Author Archives: darasaville

Fall Foraging with Prickly Pear and Mesquite

Prickly Pear FruitsWorking with plants provides numerous opportunities to live our lives in harmony with the natural cycles unfolding around us and within us.  Just as the end of winter is marked by walking the river and harvesting resinous Cottonwood buds (Populus deltoides wislizenii), the transition to fall reveals itself as I harvest Prickly Pears (Opuntia spp.) in muted late-season light. Prickly Pears are one of the delights of urban foraging as there are many fruiting plants around town here in Albuquerque. In fact, it is easy to find an abundance of Prickly Pears in quiet residential neighborhoods, vacant lots, and alleyways that are well off of the busy main boulevards. Prickly Pear has medicinal uses including positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol but the best part is baking and beverage making with this magical magenta fruit.

Harvesting and processing these fruits, often referred to as tunas, is easier than you might think. In my area, they begin to ripen in September and continue through the fall and even into the winter. Using tongs, grab onto a fruit, twist, and pull it off gently and place it into your bag or stock pot.  There are a number of different methods for dealing with the glochids, or tiny cactus hairs that protect the fruit. Since I usually harvest Prickly Pears from urban environments, I favor the soak and peel method.  This involves soaking the fruits in lukewarm water for a half hour or so where most of the glochids will float away. Using the tongs again, remove fruits from the water, slice off the broad flat end, and carefully peel the skin. This experience will vary depending on the fruits. I find that the slightly smaller fruits of Opuntia polyaPrickly Pear soakingcantha tend to let go of their glochids in the water more freely while the larger fruits of O. englemannii tend to be a little more stubborn. Also some peel more easily than others but often the skin will readily peel back in a manner reminiscent of working with roasted bell peppers. Get it started with a knife and pull pieces back with your fingers, if the fruit is willing. Otherwise, just peel it with your knife. Next, put the peeled fruits in a sieve and push them through with a potato masher and the back side of a large serving spoon.  This will collect the seeds and much of the pulp. Depending on the size of the fruits, I frequently get 1 ounce or more of juice per fruit. Not a bad yield and once you get your routine down, this process unfolds rather quickly.

Now that you have all of this Prickly Pear juice, what should you do with it? There are lots of ways to use it and my favorite is the simplest–just drink it. I like to make all sorts Prickly Pear juicingof beverages with Prickly Pear juice including fermented sodas, infused herbal teas, syrup-based cocktails, or dilute it with water as it tastes good on its own. I also freeze it to drink throughout the winter and early spring. Since I like baking and have kids that will eat sweets, I usually end up making some desserts. I have made a number of Prickly Pear treats over the years and my latest recipe is here for you to try out. Regular readers and students will already know that I am in love with my desert home and most everything that comes out of my botanical kitchen reflects this fondness of dryland plants. Mesquite (Prosopis gladulosa torreyana, P. spp.) is the perfect companion for Prickly Pear in landscapes and also in food.  It imparts a clear and distinct flavor to foods so try it out for yourself first to see how you like it.  Foraging enthusiasts may wish to collect Mesquite pods and process them but without the proper equipment (such as a hammermill), this is a time consuming task and difficult to make a fine floury powder at home. Luckily, mesquite flour is something you can buy and store in your refrigerator for culinary explorations like this. I usually keep it to no more than 25% of any flour mixture to prevent it from overwhelming the other flavors in whatever recipe I am making.

Prickly Pear Mesquite Sandwich Cookies with Coconut and Lime

Mesquite Lime Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 TBSP fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 TBSP lime zest
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup mesquite flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Prickly Pear Coconut Filling:

  • 7.5 ounces coconut manna, softened in a warm water bath
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 TBSP Prickly Pear juice
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 1 to 2 TBSP sugar
  • pinch of salt

Optional Ganache: I have little interest in desserts without chocolate so this is for my fellow chocolate lovers

  • 6 ounces grated or chopped chocolate of your liking
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Prickly Pear Mesquite cookiesPrickly Pear Mesquite chocolate cookies

Directions:

Making the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375 and line your cookie sheets. Cream the butter and sugar together and then add the egg, lime zest, and lime juice. Scoop drops of this dough onto your cookie sheets, dust them with flour, and flatten them with a broad knife. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to turn light brown.

Making the filling: Blend all ingredients in a food processor.

Finishing: Once the cookies have cooled, put a spoonful of filling on the backside of a cookie and make a sandwich with a second one. If you wish to add the ganache, warm the cream in a saucepan on medium heat. Put the chocolate in a bowl and pour the heated cream over it. Very gently stir it in a spiral motion without making any bubbles until all is integrated. Wait until this mixture cools (80 degrees or so) and is thick enough to pour it over the cookies without running off.

 

Connecting with Our Heritage Through Herbs

G-G-G-Grandma Richards

My Great Great Great Grandma Richards

 

As a young girl, I heard my great-grandmother tell stories about growing up during the early 1900’s and being an adult in the depression era. One of these stories included a tale of how her mother drank backyard herbs in warm water to start the morning. I had the privilege of being shown that very backyard and the once weedy countryside that had since been transformed into ornamental flowerbeds. I was assured that my great-great-grandmother drank weeds only as a circumstance of life in those times and she was now clearly happy to be able to purchase coffee and other more civilized beverages. I did not think much of the story at the time, but I now understand its greater value. Just as it exemplifies a generational difference in values between a mother and daughter, it also illustrates a shift in the zeitgeist of the American public with regard to people’s relationship to herbal medicine and to nature itself.

My Great Grandma and Grandma in the hills around their home.

A connection to herbs, nature, and self-reliance in personal healthcare was part of life for most folks until well into the 20th century. Attitudes started to change when the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act began to expose some products’ exaggerated claims of “curing” all varieties of aliments and serious illnesses. This began to sow the seeds of doubt in consumers’ minds and by the 1930’s corporate advertising slogans such as DuPont’s “Better things for better living through chemistry” were penetrating people’s minds everywhere. This shift in public thinking gained further momentum in the 1940s when mass production of modern laboratory medicines, beginning with Penicillin, further undermined people’s faith in herbs and weakened their connection to the natural world. Advertisements such as this one from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly appeared in a 1944 pharmacists’ journal and would influence America’s prevailing attitude toward herbalism:

The ‘medicine man’ of the early nineteen hundreds has small part in our modern habits of living. Little medicine is sold these days from the tailboard of a wagon… A reputation for cheapness in prescription merchandise is despised by everyone… The Lilly label is a symbol of quality. It identifies you as a competent prescriptionist.1

Eli Lilly Pharma Ad

Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical ad in 1944 Pharmacist journals.

How unfortunate that the emerging pharmaceutical industry was so successful in delegitimizing the role of herbs and natural medicines in everyday life. Instead of seeing herbal remedies and modern medicine as complementary healing traditions, most people gradually came to disregard the value of the herbs that healed them for so many generations; indeed for the entire history of humanity. Let’s take a look back at some of the herbal remedies that served our great-grandmothers and beyond.

From the 1880s and into the early 1900s, the Mother Gray Company of Le Roy New York made a number of popular herbal remedies including Allen’s Foot Ease and Mother Gray’s Sweet Worm Powders. Products made prior to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act Remedy Australian Leafwere not required to list ingredients and often made sweeping cure-all claims such as those on the box of Mother Gray’s Australian Leaf tea blend. The box states “a certain cure for headache, backache, bearing down pains, kidney, liver, bladder, and urinary troubles, diabetes, and dropsy”. The package further states, “it cures female weakness including inflammation and ulceration, irregular and painful or suppressed illness and all diseases of the stomach, bowels and urinary organs in either sex”. No ingredients are listed, which makes it impossible to know how many of these conditions might have been affected by the formula. Regardless of ingredients, any claims of curing so many ailments in a single remedy should naturally raise suspicions. These exaggerated claims would provide a foundation for federal regulation and a catalyst for the shift in beliefs about herbal remedies that would unfold during the coming years.

 

 

At the turn of the century the movement was underway to regulate herbal products. Frank Cheney of the Hall’s company became a leader in lobbying against regulation, but his Proprietary Association of America failed to stop the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. With new oversight in place, the patent medicine era was coming to a close and many herbal product companies disappeared from the marketplace. As a result of the new regulations, the surviving companies increased newspaper adverting. The Hall’s company ran ads in newspapers across the country offering $100 to anyone who could produce catarrh that could not be remedied by his popular product Hall’s Catarrh Cure. Another result was that companies such as Hall’s, Romero Drug, Los Angeles Pharmacal, and Dr. J. H. McLean’s Medicine all began listing ingredients on their remedies and the outlandish cure-all claims disappeared from packaging. Upon inspection of the ingredients, we can see more clearly the continuation of our herbal heritage. Many of these products contain the same herbs we might use today for the same purposes. Liniments such as Aztec, La Sanadora, and McLean’s Volcanic Oil were made with Cayenne, Menthol, Pine, and Camphor to ease the sore muscles of everyday life. Halls’ syrup included honey and zinc to ease sore throats associated with colds. Essence of Peppermint was a popular staple of any home apothecary and was used for all manner of ailments, just as it is today. Along with these herbs, however, comes the “inactive ingredients”. These are the extractive menstruums, or the carriers of the medicine. Fortunately we are no longer preparing our liniments with ammonia and providing guidelines for internal use. No more turpentine or chloroform in our modern liniments, either. One manufacturing company boasts that their sore throat syrup, made with borax, had been in use for over fifty years and provided dosages for infants. I am happy to see that herbalists are evolving, bringing the traditions of the past into the modern era by adding new knowledge to our inheritance.

 

 

Later products of the 1930s and 40s illuminate the continuing importance of herbal products in the lives of Americans during and after the Great Depression, but also act as harbingers of coming change. This was a time of economic hardship when many people could not afford physician’s fees and self-care skills continued to be of great value. Remedies including Argotane, Bukets, and Califig still used herbal terms on their labels such as tonic, cholagogue, and elixir or phrases such as “stimulant to the diuretic action of the kidneys”. Some products like Sterling Drug’s Califig syrup continued on in the traditions of the past by offering an herbal remedy containing Senna, Cassia, Cloves, and Peppermint for the treatment of constipation. However, businesses such as the Argotane Company (a division of Plough Inc.) were bridging the past and future with new formulas and promotional tactics. Argotane frequently ran ads in newspapers across the country extolling the virtues of their product. These ads were disguised as news articles with titles and subtitles such as “Mrs. Hays One of the Proudest Women in Amarillo, Texas, I’m Certainly Grateful For the Happiness Arogtane Has Brought Home”.2 Product formulas of this era highlight a new layer of our herbal heritage that is beginning to unfold, which is the coming transition away from whole herbal ingredients and the increasing preference for isolated chemical compounds as medicines. Argotane’s laxative formula includes staples of the past along with hints of the future: Nux vomica, Cascara Sagrada, and Capsicum are combined with laboratory compounds such as Phenolphthalein, which served as a laxative but has more recently raised concerns as a likely carcinogen.3 Keller Company’s Bukets formula for urinary health also exemplifies this new standard of medicine by combining the herbs Buchu, Juniper berries, Asparagus extract, Saw Palmetto berries, and Scotchbroom along with chemical compounds for dissolving urinary stones and reducing urinary inflammations such as lithium carbonate and potassium nitrate. This movement toward faith in chemicals would ultimately gain momentum and become the prevailing view in our country by mid-century.

1939_A_BetterThings_DuPont_Ad

“Better Things, Better Living Through Chemistry”

These are some of the layers of our rich and diverse herbal heritage. The shift in the American public’s relationship to herbal remedies is exemplified through my great-grandmother’s story about her mother. In one generation a new attitude was clearly emerging about herbalism. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, weeds and common plants were what people turned to when health issues came up or they were simply added to the diet as a source of reliable and affordable nutrition. This was a time of westward expansion, settling new territories, and carving out an existence in new and sometimes hostile environments. It was also an era when people spent time outdoors, lived off the land, and made household items by hand. During this time and continuing on through the Depression era we can clearly see the common threads connecting our modern herbal practice to that of our predecessors through an examination of popular herbal formulas. As the 1900s rolled on and industrialized modernity settled in, people gradually began to view herbs as an inferior remedy of the past with new ‘scientific’ drugs marketed by powerful pharmaceutical companies to take their place. Now that we have experienced over half a century of ‘better living through chemicals’ many of us are beginning to seek a more balanced view to life. Wilderness is no longer something to be tamed and conquered, but something to protect and relish. The movement is well underway to circle back around to self-reliance in personal healthcare through natural medicines. This is likely influenced by various factors including the preventive vaccination regime and antibiotic ‘safety-net’ that modern medicine has provided as well as the decrease in frightening acute illnesses and the rise of chronic inflammatory illnesses. Ironically, the shift from acute to chronic ailments is likely precipitated, in part, by the pervasive use of chemicals in our lives. While herbal medicine in post-industrialized America is usually lumped into the category known as “alternative medicine”, many of us know that it is actually traditional medicine and the original medicine of the people.

Dara Saville’s essay originally appeared as a forward to Jesse Wolf Hardin’s book The Traveling Medicine Show, Plant Healer Press: New Mexico, 2015.

It was also published as: Saville, Dara. (2015). Connecting with Our Heritage Through Herbs: Turn of the Century Herbalism in America. Plant Healer Quarterly, 5(2), 144-150.

Endnotes:

  1. North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association; North Carolina Association of Pharmacists; North Carolina. Board of Pharmacy. Annual report; North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association. Year book; North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association. Proceedings of the annual meeting; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. School of Pharmacy. William Simpson Pharmaceutical Society, The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 25, 1944, North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association: Chapel Hill.
  2. “Mrs. Hays One of the Proudest Women in Amarillo, Texas, I’m Certainly Grateful For the Happiness Arogtane Has Brought Home,Clovis News-Journal 5 July 1930: 3.
  3. National Toxicology Program, US Department of Health and Human Services,Report on Carcinogens”, Twelfth Edition, 2011, Sept. 8 2014 ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/twelfth/profiles/phenolphthalein.pdf.

Rio Grande Cottonwood ~ Matriarch of the Bosque

cottonwood-fall_med_hr-2The Cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides wislizenii) is the deeply rooted and life-sustaining matriarch of the Rio Grande Bosque.  Our Bosque is a riparian woodland ecosystem with its origins dating back millions of years.  (Read more about the Bosque here.)  The giant Cottonwoods are the main habitat defining species for this ecosystem providing food and shelter for a long list of animals as well as creating a life-support system for the variety of plants and other organisms that share this environment.  These trees have spreading high branches that host sleeping porcupines and nesting birds while also providing critical shade and deep leaf litter mulch for life on the forest floor.  Yerba Mansa is one of many plants that thrive in this Cottonwood-dominated landscape. This ground cover plant loves the comfort of deep leaf litter mulch and the dappled light that reaches through the layers of branches overhead.  (Read more about Yerba Mansa here.)

Cottonwoods, Yerba Mansa, and our other riparian natives share a crucial connection to the water and suffer from current water management practices in the Southwest.  Since large-scale water diversion practices began and extreme flood control measures have been imposed in the Rio Grande, most areas of the Bosque have become disconnected from the river leaving native floodplain trees and plants with a transformed environment.  Cottonwood trees send their roots all the way down to the water table and so the elders continue to survive.  Younglings, however, are scarce because these trees reproduce in the waters of seasonal flooding that has not occurred since the 1940s.  The Cottonwood canopy that we see today is a gathering of elders standing alone in a forest without the next generation behind them.  It is the opposite of what we see in so many areas of this country where logging has taken the old growth, leaving nothing but young trees. Here we are scrambling to replant thousands of Cottonwoods along the Rio Grande every year as an intervention to prevent the demise of this ancient forest.  (Read more about the changing ecosystem here.)

cottonwood-buds-winter_med_hrThe Cottonwood forest is a prominent feature of our local landscape and has always been an important part of local life along the Rio Grande.  Ancestral Puebloans living in this area for thousands of years had many uses for Cottonwood trees.  Artisans crafted drums from their hollowed out trunks and carved kachinas from their soft roots.  In spring catkins were collected for food and leaves were chewed for toothaches or used as a poultice for skin abrasions.  The wood of the Cottonwood tree was a favorite for firing pots and the bark, which peels off in large thick strips, was used for splints.  The fluff from Cottonwood seeds was even mixed with the white sap from Milkweeds and used as chewing gum.  As Spanish settlers began moving up the Rio Grande Valley, they too found comfort in the Cottonwood forests where they began transforming it into farmland and creating a system of diversion channels called acequias.  They also came to integrate Cottonwoods and other companion plants into their plant medicine traditions.  The bark of Cottonwoods was prepared as a tea to treat fevers, arthritis, and diarrhea.  An astringing poultice for abscesses was also made by mixing the ashes of burned bark with cornmeal and water.  An infusion of dried leaves was also prepared as a diuretic.  Even today, the Cottonwood Bosque is beloved by locals, mostly as a treasured recreational area for dog walking and bird watching, but also a source of inspiration from wilderness in an increasingly urbanized world.

cottonwood-bud-oil_med_hrWalking amongst the Cottonwoods in late winter, I am drawn into a sensory world of sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations reverberating from prehistoric times.  The mountain vistas and endless blue skies, the song of the sandhill cranes heading off to the Platte River, and the powerful scent of Yerba Mansa underfoot have all been a part of this place for millions of years and connect me to the ancientness of this landscape.  The wise old Cottonwood trees have been a part of this phenomenon for at least 2 million years as indicated by the fossil record.  Added to this rich sensory experience is the harvesting of Cottonwood buds, which produce sticky resin in February and March.  One of my favorite herbal medicines comes from these beautiful Bosque buds.  The next time you come across a Cottonwood tree in late winter, pinch the buds and see how sticky they feel.  After pinching a few of these your fingertips should have a thin coating of sticky dark resin.  This means you’ve got good medicine in the making.  Now collect a jar full of these, remembering that each bud is the potential to grow a leaf.  Please be kind to the trees and don’t take too many from one place.  Cottonwood trees frequently break branches in windstorms and you can often find fresh branches on the ground that may be covered in buds.  These are the best because the have no consequence to a living tree. Next cover these buds in olive oil or coconut oil and steep for a week or longer. A wood stove would be ideal for this, but since I do not have one, I do it in a crock-pot.  With the buds covered in oil in a canning jar, fill the crock-pot with water, set it to low heat, and place the glass jar in here for a warm water bath.  You will need to keep adding water and stir the oil each day. After this process is done, strain the oil through a cloth-lined sieve.  You now have a lovely resin-rich massage oil for the treatment of bodily aches and pains of the musculo-skeletal system.  This oil is excellent for overworked muscles, sore joints, or in case you want to pretend you are a tree.

By Dara Saville, March 2015

Aside from my personal experience additional references include:

  • Clifford S. Crawford, Lisa M. Ellis, Manuel C. Mulles Jr., “The Middle Rio Grande Bosque: An Endangered Ecosystem,” New Mexico Journal of Science 36 (1996): 276-299.
  • Jean-Luc Cartron, David Lightfoot, Jane Mygat, Sandra Brantley, and Timothy Lowrey. A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Rio Grande Bosque (Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2008).
  • Michael Moore, Los Remedios, (Santa Fe NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990).
  • William Dunmire and Gail Tierney. Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province (Santa Fe NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995)

The Medicine Wreath ~ Health and Ceremony

Approaching winter and a season of holiday celebrations means gifts, decorations, and gatherings with friends. It is also an opportune time for reflecting on what matters most to us as we take leave from routine and make space for as much hibernation as our modern lives will allow.  I use this time to make handcrafted gifts for those closest to me and I also look to winter herbs that I can incorporate into my seasdsc_0223_med_hronal ceremonies and rituals.  One of the rituals I anticipate most eagerly is making a medicine wreath on the Winter Solstice.  Collecting the plants for the wreath is a process that I undertake with awareness and appreciation.  I walk through my garden of mostly dormant plants and I hear the winter whispers: the roots spreading and mingling underground, seeds laying in wait for warmer days, and the stillness of the latest frost that has settled over the land. I give thanks for these plants and the goodness that they bring into my life and I also allow myself to let go of what I have lost during the year.  Sometimes this may be a wonderful experience to say good-bye to an unpleasant job or to see your child grow out of diapers.  Other times the ceremony may take on more profound meaning as we process more difficult losses such as having a family member or pet pass on.  Winter is a natural time of acknowledging the cycle of life; a time of recognizing all things coming into and out of being.  It provides an occasion for honoring what has been; what is gone.  Gathering the medicine wreath herbs is a process that embraces this connection between the past and the present as I take last season’s dry flower heads and dormant leaves and combine them with the pungent evergreen still full of vitality.  It is a ritual that centers on acceptance of change, slowing down, and living life with deliberation and awareness.

 

wreath-solstice_med_hr

The plants chosen for the wreath are offered by my medicine garden.  Last year’s wreath was made of sprigs of Juniper and Rosemary, Oregon Grape and Strawberry leaves, Horehound, Echinacea seed heads, and some Snowberries and Salmonberries.  I select for color, aroma, and texture as well as for a plant’s healing properties. Juniper and Rosemary provide a rich evergreen background along with enduring aromas, antiseptic and protective properties.  Oregon Grape is a staple herb in my practice, treasured both as an evergreen garden plant and a multi-use medicine that provides tonification of the mucous membranes and protection against a multitude of microbes. Strawberry leaves’ red tone brings color to an otherwise drab-looking winter garden and calms upset stomachs and improves digestion as a tea herb. Horehound looks after respiratory health during cold and flu season and provides more healing aromatherapy as we come and go from our home.  The highly esteemed Echinacea seed heads honor the universal healing process that they promote in our bodies.  All these herbs are brought together to safeguard the health and wellbeing of everyone who passes through our front door.

My family made this wreath last year.  Underneath everything is an old wire hanger shaped into a circle. We used some fine hemp cord to attach all the Juniper and Rosemary to the hanger and then added the rest of the plants by tucking their stems into the evergreens.  We discussed the ancient ancestral roots of our wreath-making ceremony and wondered what Roman families put in their wreaths over two thousand years ago as they honored the return of the light and the greenery it would bring.  During our winter wreath-making ritual we see that we are the continuum of what has been. We know that nothing is ever truly lost.

By Dara Saville, December 2014

Prickly Pears ~ Autumn’s Harvest

Autumn is a time of changes, of honoring the seasonal cycles taking place in the wild and within ourselves.  I have found the ritual of picking prickly pears to be one that invites mindful acceptance of these transformations and the resulting juice makes a fine foundation for some of the season’s best drinks and foods.  Some of you might be thinking ‘is it really worth all the effort to work with cactus fruits with prickly spines?’ and the answer is absoluteley yes!  Here is why:

prickly-pear-flowers-2a_med_hrThe many species of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp.) occupy diverse habitats, thrive in a variety of climate and soil conditions, and grow in many different bioregions. Their adaptability makes them widely available to most of us as a sustainable source of wild food and medicine.  The fruits, or tunas, as they are known in the Southwest begin to ripen in September and continue on throughout the Fall and into Winter.  Both the fruits and the pads are useful plant medicine as well as commonly foraged wild foods.  They are an effective folk remedy for high blood sugar and the pads are also useful antidotes for the hazard they bring to a dryland hike.  Slice open the pads to make an extremely soothing and cooling poultice for splinters and other skin irritations. Back to the fruits ~

prickly-pear-bosque_med_hrThe fruits produce a delicious juice that can be the base for a variety of foods and beverages.  Many people are discouraged by thinking about the spines and tiny glochids getting under their skin.   I have found this concern to be highly overrated.  Simply soak the pears in warm water for 10 minutes and most of the glochids float away.  Using your harvesting tongs, take them out of the water, slice off the brown end and then slice them once lengthwise.  Now you can easily peel the skin off with a knife.  Its similar to peeling a cucumber but with awareness for any stubborn glochids that remain (and there are always a few!). Put the peeled halved chunks of fruit into your blender to juice them.  They blend into juice quickly and easily.  The final step is to push it all through a strainer to filter out the many seeds.  After a little practice you will get your method down and should be able to produce a lot of juice in a reasonable amount of time.  I get about 1 ounce of juice or more per average-sized pear.

prickly-pear-lemon-bars-and_med_hr

There are many ways to use this juice and I’ll bet you already have some ideas of your own.  Here are a few of the Prickly Pear delights that we made this year: pancake syrup, green smoothies, fermented soda, lemonade, and we even put it in our oatmeal.  We used the prickly pear syrup to flavor many of our culinary creations but also used the juice mixed with favorite herbal tea blends or just straight juice.  My kids especially loved the fermented soda and these Prickly Pear Lemon Bars for your sweet tooth.

Ingredients:

Cookie Crust:

  • 1/4 cup each quinoa flour, almond flour, coconut flour, and whole wheat flour (1 cup combined)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup each ground hempseeds and sunflower seeds (1/4 cup total)
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/8 cup each water and prickly pear juice (1/4 cup combined)

Topping:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 3 TBSP fresh lemon juice OR fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest OR lime zest
  • 3 TBSP prickly pear juice (as described above)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Directions:

Prepare the crust by mixing the ingredients thoroughly and pressing them into the bottom of your buttered/oiled square or circular pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Prepare the topping by beaitng all the ingredients together and pour this over the baked crust. Bake again at 350 for 25 minutes. (I am baking at 5000 feet altitude.) I sprinkled the top with my favorite granola. Cool completely before slicing.

By Dara Saville, October 2014