring spoons, tasting spoon, 1-2 colanders, 1 lg. saucepan for stovetop or solar oven, cheesecloth, electric mixer with pulse setting (Your grandmother’s osterizer is fine.)


Approx. 2 qts mesquite pods, clean, mature, dry (preferably fresh off the tree)

Approx. 1 quart drinking water

2 pk sure-jell (or other fruit pectin, ca.3.5oz.)

¼ C sugar (or honey optional) [Sugar helps set the gel.]

½ C raw organic agave nectar

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 T butter (optional)

juice of 4 Mexican limes (or 2 lemons)

Washed pods, covered with drinking water, set in solar oven to cook (MABurgess photo)


 1) Rinse mesquite pods until thoroughly clean of desert dust, and drain them.

2) Place pods in large saucepan with enough drinking water to cover. Add more water if 1qt is not enough to cover pods.

3) Simmer pods 30-40 minutes until fully softened. Softening time differs with dryness of pods.

4) Water will be sweet.  Through a colander over a bowl, drain pods, reserving ALL the liquid.

Cooked pods and reserved liquid being blendered

Check bottom of blender to remove all fiber from blade with each handful

Cooked, blendered pods draining thru cheesecloth in colander

5) In blender, whirl softened pods–handful by handful, each handful with ¼ cup of the reserved liquid– with gentle pulses, 8-10 short pulses max for each handful of pods.

6) Into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl, hand-remove the entire loosened juice, pulp, seed, and fiber mass after each handful.  Check blender blades each time to prevent burnout of motor, as pod fibers can easily bind up the works!

7) In the colander over the bowl, drain as much of the blendered pulpy liquid from the fiber as possible, pressing, squeezing, twisting it out with cheesecloth.  You might extract more if you squeeze the cheesecloth after each handful is poured from the blender.

Squeezing cooked, blendered pods thru cheesecloth to extract pulpy liquid

After adding all other ingredients,, boil the sweet pulpy liquid

8) Transfer the strained pulpy liquid to a saucepan.  Bring it to a boil.  Add lime/lemon juice, sugar, agave nectar, cinnamon, pectin, and butter, stirring all in smoothly.

9) The liquid mixture must be cooked down to concentrate it.  Simmer 30-45 minutes to desired texture or thickness.

10) Funnel the mixture into jars.  Cool down; refrigerate when cool.

If it thickens it will be a delicious spread–like apple-butter.  If it does not gel it will be a fabulous mesquite syrup or sauce over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream!  If your mix has more liquid than pulp, when it thickens it can even be served as a very rich yummy pudding.

Mesquite Bosque Butter on buckwheat pancake–delish!

However it comes out, you will be enjoying the health benefits of mesquite’s complex carbohydrates and its unforgettable sweet and natural taste!  (Don’t forget to compost the leftover seeds and fiber—good nutrients for soil building.  Or, feed it to the birds in your “back forty.”)

Plan NOW and prep for future mesquite harvests!  Why not plant you own trees and enjoy their shade, their life-giving oxygen–and their nutritious food!  In the coolth of morning start digging a tree hole where you want future shade.  Monsoon time is a good time to plant, and there are Monsoon Plant Sales happening right now.  Three mesquite species are native to our Southwest region:  Velvet (Prosopis velutina), Honey mesquite (P. glandulosa), and Screwbean mesquite (P.pubescens).  All three make fabulous pod meal but the best for Bosque Butter are Velvet and Honey, as their pods can be plump and full of high-carb pulp.  For the most local varieties of mesquite visit Desert Survivors Nursery (   The Tohono Chul Park’s Monsoon Madness Plant Sale Friday-Saturday, July 28-29, 2017, will have several expert local growers represented (  NativeSeeds/SEARCH has mesquite meal in stock and expects the most recent local harvest to be available soon.  (NSS’s Monsoon Plant Sale is Fri-Sun, July 28-30, for monsoon gardening plants,

Happy harvesting–happy tree-planting–y buen provecho! de Tia Marta.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Solstice Celebrated with Saguaros

On Summer Solstice morning, a white-wing dove coos to the saguaro fruit to hasten its ripening, and takes its first taste. When red fruit opens, doves will dip in for a luscious meal and come up with red heads!  (photo JRMondt)

Have you seen it yet?–the rare red-headed white-wing dove of the desert?  “Red-headed Ok’ko-koi” is only around for a short while during the bahidaj.  He is the herald of saguaro fruit harvesting season.

These longest days of the year (and the hottest!!) are the Sonoran Desert New Year of the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People. It is the beginning of “action time” in the desert, tho’ it may look blistered and dead from inside an air-conditioned space.  Lots is happening.  Listen to sounds of quail and dove at dawn; watch scurrying lizards at noon; sense bats at night.  Desert life out there is pollinating flowers and dispersing seed in prep for monsoon moisture.

Fallen bahidaj on the rocks will be critter food.  For people, catch it before it falls. (MABurgess)

Tia Marta here to share ideas about the giant saguaro’s gifts of good food to its fellow desert helpers.  With San Juan’s Day celebrated June 24, I pause to also acknowledge the birthday of my dear friend and mentor, Juanita Ahil, who first led me into the desert on an early June morning to introduce me to some amazing desert treats, discussed in this post.

Pick the fruits that show a blush of rosy red on the top.  (MABurgess photo)

A saguaro fruit, opened with its sharp “pizza-cutter” calyx, is filled with sweet raspberry-red pulp and crunchy black seeds. (MABurgess photo)


Juanita would scoop out the nutritious pulp from thick fruit rinds–with thanks and blessings.  We’d take several juicy bites before filling buckets of bahidaj to make syrup.

Juanita would add water to the pulpy fruit to loosen the mass, then strain out seeds before concentrating the sweet water to syrup. (MABurgess photo)




Over her open fire, she would stir a pot full of fruit and water until the water turned red, then strain the mass through a basket-sieve, saving the seed for other purposes. (See blog-sister Carolyn Niethammer’s post on “Black Beauty Wafers” of saguaro seed.)  After sieving, it was the long process of boiling down the sweet water to a dark syrup–like making maple syrup.  Don’t be surprised if you see Bahidaj Sitol selling for what looks like exorbitant prices; consider the time it takes to make!  Juanita would contribute a share of her hard-produced syrup to her Tohono O’odham Community for fermenting into wine for the rain-ceremony, with prayers for the desert’s rebirth.  Surplus syrup was so concentrated, it could be kept unrefrigerated, carrying summer’s sweetness into the winter.

Here are some delectable ideas for cool, super-simple desserts with saguaro syrup:


Muff’s “Sonoran Melba” topped with pine nuts and chia seed (JRMondt photo)


Over a serving of vanilla or vanilla-bean ice cream, pour 1-3 tsp pure saguaro syrup (bahidaj sitol).  It doesn’t take much, as it is so rich!  Sprinkle top with 1/2 tsp chia seed and 1 Tbsp of pine nuts (shelled).   Taste and go nuts in ecstasy!

Rod’s “Saguaro Split”–topped with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts (JRMondt photo)

Recipe for Rod’s SAGUARO SPLIT:

Divide a half banana in half longitudinally. Serve a big scoop of ice cream in between–any flavor– like chocolate chip or French vanilla.  Top with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts of choice.  [Here the “lily is guilded” for sure.  Who needs a cherry on top when you have the rare treat of saguaro syrup?!]

Setting out fresh bahidaj pulp to dry on wax paper. (MABurgess)

Try dehydrating saguaro fruit in a solar oven with the lid partially open to allow moisture to escape. It doesn’t take long. Note the rock holding the oven cover open.(MABurgess photo)

I also love to make chuñ–the dried bahidaj fruit which you can sometimes find hanging on the branches of a palo verde, the nurse tree next to the saguaro where fruit has fallen.  Scoop out the pulp from its rind, place blobs on wax paper, dry them outside under a screen or in your solar oven.  Eat and enjoy chuñ as a totally healthy snack; it is high in complex, slowly-digested sugars, vegetable protein and healthy oils in the seeds.   Or, get creative with chuñ–as in the following recipe:




Sweet chun dried in the sun is even better than figs! (BTW–Now– in the dry heat of Solstice-time before the monsoons–is prime time to harvest mesquite pods too!  Check out desert for more info.)  (MABurgess photo)

Recipe for Tia Marta’s JUNE CHUÑ healthy fruit salad:

1/2-3/4 cup diced apple (approx 1 small apple diced)

1/2 cup organic red grapes cut in half

3 Tbsp dried cherries, cranberries, or chopped dried apricots

1/2-2/3 cup organic plain lowfat yogurt

1-2 tsp agave nectar (optional, to taste)

1/4 cup chopped dried bahidaj chuñ

Mix all ingredients except chuñ ahead and chill.  Sprinkle some little chuñ chunks on each serving as topping. Serves 2 or 3.  This is fancy and sweet enough to be used as a dessert. Enjoy the natural complex carbs, sweet nutrition, and delightful crunch!

Cool “JUNE CHUN”–a fruity and crunchy salad or dessert (MABurgess)

So, Happy Desert New Year!  And happy harvesting in the coolth of early summer mornings, rejoicing in the gifts saguaro gives to its fellow desert-dwellers–from the white-wing doves and ants to us two-leggeds!

[If you are beyond the Sonoran Desert and want to try some of these desert delicacies, you can contact (website of Tohono O’odham Community Action, Sells, AZ) or (NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ; or 520-622-5561) to order them.  Many other traditional desert foods are available at]

Braving the heat, inviting the monsoons and prepping for summer planting, NativeSeeds/SEARCH will be celebrating San Juan’s Day at the NSS Conservation Farm in Patagonia, AZ, this Saturday, June 24, 2017, 11am-3pm.  Bring a dish for the pot luck and a spray-bottle of water for blessings.  For info call 520-622-0830.


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

Ornamental Medicinals for Desert Landscaping

Goodding’s verbena makes an attractive mound of orchid and lavender flowers spring into summer.  What’s more it can make a gentle, delectable and calming tea.  Need mellowing out?  Try Verbena gooddinggii!  (MABurgess photo)

With the excitement of our Tucson Festival of Books and many upcoming plant sales, I was motivated to use some of our Baja Arizona herbalist authors as inspiration for desert landscaping.  Tia Marta here encouraging you to check out Michael Moore’s, John Slattery’s, and Charles Kane’s books on medicinal plant uses for great ideas and good instruction.  My personal challenge has been to create seasonal color in the garden with plants that I know I might use also as herbal remedies.

Find Michael Moore’s must-have handbook Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Larrea tridentata–known as She:gi by the Tohono O’odham is “our desert drugstore.” Should you find it on your land, protect it, cherish it, and use it.(MABurgess photo)

Watch for announcements of plant sales at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul Park, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, and Desert Survivors to find beautiful ornamentals which also give healing or soothing, stimulation or protection.





Desert chia–“da:pk” in Tohono O’odham–Salvia columbariae–should be planted as seed in the fall for a spring harvest of seed that helps balance blood sugar and has high omega-3 fatty acid. (MABurgess photo)

Also to be planted as seed in the fall for a spring show is Mexican gold poppy. Its effect as a calmer/mellower has been known to traditional people for centuries. (MABurgess photo)

A hedge of prickly pear, especially this Persian orange-flowered Opuntia lindheimeri, can give you tasty “remedies” from blood-sugar-balancing nopales (see the new growth in the photo), herbal tea from the flowers, and high calcium from both young pads and fruits in late summer. (MABurgess photo)

No desert garden is complete without cholla! Cylindropuntia versicolor‘s (Staghorn’s; ciolim) colors are dazzling; its prepared buds balance blood sugar and give enormous amounts of available calcium helpful in prevention of osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)


Late spring will bring a pink and lavender show of flowers to desert willow (“ann” in O’odham). The beautiful tree in this photo is in the landscape of the new Tohono O’odham Community College campus. All parts of Ahn have been used traditionally as an effective anti-fungal. (MABurgess photo)

Flowers of Ahn (Chilopsis linearis) are a visual as well as an herbal gift. Check out herbal books for guidance how it was traditionally used. (MABurgess photo)

With monsoon rains come the bright yellow flowers of Tecoma stans (“tronadora” in Spanish) making a sensational landscape splash. It also doubles as an important remedy for certain types of diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

A perennial to be planted as a tuber in the fall is the wild rhubarb (hiwidchuls in O’odham)( For more about this one, see last month’s blog post). Its tuber has important astringent properties.(MABurgess photo)

At summer’s end your garden will be punctuated with bright Chiltepin peppers! You–and your wild birds–will prosper with picante delights full of vitamin C and A. In addition, you can use them in a topical salve to soothe the anguish of shingles or muscle-sore. (MABurgess photo)

All through the year a Baja Arizona desert garden can give dramatic color as well as special healing gifts that have been know to Desert People since time immemorial.  You can see examples of these native desert plants growing at the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden (foot of A-Mountain in Tucson, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and at Tohono Chul Park.  Stay tuned for more about Mission Garden’s Michael Moore Medicinal Plant Garden to be planted this year.

Tis the season now to see a show of spring medicinals in nature as well as in town.  Here’s hoping you can get out in this lovely weather to see the desert explode with its colorful herbal gifts!

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