dye plant

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.

Helianthus tuberosus 2192048

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.

Helianthus pixabay 007

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.

ginger flower pixabay 1209745

 

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

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