What Foods Can You Discover in Your Backyard?


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A velvet mesquite tree.Photo by Renee Benoit

This desert surprises me on almost a daily basis. I originally came from a rainy climate where the soil was fertile, maybe the most fertile in the country (Iowa. I can brag!) Everything seemed to grow on its own. For a gardener it’s a heavenly place and I didn’t fully appreciate until I moved to a Mediterranean climate where the soil was not so heavenly or easily coaxed into growing things. For one thing, I had to irrigate to get things to grow. But that’s OK. Each place has its own attributes. Each have their own pros and cons. This place has turned out better than we thought.

For one thing the climate is not terribly hot and after a mild dry spring with only 2 weeks of unusual heat we’re now enjoying what is known as the Monsoon Season. It rains nearly every day, and it feels much like it feels in Iowa. The native plants and animals aren’t similar though. I’ve written about yucca and what can be done with those. Another plant – a tree – has turned out to be much more useful than I ever thought possible. I’m talking about the Mesquite tree.

The indigenous peoples in the southwestern United States used the mesquite tree for everything. They used it for food, medicine as well as a source for making implements such as bows, arrows, and sewing needles. They ground the dried seed pods into flour using a stone mortar and pestle, mixed that protein-rich gluten free flour with water, formed it into a cake and baked it in clay ovens. It was probably pretty bland because they didn’t have our modern seasonings, but they were used to it and most likely thought it delicious. They also made mush out of it or mixed it with a lot of water for a nourishing drink.

I did a little research and found that there are six species of mesquite trees native to the United States, from Southern California to Texas and from the Mexican border as far north as Oklahoma. Around here where I live the most common varieties are the velvet mesquite and honey mesquite. We have velvet mesquite on our property.

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