Article by Carly Herndon, Americorps VISTA Program and Outreach Coordinator.
What comfort food is sweet, nutrient-dense, has double the protein of the average bean, and helps prevent and treat diabetes? From the title, you probably guessed mesquite! This desert legume has been a food source to Native Americans for thousands of years. But it now seems that mesquite pods are an almost-forgotten food.
However, there has been a recent resurgence and interest in mesquite due to the health benefits and local foraging movement. Mesquite contains advantageous fibers and plenty of nutritional benefits. Native peoples from the Southwest region in particular have adapted physiology to benefit from the fiber and nutrition of mesquite. Researchers have found that increased consumption of mesquite and other traditional foods like prickly pear pads can curb rising diabetes rates.
Mesquite pods drying on the tree branch.
Mesquite is naturally gluten-free and is a good source of protein, calcium, manganese, potassium, iron, and zinc. And it is available in your own yard or neighborhood! You can simply suck and chew on the dried pods but ground mesquite flour or meal is the most common use. Its natural sweetness lends itself to use in baked goods and minimizes the need for refined sugars. Recipe ideas can be found in cookbooks such as Cooking the Wild Southwest by Carolyn Niethammer or Decolonize your Diet b y Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibe.
This time of year (the peak of the summer heat just before monsoons) is the perfect time to harvest dry and mature pods. It is best to harvest the pods that are still attached to the tree, as they will be cleaner and more likely free of aflatoxins, mold, dirt, and fecal matter. Ripe pods range from yellowish tan to reddish in color, and come off of the tree with little pulling. The flavor of the pods varies from tree to tree. The best species to harvest from are the native velvet and honey mesquite. Once the mesquite pods are harvested, they must be dried for grinding and to and prevent bug infestations. This is easily done by toasting in a 125 degree oven for a few hours and then storing in the freezer.
As with many wild-harvested foods it is important to know proper techniques to avoid damage to the source, diseased plants, and anything that can make you sick. Mesquite in particular is susceptible to fungal toxins. In 2013, revised mesquite harvesting and processing techniques were released based on research from the now NS/S Conservation Director Nicholas Garber. These guidelines suggest that harvesting prior to the onset of the summer monsoons and harvest clean pods from the trees, not from the ground. Further instructions can be found from Desert Harvesters .
Sometimes mesquite pods are referred to as mesquite beans, which can cause misunderstanding as to how the fruit is used. It is not the actual beans inside of the pods that are most accessible, but the pulp or pith between the brittle outside and the hard seeds. In order to access this pulp and process the pods into flour, they must be either hand ground or blended and then sifted. Harvesting and processing your own mesquite meal can be challenging and a lot of work. Fortunately, we offer already prepared mesquite flour at our shop and online.
It is not just the pods that are useful on the mesquite tree. Mesquite wood can be used for smoking meats, architecture, décor, or house gadgets! A local business by the name of Tumacacori Mesquite Sawmill produces beautiful creations from tables to utensils, and that is where we source our one of a kind mesquite cutting boards . Check out the various mesquite products we offer from flour to honey to soap!
Article by Carly Herndon, Americorps VISTA Program and Outreach Coordinator. What comfort food is sweet, nutrient-dense, has double the protein of the average bean, and helps prevent and treat diabetes? From the title, you probably guessed mesquite! This desert legume has been a food source to Native Americans for thou
Spreading the Love—How to Plant Your Very Own Mesquite Tree
Here in the Rio Grande Valley, deep down in South Texas, we are blessed to have a natural abundance of mesquite trees—known to the Pima Indians as “The Tree of Life.”
While they are often overlooked (and frequently removed) for their many fine qualities, it should come as no surprise that we here at Cappadona Ranch are quite fond of this spectacular tree. Not only are they durable and able to withstand that our tough Southwestern climate with little to no irrigation, they also provide food and cover for wildlife, attract cute little honey bees and other interesting insects, and provide nesting sites for songbirds as well.
Oh, and did we mention the delectable pods and seeds of the mesquite tree are the main ingredients for our delicious Cappadona Ranch Mesquite Bean Jelly and Mesquite Bean Roasted Coffee?
Now, understandably, if you live in one of Texas’ neighboring states (or further north) you might be a bit envious of the bounty of mesquite we have just growing randomly. But no need to worry. We cherish the mesquite tree so much that we want to spread the love by giving you a few pointer on how to plant your very own mesquite tree.
So listen in and buckle up.
How to Grow a Mesquite Tree
There are three common species of native mesquite trees, so you might want to do a little bit of research to find how which you might prefer to grow in your garden. The species include Screwbean Mesquite, Honey Mesquite, and Velvet Mesquite.
While the mesquite seeds are quite strong and able to remain dormant for decades, growing a tree from the seed can be a bit of a challenge if the right conditions are not met. Dry conditions and temperatures up to 90 degrees are the best environments for growth. Germination takes place at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit under a light soil.
The following steps will help to ease the process:
- After harvesting the mesquite pods, break them open and reveal the seeds inside.
- Crack the outer surface of the seed or use sandpaper to scratch it. This will help water to penetrate the seed.
- Prepare a single pot per each seed that you want to grow. Make sure there are no drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and add 1 to 2 inches of gravel before pouring in the soil.
- Bury each seed only ¼ inch below the surface and apply water twice a day or as needed to keep the soil moist.
If you can’t get a seed to turn into a sapling, consider soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours.
Or if perhaps you’re just not much of a green thumb, you can always purchase a young sapling from a reputable nursery.
From Sapling to Full Grown Tree
Once you’ve gotten yourself a sapling that’s around 4 to 6 inches tall, you are going to want to transplant it into the ground. Take the following steps:
- Dig a hole that is slightly wider than the size of the pot and as deep as the roots.
- Fill the hole in with water and check to see if it’s draining. You should wait about 30 minutes to see if the water remains in the hole.
- If everything looks good, then make sure to mix in 3 inches of gritty organic material or aged compost to the soil to give the sapling a boost. Aside from this little “snack,” your mesquite sampling shouldn’t need any additional fertilizer—they are tough little fellas.
- Once planted, make sure to keep the tree moist while it establishes its roots.
- Good staking is essential to helping your sapling stay in place, especially in areas with severe summer storms or high winds.
- After about two months, the feeder roots should have spread out and the deeper roots should be diving into the soil. Your mesquite tree should not need any additional water unless a truly severe drought occurs.
Don’t forget to plant your mesquite in an area of your yard or garden where it’s going to be getting a lot of quality sun. Your mesquite tree will also benefit from the occasional pruning, especially in early spring, so that good branch formations can occur.
Some Tips to Protect Against Mistletoe
Mistletoe is naturally occurring in semi-arid and desert-like environments, and while it doesn’t outright kill the tree, it does steal nutrients and water, leaving the tree more susceptible to disease and other stresses that eventually kill it over time.
It may take some time to notice mistletoe, but when you do, your best bet is to remove it from your tree. If the infestation is a small one, you can try pruning the branch that is infected by at least one foot behind where the mistletoe is occurring. The reason you will want to prune is that mistletoe actually infects the interior root system of the tree and not just the outside.
Large infection may require hefty pruning, or you can simply brush off the mistletoe, as it comes off very easily. However, be aware that this does not actually get rid of the infestation and the mistletoe will continue to regrow. Basically, you will have to make removing the mistletoe part of your tree maintenance.
It takes years for a mistletoe infestation to really hurt the tree but you’ll want to prevent it early on as it can spread to neighboring trees (our winged friends sure do love to eat those berries and “spread” them around).
Here in the Rio Grande Valley, deep down in South Texas, we are blessed to have a natural abundance of mesquite trees—known to the Pima Indians as “The Tree of Life.” While they are often overlooked (and frequently removed) for their many fine qualities, it should come as no surprise that we here at Cappadona Ranch are