Showing posts with label Southwest USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southwest USA. Show all posts

Tree Cholla Cactus

Scientific Name(s): Opuntia imbricata
Abundance: common
What: flower buds, fruit
How: dry, boil, or roast flower buds then use like okra; fruit eaten raw or used like other berries
Where: West Texas desert areas, sunny, hillsides
When: flower buds in spring, fruit in fall & winter
Nutritional Value: unknown
Dangers: spines and glochids must be removed before eating. Large amounts of flower buds can cause diarrhea

Medicinal Summary:
Fruit - diuretic, soothes urinary tract pain/irritation (raw, tisane)
Sap - soothes gastrointestinal inflammations; anti-diarrheal, soothes skin irritations (poultice)
Flower Buds - laxative
Root - prevents kidney stones (tisane)

Tree cholla cactus, also known as cane cholla in Big Bend Ranch State Park, April 2018
Cactus Cholla

Tree cholla flower buds.
Cactus Cholla

Cactus Cholla

Opened flowers of tree cholla.
Cactus Cholla

Cactus Cholla

Unripe tree cholla fruit (they need to be more yellow).
Cholla

Overly ripe fruit (found in the spring rather than fall/winter).
Cactus Cholla

Dead tree chollas look kind of cool and are surprisingly strong.
Cactus Cholla

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.
Tree Cholla TX USDA

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Tree Cholla NA USDA

The many-trunked limbs, each about 1.5" in diameter and covered in many ~0.5" spines, of tree cholla dot the hillsides of the southwestern Texas Chihuahuan desert. These common cacti can grow to eight feet tall and in the spring there purple flowers stand out strongly from the reddish-brown desert. In the fall the branch tips will be covered in fleshy, yellow fruit, again about 1.5" in diameter and approximately 1.5" long. Dead tree chollas lose their skin and soft tissue to reveal an odd skeleton of wood perforated with a pattern of oblong, narrow holes. These dead branches are surprisingly tough and are used to make walking sticks.

In the spring the flower buds can be harvested for food but beware the many spines, both large and small, that protect these buds. Tongs and a sharp, long-bladed knife are the best tools for collecting them. Burn off the spines with a propane torch or rub them gently but thoroughly with gravel to break the spines of the buds. Once these spines are removed the flower buds can be dried/dehydrated for later use. Natives of the desert would grind the dried flower buds into a flour-like powder. If you want to use the buds right away I'm told they should be boiled first for a bit to tenderize them some, then use them like okra or Brussel sprouts.

Come fall, the ripe fruit can be collected with the same tongs and knife, followed by removal of the spines. These juicy, yellow fruit have a sour flavor with a salty side. Once the spines are removed they can be eaten raw. Another favorite way to prepare them is in a fruit smoothie. Their salt content can help people in the early stages of dehydration (assuming water is available) by replenishing salts lost to sweating. I'm think slices of the fruit would work as a pickle-substitute on a hamburger but I haven't had a chance to try that yet.


Buy my book! Idiots Guide 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.

Desert Willow

Scientific Name(s): Chilopsis linearis
Abundance: common
What: flowers, leaves, bark
How: tea, poultice, tincture
Where: stream banks, arroyos of the desert areas
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: low
Dangers: don't mistake a poisonous, landscaping Oleander for desert willow!

Medicinal Summary:
Flower - tea soothes coughs
Bark & Root - teas and tinctures are antimicrobial and antifungal

Desert Willow in March in a gully in Big Bend Ranch State Park (no foraging allowed).
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Close-up of flower in March in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Note the unopened buds higher up the branch.
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Another close-up of the flower.
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Unopened flower buds in March in Big Bend Ranch State Park (no foraging allowed).
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Desert willow bark is generally smooth, dark and spotted. Note the
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Last year's dried seedpods may still be hanging on the desert willow. They have fluffy seed "parachutes" like milkweed.
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Another desert willow growing along a dry streamback in Big Bend Ranch State Park (no foraging allowed).
Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

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.
DesertWillowTX

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

Late winter/early spring is a beautiful time in west Texas desert areas, especially along the streambeds that winter rains had soaked the soil briefly but thoroughly. The water walks up the desert, covering it with a confetti of flowers. Perhaps the most beautiful are the big, pink-purple flowers of the desert willow. This small, usually multi-trunked tree can be found growing upwards from the safety of large boulders along the arroyos of west Texas but also in a few counties randomly spread across Texas. Because of its compact but interesting growth pattern and wonderful flowers it is used as a xeriscape landscaping tree in many Texas cities from Houston to Amarillo.

Though note a true willow, the desert willow gets its name from its liner to lanceolate, hairless leaves. These leaves have pinnate vein patterns with a main, center vein from which secondary veins branch outwards and upwards, reconnecting out towards the edge of the leaf.The edges of the leaves are entire, lacking any sort of serrations or lobes. Oddly, the leaves can be arranged along the branches in both alternating and opposite patterns. A tea (tisane) or tincture made from the leaves and bark is antimicrobial, especially against fungal infections. Rinsing out the cuts and scratches one gets when traveling through the desert are well cared for with a wash of the leaf/bark tea. A tincture will also clean out wounds but will sting.

The violet-scented flowers are triggered by the earliest warm rains of spring. They sprout near the ends of branches beyond the leaves. These branches continue to grow and produce new flower buds into the summer. Pink and purple flowers with light-colored throats seem to be the most common but even white flowers are possible. The inside surface of the petal(s) can often be striped with a much darker shade than the rest of the flower.

Tea made from the fragrant flowers of desert willow is what you're really after. Gently tug on a flower and if it comes off the tree easily add it to a jar until the container is half full. Fill it to the top with water (approximately 1 part flowers, 2 parts water) and let it soak in the sunlight for half a day. Strain out the flowers, add some ice to cool it down, and drink the drink of desert secrets. Medicinally, the flower tea soothes rough coughs.

After the flowers come long, green seedpods. By fall these pods can be 6"-10" long and soon split open to release their fluffy seeds to float away. The brown, dried pods remain on the tree, helping identify it when the flowers aren't present. Though these long beans look inviting when green, they are not considered edible.

While these small trees require little water their growth indicates water is likely close to the surface. Digging around them can often uncover a seep of murky but life-giving water. Be sure to purify it as you would any wild water, such as by boiling, filtering, or a chemical treatment.

Buy my book! Idiots Guide 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.

Ephedra

Scientific Name(s): Ephedra nevadensis,  E. torreyanna, E. trifurca, E. pedunculata, E. coryi, E. aspera, E. antisyphilitica
Abundance: common
What: leaves, stems, flowers
How: tea (tisane)
Where: arid land, deserts
When: spring
Nutritional Value: stimulants ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
Dangers: too much can lead to heart issues


Medicinal Summary: stimulant

Ephadra growing up through a cracked rock near Marfa, TX.
Ephedra

Another Marfa, TX ephedra thriving unprotected in full sun.
Ephedra

Ephedra Mormon Tea

In March/April in West Texas the ephedra produces tan/gold flowers at the stem joints.
Ephedra – Version 3

Closeup of ephedra flowers.
Ephedra

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.















If you've been anywhere in West Texas you've seen the bundle of sticks that is the ephedra plant growing up out of the sand and gravel. It seems to prefer full sun over shade, with physical adaptions to withstand the harsh climate. It lacks traditional leaves but relies on photosynthesis occurring in its green, jointed stems. This is a perennial bush whose older, lowers sections will be gray and woody. In the spring there will be clusters of small, gold-brown flowers that turn into small "pine cone" like seedheads over the spring/early summer.

The younger, aerial parts of the plant have a long history of being used as a stimulant. Since it doesn't contain caffeine it was considered okay for use by the Church of Later Day Saints, giving it the name "Mormon tea". Note, the preferred species for Mormon tea is Ephedra nevadensis because it lacks the ephedrine found in other members of this genus.

Ephedrine is is a bronchodilator which helps with asthma and other breathing issues. It dries runny sinuses associated with colds and allergies. It also has stimulant properties. The most common form of taking this plant is as a tea aka tisane made from one teaspoon of the dried, crushed plant in one cup hot water, maximum two cups per day.


Buy my book! Idiots Guide 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.

Ocotillo

Scientific Name(s): Fouquieria splendens
Abundance: common
What: flowers, seeds
How: flowers for tea; seeds are ground into flour
Where: southwest desert, hillsides, sunny, arid
When: flowers in late winter through spring, seeds spring to early summer
Nutritional Value: assorted vitamins from flowers, calories from seeds
Dangers: very thorny

Medicinal Summary
Outer Skin - improves lymph flow, especially in the pelvic region of the body; expectorant (tisane)

Ocotillo in the southwest Texas.
Ocotillo

Rain causes ocotillo to produce short-lived leaves. These pictures were taken in April, at the beginning of their flowering season.
Ocotillo

Immature ocotillo flowers along with mature leaves.
Ocotillo

Close-up of immature flower buds.
Ocotillo

Close-up of ocotillo flowers.
Ocotillo

Close-up of ocotillo stems along with Workman's Friend Barrier Skin Cream, a product made by the company for which I labor.
Big Bend Ranch Scenic Workman's Friend

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.
Ocotillo USDA TX

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

During most of the year the spiny, leafless ocotillo are often mistaken for a tall (up to twenty feet!), thin cacti. However, soon after a good rain small, rounded leaves appear though they don't last long. Once things return to a more arid state these leaves leave (ha ha ha!). Late winter through spring the tips of ocotillo branches will blaze with clusters of tubular, red flowers. This is a sign hummingbirds are passing through! Ocotillos and hummingbirds have co-evolved to be food source and primary pollinator, with the blooms being timed to feed hummingbirds just as they migrate through that local. An ocotillo transplanted or raised from seed will continue to bloom at the same time as it would in its source location, regardless of length of day, temperatures, or other common triggers for flower production.

Being loaded with power-giving nectar, a handful of the open flowers creates a sweet tea. Immature buds will result in a tart flavor and using too many will result in an exceedingly tart tea that'll likely be undrinkable. Keep in mind you're stealing food from hummingbirds so please harvest responsibly and minimally. About a month and a half after the flowers drop the seeds will be ready to harvest. Traditionally they were pounded into powder then boiled to make a porridge.

Accord to Charles W. Kane, ocotillo "bark" or outer layer contains a number of medicinal terpenes that improve lymph flow, especially in the pelvic region of the body. The tea works as a weak expectorant to dislodge hard to move phlegm as well as adding moisture to dry coughs.


Buy my book! Idiots Guide 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.

Pride of Barbados

Scientific Name(s): Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Abundance: common
What: unripe seeds
How: cooked
Where: landscaping, full sun
When: spring, summer, fall
Nutritional Value: protein, calories
Dangers: ripe seeds are poisonous

Full plant in mid-summer will have both flowers and seedpods at different stages of maturity.
Pride of Barbados

The red and orange flowers grow in clusters at the ends of branches and aren't edible.
Pride of Barbados

The tender, green seedpods contain soft, edible bean seeds. The pod husks aren't edible.
Pride of Barbados

Pride of Barbados

The leaves are double-compound with the leaflets on the stems attached to the main leaf stem.


















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. Pride of Barbados plants are found all across Texas.
















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















There are few landscaping plants as showy as the non-native Pride of Barbados bushes. Their round shape, complex leaves, bright flower clusters, and long pea pods draw attention and admiration. These bushes are very tolerant of Texas summers, actually preferring full sun.  They can be planted in areas receiving as little as three hours of direct sunlight every day but they won't thrive and produces tons of blossoms with that much shade. The first year or two of planting they should be deeply watered 1-2 times a week but after that they become very drought tolerant. The USDA rates them hardy in zones 8 to 11. It may freeze and die back to the ground but fresh shoots will often appear in late spring when this happens.

The first thing noticed about this plant are usually the flowers. They produce clusters of five-petaled, red-centered, yellow/orange-tipped flowers with long stamen at the ends of many branches. The individual flowers can reach up to 3" across. Unopened flower buds are small, red balls with red stems, alternating along the end of the branch.

At the same time as the flowers (pretty much spring, summer, and fall) this plant will also have a variety of large pea pods, up to 5" long. When young these pods are green but turn a dark purple color upon maturity.

The stems are woody, ranging from green to brown in color and somewhat lumpy in texture. The bush grows multiple trunks, each branching several times.

Pride of Barbados leaves are compound twice-compound with the primary stems alternating along the branches and then the leaflet-bearing branches are opposite one another along the primary stem. The leaflets are oval in shape, have entire edges (no teeth or lobes) and opposite each other along the secondary stems. These leaflet appear in even numbers, with two growing out the end of the secondary stem.

The edible part of this plant are immature seeds taken from young, green seedpods. As the seed mature they become more and more poisonous. Though not deadly, they can cause a great deal of stomach distress if eaten too late. Younger seeds are always better than older seeds in the case of Pride of Barbados. The seeds are cooked by steaming or boiling before eating. Other cooking methods will work, too. The seed pod husks aren't eaten.



Buy my book! Idiots Guide 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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