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July 27, 2019

Wild Foods in the Sonoran Desert

sonoran desert saguaros

The Sonoran Desert has always held a special place in my heart, as I learned to love it during visits with my grandparents. Now, I've been called to return and help in the care of my grandmother who has dementia. My mom has been her caregiver for the last 7 years and it is time for me to play a more active role. I will return again in December, and probably be making more regular trips to relieve my mom. God bless the caregivers! 

saguaro cactus fruits ripening

It's hard to pick favorites in life, but saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) cactus fruits are my favorite wild food. They contain fat and sugar, which is a pretty awesome combination! These beauties are protected, so it is advised that you connect in with traditional harvesters to be given permission and learn how to harvest in a respectful and appropriate way.

In 2007 I joined Stella Tucker out at her traditional saguaro camp, and this video documents her families way of harvesting and processing the fruits. Fast forward to 2019 and I just met a new foraging friend, Mark Lewis. Mark told Stella he was meeting me and she was like, "Oh yeah, that white lady who came out here all those years ago. I remember her!" So fun for me to reconnect, in these roundabout ways, with those of us who practice our love for the land. May Stella and her family be blessed in perpetuity, and the Tohono O'odam people, and the saguaros ♥

prickly pear red fruit perfectly ripe

The bulk of my wild food diet here in the Sonoran Desert right now has been prickly pear fruits (Opuntia spp). These magenta beauties have found their way into multiple rounds of barbeque sauce, margaritas, fruit leather, and so much more. 

grinding mesquite into flour in vitamix

In typical forager form, I traveled with a vitamin in my luggage. When it's 116° who needs many clothes, lol. I had heard the mesquite were dropping here, so I went from kiawe in Hawaiʻi to grinding my own flour here in Arizona. 

blue palo verde edible flowers

Palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have also been on the menu. These cheery flowers are in full force here in the Valley now, a welcome addition garnishing our meals. 

foothills palo verde edible seeds

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) fresh seeds have been a trail nibble as I just missed a more major harvest. Absolutely delicious, and easy to just pop open the pods and eat these nourishing and delicious seeds.

wild foods of baja paipai people

This new-to-me wild food was a gifted experience by Mark Lewis, my new foraging friend. Mammallaria albicans. It was Mark's "gateway wild food", as in the food that got him hooked on wild foods! He grew up in Baja, in his ancestral homelands of the PaiPai people. So much story, so much goodness.  

desert willow infused into water

And finally, desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) has been in glorious bloom. It really makes you wonder how...how can these plants and animals survive in 116° weather? But they do, and it is mind boggling and awe-inspiring. So much to learn, stories to share, but the simple act of participating in the dance of life with them is a great start. 

July 13, 2019

Sow Thistle Surprise

sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus) growing in iao valley

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is a wildly nutritious green, this one found growing out of the rocks in ʻĪao Valley on Maui this week. In addition to it's edible leaves, the flowers, flower buds, and roots can all be eaten. Green Deane's Eat the Weeds - Sow Thistle article has wonderful details of its identification and history. The main parts I like to point out are the exaggerated terminal leaflet, which is the end of the leaf is typically large, and that the leaf hugs/wraps around the stem. Sow thistle is found growing along roadsides, disturbed areas where humans have turned the soil like construction sites and as a major agricultural weed (oftentimes more nutritious than the plants farmers are growing for market).

If you learn this plant in Hawaiʻi you will find that knowledge useful if you travel to other parts of the globe as well. It is a blessing to travel to other parts of the globe and immediately, after proper identification that includes a minimum of 3 identifying characteristics, have a wild food you can identify and eat.  

sonchus oleraceus hawaii sow thistle greens

Sow thistle growing in Haiku, Maui, Hawaii. They can sometimes have a blue-green coloration to the leaves.

sonchus gone to seed in hawaii

Sonchus gone to seed in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. Stems oftentimes turn purple.

sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) large leaves

Greens can vary from mild to bitter, with older greens definitely having more bitterness. Sow thistle can become quite large!

lobed leaves of sow thistle

One leaf of sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), which can have varying amounts of spines on them. There is a very spiny one found in Hawaii as well, called spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper), and the species can hybridize/cross as well.

sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus) flower hawaii

Here you can see it's yellow dandelion-like flower, which is so typical of the Asteraceae Family of plants. This one found growing in Paia, Maui, Hawaii. 

Looking for a super adventurous foraging trip? Learn to identify kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) by pulling it out for the Nature Conservancy at Waikamoi Preserve. This is a 4x4 only excursions, which they provide transportation for, up on the mountain and a phenomenal way to access this sensitive environment through service. You will see why we are trying to eradicate the kahili ginger, the scope of its threat to our endemics and the importance of tending these biodiversity hotspots. 

July 6, 2019

Foraged Fare

shell ginger edible flowers

Eating these firecracker-like flower parts of shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) is an enjoyable explosion of color. Eat the labella, pulling away the whitish-pink perianths, when navigating this harvest. Hawaiian colors!

prosopis pallida harvest in hawaii 2019

The kiawe (Prosopis pallida) harvest on Maui continues to be phenomenal. We now have the remnants of Hurricane Barbara heading this way as a tropical storm. We are all going to welcome the rain, but it does dampen the kiawe harvest. Get out this weekend before they all get drenched and the mold sets in.