“ Primum non nocere”
First do no harm!
We get a lot of visitors here in our state from all over the world and they love hitting our trails. Whose to blame them, there are some really unusual looking things out there in the desert to see. There are also hundreds of plants in that plain and dry looking desert. Plants that are edible and used for medicine to this day.
Back many many years ago the indigenous people and Spanish settlers used a lot of these native desert plants for their medicines too. This was way before the hypocritical oath, way before the the word profit and cost effective would be added to creating these things…this was all they had to treat the people they cared for. They actually cared for them too. It would be nice if I could say the same now days. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many good healers out there today, but they are being bullied and pushed into other agendas…and this is why so many people are fearful of the healers in this 21st century. Sometimes we get the bad ones.
Anyway, thought I share with you all some plants the healers from the past used.There are more then 400 edible plants and medicines in the Sonoran desert.
These next 9 plants I am sharing with you all are some of those plants from long ago that to this day are still being used to feed and even treat different illnesses around the world. All the photos in my post are personal photos I took, or my husband took while on our hikes.
Warning:Do not eat or make your own herbal medicines until you speak to a professional, and always do your research. I am just sharing some information that I learned on my own but I am no expert. Also, very important…never remove native plants from our national parks that are protected. Check the laws in your area before doing any foraging. If it is on your own private land then that is another story, it’s your garden. You can get into big trouble breaking laws here in our state if you remove so much as a little rock from our national parks. So please research about plants as much as possible. If visiting our state from another place there are lots of classes available at most of our desert museums to take and learn about Sonoran Desert plants and medicines.
We also have many nurseries here in our state where you can buy most of these plants for your own gardens if you like.
The forest, the trees, the beautiful plants and nature all around us all have a purpose, we all do, we are all here to help one another. God gives us these gifts everyday, to help us, to heal us, and to share that knowledge. These gifts were never meant to be taken and exploited for a profit.
This is and always will be my favorite plant in the desert. I wish I could bottle this up and carry it with me through life. When I was a little girl as soon as a rain storm came in I would run out to play on that desert mountain we lived up against, sometimes I wouldn’t even wait to put on some shoes. The desert smells so wonderful after it rains and this is the plant that causes that.
In the Spring when the rains come this plant takes over with it’s wonderful fragrance. It’s an antioxidant.
The leaves were made into teas, salves and extracts. They are added to capsules for treatment of bacterial and viral infections, coughs, colds, bladder infections, arthritis, tuberculosis, and intestinal disorders. Externally it was used as an antiseptic dressing for cuts, bruises and sores.
In Mexico they use the juice and pads to treat adult onset diabetes.
They use the juice to help relieve inflammation of the urinary tract.It also helps relieve burns just like Aloe Vera. The flowers are made into a tea to help treat asthma, colitis, and diverticulitis. Fruits are eaten fresh or dried.
Here in my state they still use the fruit from this cactus for syrups, preserves, and alcoholic beverages.I love eating prickly pear ice cream. The pads are removed when young and cooked and eaten. They are suppose to help lower blood sugar levels. We make tacos with ours, they are so yummy.
Such a beautiful tree. The leaves, twigs and pods from this tree were made into a tea. Then they used this as an astringent to wash cuts, rashes and burns. They also drank the teas to treat dysentery, diarrhea, to sooth sore throats, stomach inflammation, and peptic ulcers.The pods are used as food. I have some mesquite flour in my freezer right now that I want to use for a chocolate chip cookie, just haven’t found the time to do it yet.
Black tar sap from the tree was boiled and diluted with water then used as an antiseptic for sore lips, chapped and sunburned skin.
Leaves were dried or used fresh as a bitter tea to help relieve constipation, arthritis, indigestion, gas, and water retention. But prolonged internal use does interfere with the absorption of vitamins in the small intestines. The heart of the plant was a food source as well and the flower stalks were baked and eaten too. They also made soup with this plant by pounding and mashing the roots and stems in water.
This was a really important plant because it was not only used for food and medicine but they used the fibers from the leaves to make shoes, nets, baskets, threads, fishing nets and cordage. Agave is still used today for alcoholic beverages that are distilled into liquor.
Desert Lavender (bee sage)-
This was made into a cold tea to help soothe nausea caused by hangover and stomach flu. As a hot tea it was used for congestion, colds, respiratory flues and difficulty breathing. Topically it was use to treat toothaches and earaches. Seeds were eaten.
The Apaches used this plant for fatigued and swollen tired limbs.They also turned it into a powder to use as a dressing for wounds and swelling. The flowers and seed pods were eaten and a hibiscus like tea was made from the flowers.
When this plant is in bloom the hummingbirds love the flowers. You can find any spot in the desert close to these plants and watch as all types of humming birds fly up to it, even chunky little baby ones using their new wings. Great photo opportunities when these are in bloom.
These were everywhere around my Nana’s house and neighborhood. This was as close as I got to having wild daisies in our part of the world. I also grew up around acres and acres of beautiful tulips, and flowers that were called the Japanese gardens. I would ride my bike through row after row of so much color and beauty come Spring. The Japanese gardens are no longer there, now they’re apartments everywhere but the Brittle Bush is still around. The desert mountain I grew up around is protected. Think this is why my favorite doodle now and as a child were always flowers.
Brittle bush is a well know folk remedy for arthritis. It was also used to break fevers.It was either made into a drink or the bright yellow gum (dried sap) was chewed or rubbed on the chest. The gum held in the mouth was used to treat pain from tooth and gum problems. The flowers were dried and used in a tea to treat stomach pain. They also used the dried flowers externally to soothe skin inflammations like rashes and sunburns. Sometimes they even used the gum as an incense and burned it. Added to baths it helps relieve arthritis.
The leafless twigs are simmered and used as a substitute for coffee. It is suppose to have a pleasant taste to it and is mildly stimulating. It contains small amounts of ephedrine. You all know what they use ephedrine for…hay fever, allergies, asthma, and coughing. There are varieties of this plant that are being used now for the drug industry. I don’t usually see a lot of Mormon tea out in the desert where I hike but I have come across it now and then.
They call this the teddy bear cactus but I wouldn’t go hugging one of these. Their spines seem to jump out at you and they go deep. After you pull them out it itches and burns for hours. So please be careful around this plant.The flower buds from this plant have very high levels of calcium. It’s great for nursing mothers and anyone at risk for Osteoporosis. Just two tablespoons are like drinking a whole glass of milk. They also have soluble fiber and pectin which helps regulate blood sugar levels. The buds have to be harvested before they flower though.
Remember, please speak to your doctor, plus research recipes, suppliers and how to prepare foods from cacti before you attempt using any of these. If you are ever around the Sonoran desert for a drive or a nice hike look around and see if you come across some of these plants yourself. Remember the parks are protected so you can not remove them. Happy hiking adventures everyone.
Please, what ever area you live in, look around you, there are plants put in place to take care of us. Find and research plants as much as possible and share that with as many as possible.
But test everything; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21