Showing posts with label Arid/Dry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arid/Dry. Show all posts


Scientific Name(s): Mahonia trifoliolata
Abundance: common
What: Berries
How: raw, cooked, jam, jelly, wine, syrup, roast seeds for coffee
Where: Hill Country, dry grasslands
When: Spring
Nutritional Value: Vit. C

Medicinal Summary:
Leaves - anti-nausea (tisane, tincture, chewed)
Root/Wood - antimicrobial; antiviral; antidiarrheal, immortality (tincture, oxymel)

Leaf Arrangement: The compound, trifoliate leaves are alternate along the stems.

Leaf Shape: Mahonia trifoliolata leaves are compound, typically with three leaflets.

Leaf Venation: The leaflet venation is pinnate.

Leaf Margin: The leaf margin is serrated  to almost lobed with sharp, stiff points.

Leaf Color: The leaves are usually green, and there might be variations in color on the top and underside. Veins are a lighter gray or milky in color.

Flower Structure: The flowers are arranged in clusters and have a bell-like shape. The diameter of an individual flower is typically around 1/2 inch (1.27 cm). The flowers smell like honey.

Flower Color: Mahonia trifoliolata flowers are yellow.

Fruit: The fruit is a red, football-shaped, berry-like drupe.

Seed: Seeds are small, usually contained within the berries.

Bark: The bark is grayish-brown and may be rough. Inner wood is yellow.

Hairs: Some parts of the plant, such as the undersides of leaves or stems, may have fine hairs.

Height: Mahonia trifoliolata can reach heights of 3 to 8 feet (0.9 to 2.4 meters) depending on environmental conditions.

Agarita shrub.

Agarita flower buds (picture taken in February in the Hill Country).

Open agarita flowers (picture taken in February in the Hill Country).

Closeup of ripe and almost ripe agarita berries.

Closeup of agarita leaf.

The inner wood of agaritas is a deep yellow color due to the medicinal compound berberine.

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The evergreen agarita is a common 2’-6’ shrub found across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Its unusual, three-part leaves are grey-green, very stiff and pointy so harvesting their fruit can be a bit painful. The yellow flowers appear in late winter followed by red, edible fruit in the spring. Agaritas prefer dry areas with well-drained and somewhat alkaline soil along with full sun to partial shade. The shrubs usually gather around mesquite and other small trees. I haven't seen any out standing alone.

In Spring agarita shrubs are loaded with small, bright red berries. These sweet, slightly tart berries can be eaten raw or cooked in any manner one would prepare any berry such as jam, jelly, or wine. The juice from these berries has a pleasingly complex sweet and sour flavor. The small seeds can be roasted then ground for a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Agaritas have multiple medicinal uses. The leaves can be chewed fresh or dried to help relieve nausea, especial that accompanying hangovers and motion sickness. A tea made from dried leaves will also offer relief. The yellow wood of the roots contain anti-bacterial and anti-viral compound berberine along with bitter components to help with digestion and other stomach issues such as diarrhea. The root wood is usually finely shaved and then made into a tincture with vodka.

Berberine may inhibit the shortening of chromosomal telomeres during cellular replication, which in turn prevents the physical aspects of aging. For this reason, I've started including it in my Immortality Elixir


Scientific Name(s): Agave spp.
Abundance: rare
What: flowers, stalks, leaves, body/root, sap
How: flowers are cooked; flower stalks are roasted; sap is fermented (woo hoo!); leaves are cooked; body/root is slow roasted.
Where: dry areas, landscaping
When: all year
Nutritional Value: Calories
Dangers: Raw agave juice can cause long-lasting burns to skin, eyes, and other sensitive tissues. Be careful when cutting this plant so as not to splatter this juice on you. These plants also contain large quantities of saponins (soap).

Medicinal Summary:
Leaf Pulp - antibacterial; anti-inflammatory; wound-healing (poultice)

Leaf Arrangement: Rosette formation, with leaves emerging from a central point at the plant’s base.

Leaf Shape: Lanceolate, thick, and fleshy, typically ranging from 2 to 6 feet in length.

Leaf Venation: Leaves display parallel venation, typical of monocots.

Leaf Margin: Margins are often armed with sharp spines or teeth.

Leaf Color: Varies from green to blue-green, sometimes with variegation or lighter markings.

Flower Structure: Produces a tall, branched inflorescence, with numerous small flowers on each branch; the flowering stalk can be up to 30 feet tall.

Flower Color: The flowers are usually yellow or white, depending on the species.

Fruit: The fruit is a capsule or occasionally a berry, containing black or brown seeds.

Seed: Seeds are flat, black, and oval, varying in size but generally small.

Stem: The stem is short and thick, primarily serving as the base for the leaf rosette; elongates significantly when flowering.

Hairs: Leaves are generally smooth, without significant hair presence.

Height: Leaf rosettes typically reach 2 to 5 feet in height, with flower stalks growing up to 30 feet during blooming.



Agave flower stalk.

Texas Distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American Distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Looking like a cross between a cactus and a squid, slow-growing agave plants are found wild the arid Southwest but also as a decorative landscaping plant all over Texas and the South. Mature agave can stretch up to 16’ across and send flower stalks 10’ or more into the sky.

Agave plants are a regular smorgasbord of food, though all parts of the plant except for the sap must be cooked in some manner to make them sweet and destroy their bitter-tasting saponins. Unlike most wild edible plants, when harvesting agave you want to find the biggest, oldest plants as these will have the most sugar. Traditionally the flowers and leaves were boiled or roasted. After removing the leaves the body & root should be slow roasted, often for two days, to release its sugars. The sweet flesh is chewed off the fibrous body/root. Flower stalks are also roasted, but for shorter time as they are smaller. Note that removing the flower stalk will kill the plant. After roasting the food can be dried and stored for later use.

If the top of the agave plant is removed but the root left in the ground sap will flow up for hours. Collect and ferment this sap to form a weak tequila. A sweet syrup can also be pressed from the roasted body & root of agave. This syrup forms the basis for mescal alcohol. The seeds can be toasted then ground into a flour.

Uncooked roots contain high levels of saponins, a soap-like compound which will lather in soft water and can be used for washing. This soap was also used by natives to kill fish by tossing pounded globs of root into small ponds. The soap screws up the functioning of fishes' gills, causing them suffocate and float to the surface.

Fibers in the leaves can be used for cordage. Pound the fleshy leaves between two logs to separate the fibers from pulp, then braid into rope.

Warning: The moist, fleshy interior of the leaves is somewhat acidic and can cause permanent eye damage.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Buffalo Gourd

Scientific Name(s): Cucurbita foetidissima
Abundance: common
What: flower, seeds, root
How: flowers raw or fried; seeds roasted or boiled; root as tea
Where: dry fields
When: summer, fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories and protein in the seeds
Dangers: flesh of the gourd is extremely bitter and can be poisonous in large doses due to saponins.

Leaf Arrangement: The leaves of Cucurbita foetidissima are arranged alternately along the stem.

Leaf Shape: Leaves are broadly ovate to heart-shaped, measuring up to 14" long and 7" wide near the base. 

Leaf Venation: Pinnate venation, with veins running from the base to the tip of each leaf lobe.

Leaf Margin: The leaf margin is typically serrated or toothed.

Leaf Color: The leaves are usually gray-green.

Flower Structure: The flowers are large and showy, with five petals reaching 4" across and a prominent central column of stamens and pistils.

Flower Color: Flowers are typically bright yellow.

Fruit: The fruit is a small, mottled/striped skin, and spherical gourd 4" across. They start out green and turn a stripped yellow as the mature. Inside is mostly stringy white flesh with many seeds.

Seed: Inside the gourd are large, flat, off-white seeds.

Stem: The stem is typically creeping along the ground rather than climbing.

Root: Produces a giant taproot, may be human-shaped, multiple feet in size.

Hairs: Rough hairs may be present on some parts of the plant, including the stem.

Height: Cucurbita foetidissima can trail along the ground or climb on other vegetation and can reach varying heights.

Buffalo Gourd plant when young.

Mature Buffalo Gourd vine.

Buffalo Gourd fruit.

Small buffalo gourd root.


Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Nose and eye find this plant at nearly the same time. The large, heart-shaped leaves and yellow, 5-petaled flowers of Buffalo Gourd give off an unpleasant smell which reminds me of nasty gym socks. Starting in mid-summer the fruit appear. Looking first like small, round watermelons these fruit eventually turn more yellow as they mature but never grow bigger than a baseball. Buffalo Gourd vines can stretch many yards from a central taproot and the beings perennials, show up in the same spot year after year. It's large taproot makes the plant very drought resistant and it grows best in the drier areas of Texas, especially in the Hill country and westward.

The flowers, similar to squash blossom, can be eaten both raw and fried. They do have a bad odor and are somewhat bitter when raw.

Buffalo gourd seeds were a staple food of early Texas Native Americans. The seeds must be completely cleaned of any gourd flesh or else they will be extremely bitter. Once completely cleaned they can be boiled and mashed into a porridge or roasted like pumpkin seeds and have a similar flavor. These seeds do contain a large amount of calories in the form of oil (25-42%) as well as a significant concentration of protein (22-35%).

The large taproot of Buffalo Gourds were to be strong medicine by Native Americans. These roots were used internally as a tea and also externally in poultices. Due to the high concentration of saponins and other potent chemicals healing with this root should only be tried under the direction of a trained herbalist!

Saponins are found in both the plant's root and in the skin of the gourds and are capable of producing a lather when vigorously combined with water. Because of this they were used as a soap substitute.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Coral Bean

Scientific Name(s): Erythrina herbacea
Abundance: uncommon
What: flowers & young leaves
How: cooked flowers and leaves; tea from young leaves
Where: open fields and woodland clearings with sandy soil
When: spring.  
Nutritional Value: antioxidants
Dangers: plant must be cooked to remove toxins, do NOT eat the seeds or older, mature leaves.

Leaf Arrangement: Leaves are alternate along the stem.

Leaf Shape: Compound leaves with three leaflets, each leaflet measuring approximately 3 to 6 inches in length.

Leaf Color: Foliage is typically green.

Flower Structure: Coral bean produces showy, tubular flowers arranged in clusters. Individual flowers are around 1.5 to 2 inches long.

Flower Color: Flowers are typically bright red, coral pink, or occasionally white.

Fruit (Seed): The fruit is a pod, green when young and maturing to reddish-brown, and around 4 to 6 inches long. Mature seeds are bright red.

Bark: The bark is typically smooth and gray.

Height: Coral bean plants can reach heights of 6 to 10 feet.

Hairs: The plant may have sparse hairs on the stems and leaves.

Thorns: Some varieties may have thorns on the branches.

Growth Form: Coral bean has a shrub-like or small tree growth form.

A young Coral Bean flowering in the spring woods.
Coral Bean

Coral Bean flowers in spring.

Close-up of flowers.

Coral Bean leaves, already too big to cook and eat.

Coral Bean

Coral Bean "beans", which are NOT edible.

Coral Bean

Dried seed pods from the previous year.

Coral Bean

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The bright red, tubular flowers of the coral bean bush make a distinctive addition to the Gulf Coast region spring colors. This leggy bush, if not subjected to a killing frost, can grow into a small, wide-crowned tree which is sometimes used in landscaping. Normally it is found as a clusters of bushes about four feet tall in open clearings of woods and occasionally in fields. It does best in sandy, well-drained soils such as those along rivers and stream but due to their preference for dry feet, they'll be back quite a way from the water's edge. If the winter was mild enough you are likely to find flowers, fresh green seedpods and old cracked-open seedpods on the same plant. The spade-shaped, compound leaves grown in groups of three and have the neat feature of always being turned toward the sun, a process which is called "phototropism".

The only edible part of this plant are the red flowers and youngest leaves. Both parts must be boiled for 15 minutes to render them safe to eat. Cooking does shrink them the flowers and leaves down quite a bit so you'll want to harvest a lot...but never more than 10% of the flowers and new leaves so to insure the plant stays healthy and can reproduce. Stick to eating leaves 1.0-1.5 inches long, or smaller. The young leaves can also be boiled for a tea which some native tribes considered to be a general health tonic.

The red beans can not be made safe to eat as they contain a poison similar to curare. In Mexico these seeds are used to poison pest animals such as rats.

Hummingbirds love the sweet nectar found in the flowers and are immune to the coral bean toxins. While foragers and hummingbirds may like this shrub, many other land-owners find it to be a somewhat invasive nuisance. The plant produces many seeds which can cause it to quickly spread over an area, rendering it unfit for cattle or other domesticated animals.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Horse Crippler Cactus

Scientific Name(s): Echinocactus texensis
Abundance: uncommon
What: flowers, fruit
How: raw, cooked
Where: sunny fields, dry areas
When: fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories, vitamin C
Dangers: beware of thorns!

Leaf Arrangement: Not applicable, as Echinocactus texensis is a cactus and does not have true leaves, with the primary structure being the ribbed stem.

Leaf Shape: The plant lacks traditional leaves; the spines emerge from areoles on the ribbed stem.

Leaf Venation: Not applicable due to the absence of traditional leaves.

Leaf Margin: Not applicable as there are no leaves.

Leaf Color: Not applicable; the plant features a green to bluish-green stem.

Flower Structure: Flowers are solitary, growing from the crown of the cactus.

Flower Color: The flowers are usually pink to red.

Fruit: Produces a fleshy, barrel-shaped fruit, approximately 1" in diameter, clustered at the center of the cactus.

Seed: Seeds are small and black, contained within the fruit.

Stem: Globular to cylindrical, with pronounced ribs and areoles from which spines emerge.

Hairs: The plant has spines, which are modified hairs, typically dense and covering the ribs.

Height: The cactus typically grows to a height of 6 to 8 inches.

Top view of Horse Crippler with fruit.
Cactus - Horse Crippler

Side view of Horse Crippler with fruit.
Cactus - Horse Crippler

Cactus - Horse Crippler

Close-up of fruit.
Cactus - Horse Crippler

Close-ups of thorns.
Cactus - Horse Crippler

Cactus - Horse Crippler

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Hiding low in the grasslands of the southwestern counties of Texas as well as randomly in other arid prairie locations, Horse Crippler Cactus is a boobytrap waiting to puncture the foot of the unwary. This low, dome-shaped cactus grows only 1-2 inches tall but up to a foot across with a lifespan measure in centuries! These cacti are covered with clusters of seven or so wicked thorns, one of which will be 2-3 inches long while the others will only be about 1 inch in length. Most of the thorns will have a slight downward curve. Horse Cripple Cacti can bloom in spring through summer and these flowers have red centers surrounded by duo-toned, pink or light purple petals which open during the day but close up at night.

The ripe, red fruit looks very similar to the "tunas" of prickly pears and are used the same way. The flavor of these fruit is more subtle than that of prickly pears but still delicious. Due to the numerous seeds, I prefer squeezing the juice from these fruit then boiling it down into a syrup. The seeds can be collected from the fruit, roasted, then boiled into porridge or ground into a gluten-free flour.

Horse Crippler Cactus transplant easily into WELL drained pots and will love the hottest, direct sunlight Texas has to offer. They love the south or west-facing, wind-swept balconies of apartments where any other plant would shrivel up and die.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Cow's Tongue Cactus

Scientific Name(s): Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis
Abundance: uncommon
What: pads, flowers, fruit
How: peeled pads can be pickled, fried, made into jerky; fruit can be raw or blended into a smoothy/icee drink; juice from strained fruit can be drunk, made into ice cream, mixed drinks, preserves.
Where: sunny fields, landscaping
When: fruit in fall, pads-all year though younger pads taste better.
Nutritional Value: vitamin C, some minerals
Dangers: burn or scrap off the tiny needles (glochids) before eating, 1% of population is allergic to cactus-based foods.

Leaf Arrangement: The plant features small, ephemeral leaves that quickly transform into spines, with the primary structure being the stem pads.

Leaf Shape: Initially small and cylindrical, the leaves quickly modify into spines and are not a lasting feature.

Leaf Venation: Not applicable, as the leaves transition into spines and lack typical venation patterns.

Leaf Margin: Undefined in the modified spiny leaves.

Leaf Color: Initially green but quickly replaced by spines and therefore not a prominent feature.

Flower Structure: Flowers are solitary and grow from the edges of the stem pads.

Flower Color: The flowers are typically yellow, sometimes with red or orange hues.

Fruit: Produces a fleshy, elongated fruit, which can be red or purple when ripe.

Seed: The seeds are small, contained within the fruit.

Stem: Characterized by flat, broad stem segments, commonly referred to as pads, that are linguiform (tongue-shaped).

Hairs: No true hairs are present, but there are spines and glochids (tiny barbed bristles) on the stem segments.

Height: The plant typically forms a low, spreading shrub, generally reaching 2 to 4 feet in height.

Cow's tongue cactus used in landscaping.

Cow's tongue cactus fruit (picture taken in mid September in Houston).

Another closeup of cow's tongue fruit (also taken in mid-September in Houston).

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Closely related to prickly pears, cow's tongue cacti pads and fruit can be used in the same manner as other Opuntia species. The pads can be peeled then sliced and cooked like green beans though much slimier. The peeled pads can also be sprinkled with your favorite beef/venison jerky spices and then dehydrated into "vegan jerky".

The fruits are usually mashed, boiled, and then strained through a fine mesh such as cheesecloth to release their delicious juice. This juice can be drank straight, made into jelly or wine, or slightly sweetened (it's already quite sweet) then boiled down to make a syrup.

Before doing anything with the pads or fruit you must remove their tiny, almost invisible needles called glochids. Use a barbecue tongs to harvest the pads/fruit and then burn off the glochids with a torch or gas stovetop.

Burning glochids.

Peel the fruit then mash it up in a saucepan. Add just enough water so as to cover the pulp then boil for about ten minutes. Let the resulting juice cool a little then filter out the pulp and seeds through cheesecloth or other fine filter.

Peeled fruit before mashing and boiling.

Straining the juice.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

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