Dye

Flowers of the Sun

My niece, who gets married this week, chose the sunflower as her wedding flower.  I decided this is a great topic for a Savor the Southwest article, because in our corner of the world, monsoon season is a great time to plant sunflowers.

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Sunflowers are all-American. Seriously, they first occurred only in the New World, but once “discovered” were rapidly spread by humans and planted around the world. There are over 70 different species of sunflower (Helianthus) – and while the annual garden sunflower is best known, the number of perennial species (such as the “Jerusalem” artichoke or sunchoke) far outnumber the annuals.

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Interestingly, the perennials appear to be one of the first semi-domesticated plants on this continent. Early tribes in North America were hunter-gatherers and had regular migration routes. Roots of the perennial sunflowers were dug for food as the clan hiked along, and smaller rootlets were replanted further along the path, helping ensure that there would be food to harvest next year. (Women are fairly smart that way.)

 

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Natives didn’t ignore the annual species, especially once they started cultivating other crops, such as corn, beans, and squash. Sunflower isn’t one of these Three Sisters because unlike corn, sunflower doesn’t like beans climbing its tall stalks, and it makes a tad too much shade for squash to grow around its base. Guess you could say it doesn’t play well with others, although it does grow quite well with other sunflowers.

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Sunflower seeds rich in protein and contain roughly 30 percent oil, a substance once hard to come by in Native diets, thus their popularity. The Hopi prized tceqa – a variety they selected over time for a striking blue-black hull color. This coloring was used as a dye for baskets and later wool. The Tarahumara cultivate a variety with all white hulls. The Havasupai sunflower has black seeds that are much smaller than most other sunflowers, but it has many flowers per plant.

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Grow Annual Sunflowers

Plant seeds of the annuals (Helanthus annus) in the spring or with the summer rains. Plant them1 inch deep and 12 inches apart. Plants can grow 6 to 8 feet tall so if you live in a windy area, plan on staking them. I favor planting in large blocks rather than single rows. Site them in full sun to afternoon shade. Keep seeds moist while sprouting, but encourage deep roots by deep, infrequent watering once they have 6 to 10 true leaves.

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Harvest
It’s best to allow seeds to dry in the flower heads. Cut the heads off the plants and bring them inside to dry (out of reach of the birds). Once dry, rub out seeds and winnow off chaff.

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Enjoy
Seeds can be eaten raw or roasted. I enjoy them on long drives, cracking them in my teeth and spitting the hulls into a handy “hull cup” carried for the purpose. The hulls are a bit tough for my compost, but gradually become detritus when placed under shrubs in the landscape.

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Seeds (sans hulls) are wonderful ground and mixed with chickpeas for a sunflower humus. (Incidentally the Pima County Seed Library is featuring chickpeas as their seed of the year. Look for several Savor Sister presentations at your local library this fall.) Seeds can also be mixed into various cookie and bread recipes. Due to their high oil content, sunflower seeds do not make a good “flour.”

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Seeds make delicious and nutritious sunflower sprouts that can be used in salads, especially welcome when greens are in short supply in the garden.

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Some more about the name (because I love playing with words). Helianthus is from the Greek helios or sun. The Spanish common name, mirasol, comes from their habit of following the sun with their massive shining flowers (the better to entice pollinators to visit). And finally, in case you didn’t know, Soule is pronounced like sol, which is why I adopted “Gardening with Soule, in the land of El Sol” as my motto – honoring that powerful orb in the sky we rely on for life.

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JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos in this article courtesy of Pixabay.

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Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

Turmeric

Jacqueline Soule, AKA Gardening With Soule, today.  If you have a garden (as opposed to a landscape) you will always have some task to perform. Pots of plants become overgrown, the roots crowded, and the plants need to be divided. I was recently performing this chore, and one of the plants needing attention in this warm month was turmeric.

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Turmeric (Curcuma domestica) is a member of the Ginger Family (Zingiberaceae), related to grasses, orchids, and bananas. The economically important portion of the plant is the rhizome, a large, lumpy underground storage stem (which is structurally different than a root).

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Turmeric is a tropical plant that dies back to its rhizome in the coolness of our Sonoran winters. (Yes, snow birds come here for our “warm” winters – but everything is relative.) Iris and ginger also grow from rhizomes, with iris staying above ground in winter, but ginger also retreating underground.

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Planting turmeric
Plant turmeric rhizomes horizontally and cover them with a sparse layer of soil. In the Southwest, turmeric grows best in full sun to afternoon shade. Provide ample water for this lush-leafed plant. Plant in well-drained rich to slightly sandy soil. Turmeric will do well in containers, which is how I grow them, with the lowermost inch of pot submerged in the water garden.

If you have an entirely desert landscape, turmeric won’t look right in your landscape. But – if you are like most of us in the Southwest – you have an oasis zone in your xeriscape, and thus turmeric will fit right in. Turmeric will also grow well in a water garden. So yes – you can grow them in the desert.

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Turmeric in Medicine
Turmeric is popular in India and the Far East to treat stomach complaints. A paste is applied to help cure bruises, and to accelerate the formation of scabs caused by chicken pox and (in the past) smallpox. The fumes of the burning rhizomes are used to relieve colds and lung congestion. In the 1800’s turmeric was used in the United States as a stimulant and stomach tonic. Turmeric is now popular as an anti-inflammatory and to help with high cholesterol and heart issues.

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Turmeric in History
In the days of alchemy, a paste made from turmeric and water was applied to paper. This paper would then change color from a saffron yellow to a reddish brown if exposed to alkaline conditions. The Latin term ‘terra merita’ (deserving or deserved earth) became shortened to termerit, and later changed into turmeric. Note that yes, there is an “r” in the word – tur-mer-ic.

In the 1500’s, books called Herbals, which were used as medical guides, mention turmeric as another name for “curcuma.” Curcuma was used as a name because the spice is highly similar to saffron, called kurkum by the Arab traders who brought it to Europe from Asia.

In 1753, when names for many plants were systematized by the Swede Linnaeus, he used the name Curcuma for the genus of plants which turmeric belongs to. The spice turmeric comes from Curcuma domestica (sometimes listed as Curcuma longa in older herb books)

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Turmeric for Dye
One major non-spice use of turmeric is as a coloring agent. It colors both cotton and wool without need of a mordant (fixing agent). The yellow robes of Buddhist monks were often dyed with turmeric. Turmeric powder is also used in candies, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and in some commercial brands of mustard (which is why some mustard “stains” your clothes).

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Turmeric in Cooking
Turmeric is valued worldwide for the subtle flavor and brilliant color in gives to curry sauces. It can be used alone to color rice and rice pudding. In Yugoslavia, a festival bread is flavored and colored with turmeric.

My grandmother Soule used turmeric in her bread-and-butter pickles, which always included slices of onions. I remember my age 6 astonishment at the brilliant yellow hue the white onions “magically” turned after the canning was done. “Turmeric caused it,” Grandma explained. “It’s a spice that comes from plants.” Thus another step in my path to becoming a botanist was unknowingly taken.

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, medicinal plant, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild Rhubarb Rises Again!

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

It’s an unusual winter season when Canaigre (also known by many other names:  Wild Rhubarb, Desert Dock,  Hiwidchuls in O’odham language, Latin name Rumex hymenosepalus) creeps up out of its sandy hiding places to bloom and seed before spring weather gets too warm.  When conditions are right, it can dot the desert floor in early spring with its floppy leathery leaves and pink stalks similar to domestic rhubarb.  This recent cool season Nov.2016-Jan.2017, with its period of penetrating rains, has been the right trigger for awakening canaigre.  Right now it’s time to attune our vision to finding it!  If the weather heats up rapidly, as happened in the last couple of springs, its tender leaf rosettes will dry and crinkle leaving a brown organic “shadow” of itself on the sand, its stored life safely underground in fat roots.  Tia Marta here to share some experiences with canaigre or wild rhubarb.

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Canaigre isn’t just everywhere in the desert.  It’s elusive.  It usually likes sandy loose soil, like the flood plains of our desert rivers in Baja Arizona and Sonora, along major arroyo banks, and on pockets of ancient sand dunes.  Where you see one you usually see many.

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

My late friend and mentor, Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil, would take me to her favorite harvesting grounds at the right time each February and March to collect the rosy stalks–if they had emerged.  Over the last 40 years, with deep regret, frustration and anguish, I’ve seen her special “harvesting gardens” go under the blade as development turned wild rhubarb habitat into apartments, golf courses, and strip malls.  Hopefully our Arizona Native Plant Society (www.AZNPS.com) will be able to advocate for setting aside some remaining sites on public lands, similar to the BLM Chiltepin Reserve at Rock Corral Canyon in the Atascosa Mountains.  Where wild rhubarb was once super-plentiful, they and their habitats are now greatly diminished, even threatened.

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Details of the parts of the plant that Juanita traditionally harvested are shown in Mimi Kamp’s sketch.  Contrary to some ethnographic reports, Juanita did not use the leaf petioles for food; she harvested the flower stalks, i.e. the stems, leaving the leaves to make more food for the plants to store for the next season.  Traditional knowledge is so attuned to Nature.  Hers was an awareness of the plant’s needs balanced with her own appetite.  Other reports of traditional use of wild rhubarb mention cooking the leaves after leaching/steaming out the oxalic acid from them which is not healthy to eat.

Juanita would also dig deeply into the sandy soil directly under an unusually large, robust hiwidchuls to harvest one or more (up to maybe 1/4 of the tubers) to use as medicine.  I recall her digging a big purplish tuber the size of an oblong sweet potato at a depth of 2 1/2 feet on the floodplain of the Rio Santa Cruz where ball parks now prevent any hiwidchuls growth at all.  She would dry it and powder it to use later on scrapes to staunch bleeding.  Her hiwidchuls harvesting dress was dotted with rosy brown patches of color dyed from the juice splashed on the cloth when she cut the tubers into slices for drying. (See Jacqueline Soule’s post on this blog from 2014, also Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants books, for alternate uses.)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up  with buds and flowers  typical of buckwheats (MABurgess photo)

Canaigre/wild rhubarb is in the buckwheat family sporting clusters of little flowers that produce winged seeds.  Their papery membranes help catch the wind for flying to new planting grounds.  The green celery-like flower stalk or stem turns pink or raspberry-tinted as it matures.  That was when Juanita would cut the stem at its base to use for her hiwidchuls pas-tild, wild rhubarb pie!

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb's membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb’s membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

In a good year, Juanita would harvest literally bundles of hiwidchuls stalks and we would set to work baking.  Her pies were sweet and tangy.  Here is what she would roughly put together in her off the cuff recipe.  But almost any rhubarb pie recipe should work with the wild rhubarb.  You can find great info on Southwest Native uses of canaigre in Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book American Indian Food and Lore.

Juanita’s approximate Hiwidchuls Pas-tird RECIPE

Ingredients:

ca 4-6 cups chopped young wild rhubarb stems

1/4-1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour

2-3 Tbsp butter

ca 2 cups sugar

pie crust–2 layers for top and bottom, or bottom crust and top lattice crust (A good variation is mesquite flour added to your crusts)

Directions:  Prep stems ahead.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Chop young rhubarb stems in 1/2 inch cuts.  Stems are full of vascular bundles and can become very fibrous as stems become fully mature, so youthful stems are best.  (Be warned:  One year we harvested a little too late and our pies were so “chewy” with fiber that we had to eat our pies outside in order to be able to easily “spit out the quids.”)  Cook hiwidchuls chopped pieces in a small amount of water until tender.  Add in sugar, butter and flour and cook until mixture is thickening.  Pour mixture into your pie crust.  Cover with top pie crust and pierce for steam escape, or cover with lattice crust.  Begin baking in hot oven (at 450F) then reduce heat to medium oven (350F) for 45-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling through lattice or steam holes.  Enjoy it hot or cold!

 

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Now let’s head out into the desert washes to see if there are more stands of hiwidchuls popping up out of the ground, making solar food to keep themselves and other creatures alive and well!   Let’s get ready to be collecting their seeds (which also were used traditionally by Native People as food) in order to propagate and multiply them, adding them to our gardens for future late winter shows of color, good food and good medicine.  Happy gardening and eating from Tia Marta and traditional knowledge shared!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Useful Desert Broom

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People complain that they want more green in their landscape. Desert broom is one option for bright green foliage.

Desert broom is called escoba amarga in Spanish, and also called a weed by many.  But I advocate you take a moment to consider this shrub more fully.

Desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides) is a vigorous plant – often the first plant to grow on a cleared stretch of desert (or over the septic tank).  It can be useful to have such a tough plant in your landscape palatte.  Along with landscaping it is useful in a number of other ways.

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Sad to say – some people think the only good desert broom is a dead one.

Uses.

Desert broom has a history of use as a medicinal plant.  A decoction made by cooking the twigs of desert broom is used to treat colds, sinus headache, and in general “sore aching” ailments. The Seri use this when other medicinal plants are not available. The same tea is also used as a rub for sore muscles.  (Perchance Father Kino used some after one of his epic rides.)

Studies done on plant extracts show that desert broom is rich in leutolin, a flavonoid that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering capabilities. Desert broom also has quercetin, a proven antioxidant, and apigenin, a chemical which binds to the same brain receptor sites that Valium does. However, many members of the Sunflower family also contain compounds that cause negative side effects, thus caution is advised.

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Desert broom seedlings are often among the first plants to appear in a cleared area. The rabbits do not eat them.

As it’s name indicates, branches of desert broom do make a passable broom for sweeping the dirt floors of an adobe home.

Desert broom is so plentiful, and many of it’s seep willow cousins are used as dye, so I had to do the experiment. The result – yes! It does dye wool. Various mordants result in differing shades as seen below.  Other members of the Baccharis genus have excellent colorfastness.

baccharis dye on wool crop

Baccharis on wool with different mordants. I use the chemical symbols to mark my mordants. Al = alum, Cu = copper, FE = iron.

Desert broom can be used as filler in fresh and dried floral arrangements, with long lasting color and minimum mess since it has few leaves to lose.

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This plant gets chopped often for filler in my flower arrangements. Regular clipping helps keep it a dense and bushy.

Desert broom comes in separate male and female plants. The females release their tiny fluffy seeds at the same time a number of other plants release their pollen, thus the seeds of desert broom often get erroneously called an allergen. The pollen of the male plants is released in fall and can be allergenic.

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No, desert broom does not have yellow flowers. In this case a desert broom grew up through a Cassia.

Planting and Care.
Plants may be purchased at nurseries or can be grown from seed. Avoid over-watering in heavy soils as desert broom will drown.

Desert broom will accept shearing and can be trained into a decent, short-lived privacy hedge. Such a short lived hedge is helpful while the longer-lived, taller, non-allergenic, but slower growing Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) reaches hedge size. Desert broom can also be useful in the landscape since it grows in heavy clay or saline soils where few other plants thrive.

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These plants get sheared once a month by landscapers with power tools. Note that the native desert broom is growing more vigorously than the non-native cassia from Australia.

JAS avatar If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

All photos and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Dye, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Onion Planting Time!

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The Southwest is ideal for gardening all year long.

Jacqueline Soule with you here to share some timely planting tips.  Speaking as a gardener – one of the best things about living here in the Southwest is that every month is the month to plant something! Right now, in these cool months with short days and long nights, it is time to plant onions.

If you have never before had a vegetable garden, onions are a great way to start. Of all the garden vegetables, they are tolerant of abuse and forgiving of mistakes. In the ground, in large or small pots, under the shrubs in the front yard of your HOA home (the weed-police are mollified by “bulbs”), wherever you have a little space you can plant some onions. As long as we get rain every ten days, you may not even need to water them. Onions fresh out of the ground have so much more flavor you owe it to yourself to try them.

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Onions can be tucked into almost any space in the yard. These I’itoi onions stay small.

Which ones? There are more varieties of onions than you can shake a stick at, a number of different types with conflicting names (bunching, bulbing, multiplier) and technically a few different species, but rather than start a discourse on all of that, lets just key into the fact that the days are short, thus you need to plant “short day” varieties.

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Onion sets can be planted in pots with potting soil.

Now? In the coldest time of year? Yes! But you will plant “sets” not seeds. Sets are already started from seed onions, or, in the case of multiplier onions and garlics, they are divisions off a larger bulb.

How to plant sets? Just set them into the soil. (Sometimes gardening terminology makes sense.)  Plant with the green side up, the bulb entirely below the soil.

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Look in the background in this shot. Some varieties will grow faster than others.

Most of our local nurseries know that now is the time for onions and have a selection of sets to choose from. Big box stores don’t – just another reason to shop local. In past years some of the Farmer’s Market vendors also offered onion sets.

A general planting guide follows.

Light.  Remember the whole “short day” thing?  The short days of winter will mean that the onions will need as much as you can give them.

Soil is not as critical as with most vegetables. But for best overall health, plus full flavor and good final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended. Or plain potting soil if you grow them in containers.

Water is needed on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves. In general this means two or three times per week, but maybe more if the onions are in pots.

Fertilizer is not much needed by onions. If you want to, use one for root crops, high in nitrogen and potassium. Avoid fertilizer for flowers, like a rose or tomato food. Flowering takes energy away from creating succulent bulbs.

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These onions got too much flowering fertilizer. Rather than develop good bulbs, they spent their energy producing flowers and seeds.

Harvest – once the tops die down and start to turn brown (usually in late May into June).  For long term storage the garden books from “back east” tell you to dry your onions in the sun – but don’t do that here!! – they will get sun scald and taste yucky. Dry onions in a cool dark place that does have good air flow. I put mine on screens in the laundry room and leave the ceiling fan on low for about three days. Once they have dried onions will store without rotting.

Storage & Use. Some varieties of onions store better than others. Plan on about four months maximum for best flavor and texture. (Ours are eaten so fast this is not an issue.) Don’t forget to save your onion skins to make a great natural dye for Easter eggs and textiles.

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I keep a bag to add my onion skins to every time I cook.

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Onion skins produce a warm brown dye.

 

For more about onions and other vegetables and fruits that will thrive in your Southwestern garden, please consider my book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014), available at Antigone, Arizona Experience Store, local botanical gardens, state parks, and nurseries.

© 2015, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Rhubarb

Dr. Jacqueline Soule, the Fourth Friday Savor Sister here to talk today about an edible “weed” you might find in your yard this winter.

Rumex_hymenosepalus_5 by SS

Rumex hymenosepalus – a “weed” with a number of uses.

One of the wonderful aspects of living in Southern Arizona is our milder winter weather – and it has been milder than most this year.  In my corner of Tucson it has not even hit freezing yet (a fact that is good and bad news for gardeners with fruit trees, but more about “chill hours” some other day).  This mild winter weather has lead to the early appearance of a number of cool season/winter weeds.  Note that it is a good idea to get rid of most weeds before they go to seed, unless they are edible weeds, in which case you may want to harvest some and leave the rest to seed freely for future harvests.

One local winter plant often considered a weed was once grown here commercially.  I am talking about Rumex hymenosepalus, commonly called wild rhubarb, canaigre, hierba colorada, Arizona dock, Arizona rhubarb, tanners dock, or ganagra. Back when my age was in the single digits, I learned to call it “miners lettuce.”

Rumex_hymenosepalus_1 by SS

Common names for the plant include wild rhubarb. Unlike rhubarb, the young leaves are edible.

 

Growing up at the edge of Tucson, cowboys were part of our circle of friends. “Mr. Alex” was very patient with my countless plant questions, and told me the name for the plant was miners lettuce. With one of his slow smiles he explained that no self respecting cowboy would eat the plant, but because most miners were poorer than dirt, they commonly ate the plant. Five decades later I realize he was also explaining to my brother that most prospectors never found their gold mine, and were commonly strapped for cash, but a steadily working cowboy never lacked for food to eat.

Prospector&Burro

Most prospectors never found the gold they searched for and were perennially short of cash.  They harvested any number of wild plants to help fill the stew pot.

 

Rumex hymenosepalus was once cultivated in the southwestern United States for the roots, a good source of tannin, used for tanning leather. The roots also yield a warm, medium brown dye for natural fibers like wool and cotton. But when it comes to savoring – the leaves and leaf stalks are considered edible when young. Use leaves and tender young stems in salads or cook like spinach. Older stalks can be cooked and eaten like rhubarb. Rumex pie – yum!

rumex sp by Leigh Anne Albright

A plant found on the edge of Tucson. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.

 

rumex 02 by Leigh Anne Albright

Within a population, the color and length of the stems can vary. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.

 

Rumex hymenosepalus is generally found in grasslands, like the Tucson valley used to be. Now you can find it on the eastern and southern edges of Tucson around Vail and Sahuarita, as well as other southern Arizona grassland areas. It is also found in other western states, including California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.

 

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Arizona rhubarb is primarily a plant of the grasslands, and Tucson was once a valley filled with a sea of grass.

 

Empire_Ranch_Arizona_Cienega_Creek_Cottonwoods_September_2007

You can visit the Empire Ranch to step back in time. Due to overgrazing, mesquite trees and cacti are taking over the former grasslands.

 

Although the leaves appear after the winter rains, the plant is a perennial in the buckwheat family, the Polygonaceae. You may have guessed by the common name, but this plant family also includes rhubarb, another perennial whose leaf stalks are (IMHO) yummy!

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Freshly harvested rhubarb stalks. Avoid eating the leaves of rhubarb as they are high in oxalic acid which can harm human kidneys.

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You can use the stalks of our local “wild rhubarb” to make rhubarb pie.

 

Various other species of Rumex are commonly cultivated as garden vegetables.  Rumex acetosa, often simply called sorrel, common sorrel, garden sorrel, spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.  Rumex scutatus, called French sorrel or yerba mulata, has been cultivated in this area since the days of Father Kino (in this area 1687 to 1711).  I just purchased some nursery seedlings of French sorrel at a local independent nursery and planted them in my garden.

dye rhubarb

As a dye, the roots of Rumex hymenosepalus yield a similar color to rhubarb roots. This is sheep wool with an alum mordant. Photo by J.A. Soule.

 

A quick note about the common name sorrel. In the Caribbean “sorrel” refers to Hibiscus sabdariffa, used to make a tea. In other areas sorrel refers to a members of the genus Oxalis, whose leaves have a tart flavor and are used in a number of ways.  This just serves to highlight the reason I rely on scientific names when discussing plants that may be harvested in the wild.  You want to be certain of your identification.

If you like to harvest your own, or prefer to cultivate your food, I hope you will consider adding this member of the buckwheat family to your list of plants to savor.  Go Rumex!

Rumex_hymenosepalus_4 by SS

The flowers are very not very showy, but are surrounded by large, colorful sepals that last even after the flowers are gone.

 

Photos copyright free and courtesy of Wikimedia except where noted.  Article © 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. My photos may not be used.  Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Dye, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Desert Mistletoe for Food and Fun

Jacqueline Soule here today to discuss a edible “weed.”  Most people associate mistletoe it with kisses and winter holidays. Sad to say, here in the desert southwest, many homeowners think of our local mistletoe as a weed to be eliminated from their trees. In reality, they should be thinking of it as a crop to be harvested!

Phoradendron_californicum_6 by Stan Shebs

Desert mistletoe fruit is the only mistletoe fruit that is edible. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

There are many species of mistletoes around the world. The mistletoe plants themselves are all toxic. The berries of most species are toxic. The one exception is our local desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, bearing not only edible but highly palatable white to reddish translucent berries. Native peoples ate only the fruits of mistletoes growing on mesquite, ironwood or catclaw acacia. Found growing on palo verdes or Condalia (desert buckthorn) the fruits are considered inedible.

 

Phoradendron_californicum_1 by Stan Shebs

Plants of desert mistletoe can become quite large and offer a bountiful harvest of berries. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

According to literature, the Seri consider mistletoe fruit ripe and harvestable once it turns translucent. Harvest is done by spreading a blanket below the plant and hitting it with sticks to release the fruit. Seri consumed the fruit raw. The Tohono O’odham also consumed the fruit raw. River Pima ate the fruit boiled and mashed, which made it the consistency of a pudding. The Cahilla gathered the fruits November through April and boiled them into a paste with a sprinkle of wood ash added to the pot.  (Bibliography at the end of this article.)

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent.  This is just normal variation within the species.  Photo by S. Shebs.

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent. This is just normal variation within the species. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, desert mistletoe plants (not the fruit) contain phoratoxins which can easily lead to death via slowed heart rate, increased blood pressure, convulsions, or cardiac collapse. Some of these compounds can cause hallucinations, but there is no way to judge dosage. People seeking a “high” from mistletoe still turn up in morgues each year. Native peoples used plants other than mistletoe to seek visions, and if one desires visions, one would be wise to follow their example. Although toxic, if used in a well-ventilated place, the foliage of desert mistletoe can be used in crafts and as a dye, producing a pale beige to dark sienna.

Mistletoe dye on cotton

Mistletoe dye on cotton. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

Harvesting and Use.

Mistletoe berries are ripe once they turn translucent and you can generally see the red seed inside. They also become soft and squishy, losing their hardness. Watch the phainopeplas, when they start devouring berries, then the fruit is ripe! I have only eaten the berries fresh, and find them reminiscent of elderberry in flavor. I was going to experiment with making a jelly this year, but missed my window of opportunity.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

As a dye, mistletoe plants themselves are used. They can be fresh or dried. Place the herbage in the pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, strain. Add an alkalizing agent (ammonia) to intensify the color. You can dye both protein fibers (wool, silk) and plant fibers (cotton) with this solution. Ideally mordant with alum prior to dyeing, but post-mordant baths also work.

paper with desert plants 004

A blend of half paper pulp and half mistletoe plant material yields a nicely textured craft paper. Photo by J. A. Soule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

paper with desert plants 002

All manner of desert plants can be used in papermaking. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than discarding the spent mistletoe herbage from making dye, I have frozen it for later use in papermaking. Grind the cooked mistletoe in a blender and mix it half and half with paper pulp to create a lovely, rough-textured, craft paper with a warm brown hue.

 

 

Note: This month I have been looking at desert mistletoe in some of my other online articles.

Desert mistletoe and human use is presented here, the third in a series on the topic.
Desert mistletoe and wildlife can be read at: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe
Desert mistletoe as part of a native garden caan be read at: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe

This article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule, 2014. The topic is covered more extensively in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). If you live in Tucson, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.

 

For the last eight months, Savor the Southwest has been brought to you every week by four Savor Sisters, me (Jacqueline), Tia Marta, Aunt Linda and Carolyn. Look for our fifth Savor sister, Amy Valdes Schwemm will make her first appearance in June, otherwise she will return to post whenever a month has five Fridays.

 

Bibliography for this article
Felger, R. S. and M. B. Moser. 1985. People of the Desert and Sea. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Hodgson, W. C. 2001. Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Kearny T. H. and Peebles R. H., et al. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Rea, A. M. 1997. At the Desert’s Green Edge. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Tohono O’odham Nation (s.d.). When Everything Was Real: An Introduction to Papago Desert Foods. Tohono O’odham Nation, Sells, AZ.

 

© 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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