We’re back with the second part of our four-part series on edible gardening! Did you miss us? We missed you! Last time we introduced you to the basics of water-wise edible gardening, and now that we’ve given you a week to mulch, plant and tend to your bountiful harvest (maybe), it’s time to talk about another favorite topic of ours: edible plants!
You know about tomatoes, artichokes, carrots and other common foods we get from gardens. Did you know that Arizona has some unique alternatives that come from our indigenous plants and are just as tasty? The best part is, our edible plants require very little in the way of watering or maintenance because they are used to the desert heat (unlike those snowbird plants from Ohio).
So how can you incorporate some of these prickly parts into your diet? Well, those mesquite tree pods that you see everywhere in the summer can be baked and ground into sweet and low-sugar mesquite flour, which can substitute for one-third of the flour content in most recipes. Plus, it’s low in fat and a good source of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
You can also grab some tongs and gloves and harvest prickly pear fruits and pads. Popular in Mexican cuisine, prickly pear pads called ‘nopales’ can be boiled like green beans, dried into jerky or pickled. Prickly pear fruit can be made into jam, added to smoothies or strained for fruit juice – a nice natural sweetener for drinks and desserts.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, grab a long stick and a bucket and harvest fruit from your Saguaro (typically in early July). Gently knock the fruit loose, being mindful of spines. Fruit pulp can be used for pancake syrup, jam and fruit juice. Dry the seeds in the sun and use as a tasty textural addition to bread, salad or anything else that demands an extra crunch.
If you’re thinking of adding a little local flavor to your cooking, just look in your backyard! Each of these edible plants is a delicious and healthy alternative to some of the ingredients you already use.