Category Archives: foraging

Desert Aromatics of the American Southwest

Milne Foothills Snakeweed Juniper

Aromatic plants have been an integral part of landscapes and human cultures, playing important ecological and ceremonial roles since the beginning of history and beyond. The deserts of the American Southwest are home to a wide variety of medicinal plants including many that speak through the language of scent and appeal to our love of certain fragrances. Sauntering through the Sage covered mesas, one can sense the aromatic particles upon the wind and feel the movement of energy across the land. This interaction has the power to transform our state of being by shifting our awareness away from our minds to a world of present moment sensory immersion. While these plants undoubtedly have their own unique personalities, ecological purposes, and herbal actions, they do have overlapping characteristics. The following selection of plants, ranging from lower elevation to higher elevation, all share the work of relieving congestion, dispersing stagnant energy, shifting our consciousness, and captivating us through potent aromatic communication.


Chaparral or Cresosote (Larrea tridentata)

Ranging across the greater Southwest, Chaparral (aka Hediondilla or Gobernadora) is found in all the major deserts and is a dominant plant in the Chihuahua Desert, sometimes forming expansive nearly monotypic stands where overgrazing has occurred. The sensory experience of becoming acquainted with Chaparral brings the seeker into vast desert basins where visible heat, the penetrating aroma of Chaparral leaves, and the humbling exposure of standing under endless blue skies and unrelenting sun may converge to create an altered state of awareness. Here the antiquity of the land resonates not only from pottery sherds, petroglyphs and pictographs, and ruined village walls, but also from Chaparral stands with ancient individuals reaching up to 11,700 years old. Having arrived in the Southwest from ancestral populations in South America, Chaparral has slowly advanced its range and, aided by cattle grazing in recent years, has transformed the region’s deserts often inhibiting the growth of grasses and other desert annuals. This plant’s relationship to the land reveals its medicinal workings as it usurps local resources, overtakes the local ecology, shifts biotic balances, and creates a new reality on its own terms. This observation helps us to understand its ‘brute force’ style of medicine and why it is so helpful for the most serious microbial infections or unrelenting deep body pain where significant transformation is necessary. If, in a geologically short period of time, it can transfochaparral quebradasrm the harsh and unforgiving environments of the major deserts of the Southwest, forming monotypic stands thousands of square kilometers in size, imagine what it can do in the human body’s ecosystem. (For a more in depth discussion of Larrea, see my previously published piece Ecological Herbalism, Part One in the Plant Healer spring 2016 edition.)

Until the historic cattle-grazing era, which often relegated Chaparral to the category of invasive shrub, it enjoyed a long history of being valued by local people as an important resource for making medicine and items of material culture. Dried leaves, flowers, seeds, and twigs are commonly prepared as a 75% tincture, infused oil, salve, soak, liniment, poultice, or as a purifying smoke (not inhaled). Larrea is so potent that I most often use it as a topical and recommend it internally only for short periods of time due to the extra work required by the liver to process it. Chaparral’s stimulating effect on the liver, however, makes it a useful herb for the easement of arthritis or other joint pains, as well as for allergies or other autoimmune conditions where bodily purification is called for. Furthermore, Chaparral’s powerful dispersive effect and potent activity against a number of stubborn microbes including fungus, yeast, and bacteria make it a useful first aid herb or an excellent addition to formulas for serious illneChaparral golden flowersses such as bronchitis, TB, E. coli, Staph, and MRSA. I have found it to be indispensable for treating athlete’s foot and other fungal infections and will sometimes add it to formulas to clear other unrelenting conditions. Recent studies have also shown Chaparral’s potential in cancer treatments such as breast cancer and melanoma as well as chemo protective applications for skin cancer. These research results seem well supported by Chaparral’s stubborn and relentless nature along with its propensity to spread across the land, transforming its ecology along the way.

Native Americans of the Southwest used Chaparral for a variety of ailments consistent with those described above and some regarded it as a panacea. Additional uses include drinking tea for bowel and gastric complaints, as an emetic, or for treating fevers, venereal disease, or menstrual cramps. Chaparral leaves were also powdered and applied to a newborn’s navel or to the mother to induce milk flow and used as bedding to ease postpartum or menstrual cramps. Charcoal from Chaparral was even used for tattooing. The Seris of Sonora, Mexico commonly prepared Chaparral either as a hot leaf or ash poultice, tea soak, or as a purifying smoke or steam of leafy branches for a person experiencing postpartum discomfort, headaches, stingray wounds, or other pains. The Seri also harvested and sharpened Chaparral wood for making useful tools such as nails and harpoon points and used the heated and cooled lac (produced by the insect Tachardiella larreae) as a plastic-like adhesive and sealant for many purposes including arrow making and repairing or sealing pots and baskets. The Hispanic herbal tradition continued many of these same uses especially as a poultice, soak, or salve (mixed with Osha ,Tobacco, and/or Trementina de Piñon) for arthritis, skin or saddle sores, and ringworm. Chaparral tea has also been used as an antiseptic for urinary inflammations.



Sand Sage (Artemisia filifolia)

Ranging across sandy soils of the greater Southwest and into the Southern Great Plains, Sand Sage or Romerillo is a defining and dominant plant in many areas. Sand Sage tends to grow in expansive and exposed places, like the volcanic mesas along the Middle Rio Grande, where vulnerability and perspective are on center stage. The plants that grow there offer an embrace of these and other qualities along with their herbal actions. This plant has a long history of medicinal use by native peoples, Hispanic communities, and others primarily for digestive and respiratory complaints as well as arthritis and antimicrobial treatments. Like its close relative Estafiate (A. ludoviciana), Sand Sage lacks the phytochemical thujone and thus distinguishes it from the common Sagebrush (A. tridentata) and Fringed Sage (A. frigida). While the more pungent Sagebrush and Fringed Sage are used as a bitter tonic to increase gastric secretions for cold and sluggish Sage filifolia PETRdigestive issues, Sand Sage is helpful for reducing gastric secretions in digestive problems caused by heat and inflammation. Sand Sage leaves chewed or prepared as a warm tea or poultice also promote digestive health by protecting gastric mucosa, healing ulcers, inhibiting H. pylori, and acting as a choleretic to increase bile production. The aromatic camphor present in the leaves make the hot tea, warm poultice, or steam inhalation of Sand Sage and other species useful for clearing respiratory congestion and infection and easing coughs and sore throats. Sand Sage also has a history of use for arthritis treatments, usually prepared as a warm poultice, infused oil, or soak. Additionally, Sand Sage is a mild but broadly effective topical and internal antimicrobial useful for wound care, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. The Penitentes of northern New Mexico are said to have used Sand Sage as a healing wash for their self-inflicted back lacerations. Sand Sage has also been used for purification by burning the leaves or drinking hot tea for diaphoresis or cold tea for diuresis as well as regulating blood flow by stimulating delayed menses and controlling post-partum bleeding. Tewa and Hopi Pueblos have also used this widely abundant and important plant in sacred ceremonies.

Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae)

Snakeweed or Escoba de la Vibora is a common and wide-ranging plant on the high mesas, grasslands, and other sandy or overgrazed areas of the Mountain West and is a highly valued medicinal plant in Southwestern herbal traditions. A similar species, G. microcephala, is less frequently encountered and limited to the Southwest. It is distinguished by having only one or two ray flowers compared to G. sarothrae’s three to Snakeweed Mesa 1eight ray flowers. As a late-summer or early-fall blooming plant, Snakeweed brightens up the mesa at a time when few other plants are flowering and its intoxicatingly wonderful scent fills the air just as we begin our transition into the darker time of year.   While G. sarothrae is currently widespread across the American West, prior to cattle grazing this plant was once far less abundant than it is today. This may account for its scant presence in archaeological sites but its high importance in more modern herbal traditions across cultures. Snakeweed is a frequent member of plant communities in Oak Juniper woodlands and desert grasslands and was among the first specimens collected by Lewis and Clark along the Missouri River. Its semi-resinous aromatic foliage and profuse golden blossoms are commonly collected and dried to prepare soaks, liniments, infused oils, and teas for arthritis treatments, inflammation, joint soreness, and musculo-skeletal pain. Snakeweed is sometimes combined with other signature plants of the region including Datura and Chaparral for this purpose. Additionally Pueblo People use soaks, poultices, tea and/or vapors as an emetic, treatment for eye conditions, rattlesnake bites, bruises, colds and coughs, fevers, diarrhea, venereal disease, bathing newborns, postpartum care, and general purification.   For the Navajo, Snakeweed is a Life Medicine employed in previously mentioned forms or as plant ash rubbed on the body for upset stomachs, diarrhea, fever, headaches, nervousness, cuts and scrapes, swollen bites, during childbirth for delivery of the placenta, painful urination, and ceremony. Hispanic communities have similar and overlapping uses including colic, post-partum sitzbath or douche, malaria recovery, and menstrual regulation. Snakeweed has also been used in broom-making, yellow dye for Navajo weaving, Hopi prayer sticks, insecticide, and as filler for wall construction.

Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)

Juniper or Sabina is among the most widespread and habitat-defining plants in the Southwest (especially New Mexico) and ethnobotanists Dunmire, Tierney, and Moerman list more uses for it than any other plant. While some might accuse Juniper of impersonating a Cedar, they are actually part of the Cypress family and there are numerous species inhabiting vast middle-elevation acreages of the Southwest and others found across the country. Many Juniper species are used medicinally (excepting the Alligator Juniper) but since the One-Seed Juniper is most common in New Mexico that is Juniper and yucca petrthe species I know best. I sincerely enjoy drinking Juniper tea but others find it abhorrent so you might want to let folks try it for themselves before recommending is as part of any treatment. Many herbalists think of Juniper berry tincture or tea as an antiseptic diuretic for urinary tract infections and inflammations. Some may also include Juniper in digestive formulas as a carminative and to increase gastric secretions, in topical oils for eczema or psoriasis, or even use leaves and berries in incense. In Native American herbal practice, however, Juniper is legion. Among the Southwestern tribes, Juniper berry tea is a diuretic and leaf spring tea is used for clearing colds and coughs, calming digestive problems including diarrhea and constipation, soothing general aches and pains, and has many associations with the birthing process. Juniper tea serves as both mother’s muscle relaxant tea and as a cleansing bath for mother and baby, plants or ashes may be rubbed on newborns, and tea or smoke is sometimes used to aid difficult births. Furthermore, Juniper plays a major role in general gynecological care including teas for postpartum, contraception, and menstrual regulation. Bark baths soothe itchy bites or sore feet and heated twigs have been applied as a topical treatment for measles, bruises, and swellings. The bark powder is even used for earaches. Burning Juniper branches is also a treatment for colds and general pleasantness. Juniper’s association with cleansing and purification is strong and includes preparing diaphoretic baths, emetic or laxative leaf and twig teas, and serving as a protective charm against negativity or evil spirits. While many herbalists think of Pedicularis for muscle relaxation, Juniper is far more common and can also be used both internally and topically for this purpose. Indeed, I find Juniper’s invitation to open up the heart and mind through relaxation of the body an irresistible one, especially when there is a need for protective space and a desire for increased flow of thoughts and creativity.  Additional uses include cooking the berries with meats and stews, basketry, dye making, body paint, firewood, bows, ceremony, and prayer sticks. Hispanic communities adopted many similar uses including for urinary infections, stimulating digestion, soothing stomachaches, and its role in birthing and postpartum care.   Juniper is contraindicated for kidney infections, chronic kidney weakness, and pregnancy due to its vasodilating effect on the uterus.

Piñon (Pinus edulis)

Piñon Pine is a plant of the Four Corners states and is one of the plants I most strongly associate with the land and culture of the Southwest. Its rich green tones dot the landscape and contrast with the red soils of the Colorado Plateau to create one of the iconic Southwestern vistas. This slow growing conifer resides in lower more arid elevations from about 4,000 to 9,000 ft and may take 75-200 years or more to reach maturity. Its resin or pitch is a prized medicine and the nuts have been a staple of thePinon resin 2 region’s food since the earliest human settlements. This woodland habitat has seen significant losses over recent years at the hands of persistent drought, massive wild fires, and bark beetle outbreaks that have devastated vast acreages of Piñon Pines. Nevertheless, it remains at the center of culinary and herbal traditions wherever it grows. Piñon nuts have been found at nearly all ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites, later became a valuable commodity for Spanish colonists, and can be purchased from local harvesters from roadside pickup trucks today. Although good crops occur only every 6 or 7 years and 18 months are required for the nuts to develop, it is well worth the wait. This high caloric wild food has protein levels comparable to beef, all 20 amino acids (making it a complete protein), and can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour. Needles, inner bark, and pitch are also collected for herbal preparations with the resinous pitch forming the foundation of one of the finest aromatic herbal oils. Trementina de Piñon, a local New Mexican herbal specialty, is prepared by warming fresh pitch and using as is or further processing into a salve. This famous remedy causes local inflammation to bring splinters to the surface for easier removal and is also a wonderful warming treatment for arthritis or otherwise sore muscles and joints. The soft citrus-like scent and warming effects of the resinous rub are enough to melt away tensions held in the heart, mind, and body.  Spanish New Mexicans may also add some native Tobacco and salt and apply it topically for headaches. Pueblo natives used the pitch similarly but they often mixed it with tallow to draw out infections from wounds or simply chewed and swallowed a small piece to clear up head colds. Navajo burned the pitch to treat colds and also used it as glue for broken pots and to seal woven baskets or jugs. Hopi applied resin to the forehead to protect against sorcery. Many Southwestern tribes have used Piñon in these ways and also used needle tea or inner bark decoction as an expectorant, diaphoretic for fevers, and flu treatment. Some also used the seeds to make pudding or seed butter and used the resin in dye making. Piñon also provides aromatic firewood and makes lovely citrus scented incense.

This essay is adapted from the original publications:

Saville, Dara. (2018). Signature Species of the Southwest, Part 1. Plant Healer Quarterly, 8(2), 111-117.

Saville, Dara. (2018). Signature Species of the Southwest, Part 2. Plant Healer Quarterly, 8(3), 77-85.

General References:

Carolyn Dodson, A Guide to Plants of the Northern Chihuahua Desert, (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2012).

Charles Kane, Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest, (Lincoln Town Press, 2011).

Daniel E. Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany, (Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1998).

L. S. M. Curtain, Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, (Los Angeles, CA: Southwest Museum, 1965).

Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989).

Michael Moore, Los Remedios, (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990). Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003).

William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney, Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province, (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995).

William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney, Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners, (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1997).

References Specific to Chaparral:

Frank J. Vasek, “Creosote bush: long-lived clones in the Mojave Desert,” American Journal of Botany 67 (1980): 246-255.

Joshua D. Lambert, Shengmin Sang, Ann Dougherty, Colby G. Caldwell, Ross O. Meyers, J. M. J. Favela-Hernandez, A. Garcia, E. Garza-Gonzalez, V. M. Rivas-Galindo, M. R. Camacho-Corona, “Antibacterial and antimycobacterial ligans and flavonoids from Larrea tridentata,” Phytotherapy Research 26 (2012): 1957-1960.

Richard Felger and Mary Beck Moser, People of the Desert and Sea: Ethnobotany of The Seri Indians, (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1985).

Severine Van Slambrouck, Amber L. Daniels, Carla J. Hooton, Steven L. Brock, Aaron R. Jenkins, Marcia A. Ogasawara, Joann M. Baker, Glen Adkins, Eerik M. Elias, Vincent J. Agustin, Sarah R. Constantine, Michael J. Pullin, Scott T. Shors, Alexander Korkienko, Wim F. A. Steelant, “Effects of crude aqueous medicinal plant extracts on growth and invasion of breast cancer cells,” Oncology Reports 17 (2007): 1487-1492.

Shakilur Rahman, Rizwan Ahmed Ansari, Hasibur Rehman, Suhel Parvez, Sheikh Raisuddin, “Nordihydroguaiaretic acid from creosote bush (Larrea tridentate) mitigates 12-O-Tetradecanoylphorbol-13-Acetate-induced inflammatory and oxidative stress responses of tumor promotion cascade in mouse skin,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011 (2011): 10 pages.

Aligning with Invasive Trees as Herbal Medicine

This is part of a series of writings exploring plant communities and herbal practice in the Anthropocene….more to come.

Walking the urban sidewalks, riparian woodlands, and other forested areas around your home you may have noticed that the effects of globalization are not limited to fashion styles, international trade agreements, and other aspects of human culture. Plant communities are becoming globalized, too. That is to say, many ecosystems now include a russian-olive-branchmixture of native and non-native species that collectively create a new concept of what wild lands are today. This emerging new feature of landscapes is a defining characteristic of plant communities in the Anthropocene, the proposed current era in which humans are the primary influence on Earth’s systems. While we can agree that this change is undoubtedly taking place, what precisely is happening within these plant communities is not always clear. Arguments continue to be made that non-native plants are both harmful and beneficial to native plant communities. Regardless of how we feel about that, invasive plants bring something valuable to the medicine cabinet. As highly adaptable and opportunistic newcomers, they can sometimes play a remediation role in landscapes with moderate levels of disturbance. With this characteristic, invasive plants may be uniquely qualified to defend us against rapidly evolving pathogens, like drug-resistant flu strains and MRSA, if we allow them to colonize and infiltrate areas of the body struggling with dis-ease. Let’s take a quick look at why our ecological understanding of invasive plants remains unsettled and then see what roles five common non-native tree species can play in their ecosystems and in our apothecaries.

For decades, invasive non-native plants such as the infamous Salt Cedar/Tamarisk (Tamarix sp., shown below in flower) and many others have been vilified, poisoned, and scapegoated as the destroyers of ecosystems and the annihilators of biodiversity. In recent years a new perspective has emerged that these plants are, in fact, the saviors of ecosystems that have been severely altered by humans, reinvigorating the health of these systems and increasing biodiversity. How could we change our minds so dramatically and which viewpoint more accurately represents the role of these non-native plants? It would be nice if there was a simple answer but there is not. Every ecosystem and each one of these plants is unique. Furthermore, one species can play different roles in different situations, as invasive plants tend to proliferate in accordance with the degree of ecosystem alteration. We must also consider that ecosystems are continually dynamic. The kinds of changes that are taking place today are new patterns that are salt-cedar-flowersstill unfolding.  They are without historical precedent, which makes it difficult to accurately predict where these changes are taking any given plant community in the long term. Many plant communities of the Anthropocene will experience dramatic changes as new climate conditions accelerate and native and non-native plants co-mingle. Some experts see evidence for increased regional-scale biodiversity (while global diversity declines) as newcomers outnumber extinctions in the plant world and ecosystem fragmentation creates opportunities for new plant taxa to evolve but others warn of the likelihood that invasive plants will continue to expand their range at the expense of natives in the coming decades and centuries. Tamarisk, as one of the most successful and one of the most targeted non-native plants, exemplifies the ongoing debate about the role of invasive plants in regional biodiversity. Some of the accusations, such as the idea that it desiccates floodplains through high levels of evapotranspiration, have been largely debunked. Other assertions including its influence on vegetative biodiversity and impact on wildlife habitat are still debated with evidence pointing in different directions (more on this below).

I know it can be difficult to see the changes taking place in the wilds around us, but these plants are here to stay. They are a part of our local plant communities and we can align with the way nature unfolds around us by integrating them into our ecological understandings and into our herbal practice. In looking more deeply at the following non-native invasive trees, we can begin to understand their roles in our wild lands, how we can incorporate them into our medicines, and how our thoughts and opinions about them are evolving.

Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia):

Ecological: Arriving from Asia and southern Europe in the 1800s, Russian Olive (also shown flowering in top photo) has come to fill an ecologicalrussian-olive-tree niche in the altered environments downstream from dams. It fixes nitrogen in the soil, provides forage for wildlife, and nectar for pollinators. Once established this tree has a tendency to become dominant or co-dominant in the landscape, sometimes forming mono-typic stands. Although the changes in water flow caused by dams are a primary driver in the changing plant communities and the successful establishment of Russian Olive, Russian Olive accelerates human-caused changes by stabilizing soil surfaces and shading out seedlings of native pioneer species such as Cottonwoods that rely on flood disturbance areas for germination and open sunny conditions to grow. It may be considered a thorny protector of damaged ecosystems in some cases, but it may also be a facilitator of change contributing to the reduction in biodiversity by inhibiting the reproduction of keystone native plants in stressed riparian areas.

Medicinal: Leaves and stems can be harvested for antimicrobial/antibacterial/antifungal medicinal preparations for wound care or systemic infections. Russian Olive is also used when an anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxing analgesic is needed. Extracts of this plant have been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as NSAIDS for relief of pain and inflammation but with added gastro-protective properties. Research also suggests that it may optimize blood pressure and have anti-tumor properties.


Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila):

Ecological: Another Asian tree, Siberian Elm is the first tree to leaf-out all over my fair city each spring. The burst of green is followed by the raining-down of confetti as its seeds fill siberian-elm-leavesthe air and germinate wherever they land, in between concrete cracks or the earthly surfaces of the surrounding natural areas. This tree is known to spread quickly in disturbed areas and will tolerate difficult growing conditions where few others can succeed. Siberian Elm binds heavy metals in soil, providing remediation in polluted urbanized areas and provides early spring nectar for pollinators. Along with Russian Olive and Tamarisk, Siberian Elm is one of the trees expected to redefine the Cottonwood Bosque along the Rio Grande in the coming decades if water management practices remain unaltered.

Medicinal: This invasive tree is a very useful and abundant medicine and wild edible. The inner bark can be collected and powdered as a substitute for the threatened and popular medicine of Slippery Elm. It is anti-parasitic, antifungal, antilithic, expectorant, and demulcent. Next time you find Siberian Elm growing through your backyard fence or coming up along a roadway, cut off a small branch, peel off the bark, and feel its soft slippery mucilage inside. Recent research also suggests its potential usefulness in cervical, melanoma, breast, and lymphoma cancer treatments. Gathered in the early spring while still green, the seeds are a nutritious edible and are tasty served raw on top of salads, in sandwiches, and as an edible garnish.


White Mulberry (Morus alba):

mulberrries-eatingEcological: Probably the least invasive of the trees discussed here (at least in my area), Mulberry is a common yard tree and has also made a home for itself in the riparian corridor. Originating in China, it came to the eastern United States in the 1600s as part of a British effort to establish a silk industry. Although it can form dense thickets in some places, White Mulberry typically does not grow in clusters. Little information has been published regarding its impacts on native plant communities.

Medicinal: Mulberry has a long history of use in Chinese medicine with different parts of the tree being used for different areas in the body. The leaves are antimicrobial, detoxifying, cooling, and moistening to dryness in the upper body, particularly the head, throat, and lungs. The twigs are used to increase circulation in the joints and extremities. The bark is anti-inflammatory and increases the movement of fluids in the lower body and the fruit is a nourishing antioxidant tonic for heart health. Also the fruit is delicious to eat right off the tree.


Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima):

Ecological: Originally from China and Taiwan, this tree is considered by some to be an unstoppable menace sending new shoots up wherever possible. It will grow in a variety of tree-of-heaven-seedingchallenging environments including urban areas that are heavily concretized or contaminated and degraded natural areas such as disconnected floodplains in riparian corridors. Growing in such conditions, it can act as a remediator of damaged land and polluted air but its propensity for sending up new shoots could prove to be a problem in ecosystems where there are not sufficient factors to limit its growth.

Medicinal: Tree of Heaven can also play a remediation role in the digestive and respiratory systems. It is an antimicrobial, astringent, febrifuge, anthelmintic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, expectorant, clearing heat and dampness in the body. The stems, leaves, and especially the root bark are useful in treatments for diarrhea and digestive ailments caused by microbes and parasites including Giardia. In the respiratory system it reduces inflammation and cleans the airways of mucus and other irritants, facilitating recovery from a variety of ailments. Additionally, Tree of Heaven is soothing to the nervous system and helpful for reducing muscular contractions, shakes, and tremors.

Salt Cedar/Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.):

Ecological: The poster child for vilified non-native invasive plants since the early 1900s, Tamarisk is the most successful non-native tree in the western United States and has become the third most common woody plant in that region’s riparian corridors. Originating from the Mediterranean and Asia, it has come to symbolize the water struggles of the Southwest by covering well over 600,000 hectares of severely degraded riparian salt-cedar-bighabitat in the Southwest. Numerous bird species use it for shelter including the endangered Western Willow Flycatcher but overall Tamarisk forests support fewer species and fewer individuals than native forests. It is an opportunistic reproducer that is tolerant of drought, heat, fires, and saline soils. Similar to Russian Olive, it stabilizes surface soils inhibiting the germination of native riparian trees and shades out native tree seedlings. It can grow in vast mono-typic stands forming dense thickets, changing soil composition, and greatly reducing the beneficial mycorrhizal community that facilitates native plant growth. Like Russian Olive, Tamarisk finds a habitat niche in degraded riparian ecosystems with altered flow regimes and contributes to the process of change initiated by human interference. This tree may be considered a willing colonizer of damaged ecosystems where natives are in decline but it can also play a role in inhibiting the growth of native plants and further reducing biodiversity.

Medicinal: The bark and galls are harvested and used for topical application or small internal doses. It is an effective antimicrobial, antioxidant, diaphoretic, diuretic, astringent, and detoxifier that is used to make first aid wound washes or mouthwash. Internally it can be included in formulas for detoxification, microbial diarrhea, and other infections.

The information included in this essay was later expanded and published as: Saville, Dara. (2018). Invasive Plant Medicine and Ecology. Plant Healer Quarterly, 8(3), 104-112.


Crawford, Clifford S., Lisa M. Ellis, and Manuel C. Mulles Jr., 1996. The Middle Rio Grande Bosque: an endangered ecosystem, New Mexico Journal of Science 36: 276-299.

DiTomaso, Joseph M. 1998. Impact, biology, and ecology of salt cedar (Tamarix) in the Southwestern United States. Weed Technology 12 (2): 326-336.

Evans, Alexander M. 2014. Invasive plants, insects, and diseases in the forests of the Anthropocene. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Santa Fe: NM.

Folstad Shah, J. J., M. J. Harner, T. M. Tibbets. 2010. Elaeagnus angustifolia elevates soil inorganic nitrogen pools in riparian ecosystems. Ecosystems 13 (1): 46-61.

Friedman, Jonathan M., Gregor T. Auble, Patrick B. Shafroth, Michael F. Merigliano, Michael D. Freehling, Eleanor R. Griffin. 2005. Dominance of non-native riparian trees in western USA. Biological Invasions 7 (4): 747-751.

Glenn Edward, Pamela Nagler. 2005. Comparative ecophysiology of Tamarix ramosissima and native trees in western US riparian zones. Journal of Arid Environments 61 (3): 419-446.

Johnson, W. C. 2002. Riparian vegetation diversity along regulated rivers: contribution of novel and relict habitats. Freshwater Biology, 47: 749–759.

Kane, Charles. 2011. Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest. Lincoln Town Press.

Katz, Gabrielle L., Patrick B. Shafroth. 2003. Biology, ecology, and management of Elaeagnus angustifolia L. (Russian olive) in western North America. Wetlands 23 (4): 763-777.

Pearce, Fred. 2015. The New Wild. Beacon Press: Boston MA.

Scott, Timothy Lee. 2010. Invasive Plant Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Rochester VT.

Sogge, Mark K., Susan J. Sferra, Eben H. Paxton. 2008. Tamarix as habitat for birds: implications for riparian restoration in the Southwestern United States. Restoration Ecology 16 (1): 146-154.

Shafroth, Patrick B. James R. Cleverly, Tom L. Dudley, John P. Taylor Charles Van Riper III, Edwin P. Weeks. 2005. Control of Tamarix in the western United States: implications for water salvage, wildlife use, and riparian restoration. Environmental Management 35 (3): 231-246.

Sher, Anna, Martin F. Quigley. 2013. Introduction to the paradox plant. Tamarix: A Case Study of Ecological Change in the American West. Oxford University Press.

Tehranizadeh, Zeinab Amiri, Ali Baratian, Hossein Hosseinzadeh. 2016. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) as herbal healer. BioImpacts 6 (3): 155-167.

Thomas, C. D. 2013. Local diversity stays about the same, region diversity increases, and global diversity declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (48): 19187-19188.

Thomas, C. D. 2015. Rapid acceleration of plant speciation during the Anthropocene. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 30 (8): 448-455.

Velland, Mark, Lander Baeten, Isla H. Myers-Smith, Sarah C. Elmendorf, Robin Beausejour, Carissa D. Brown, Pieter De Frenne, Kris Verheyen, Sona Wipf. 2013. Global meta-analysis reveals no net change in local-scale plant diversity over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (48): 19456-19459.

Herbal Tales from The Chihuahua Desert


Quebradas arroyo.JPGOcotillo top.JPG

The northern Chihuahua Desert is a striking land filled with surprises of all sizes from an unending and humbling skyscape to the plethora of small flowers obscured by the grandeur of the place. Even in the springtime one feels the desert heat, laden with the aroma of Chaparral, penetrating from all directions. The heat becomes so thick, at times it obscures the true colors of the landscape; not until dusk approaches does the hidden complexity of colors reveal itself again. Its almost as if the air had a life and mind of its own out here where sun and wind rule. Although cattle grazing has significantly impacted the Chihuahua Desert plant communities, some areas retain a great degree of herbal biodiversity. Following is a short selection of medicinal plants from the Chihuahua Desert bajadas that border the Rio Grande Valley.


Fouquiera splendens is the kind of plant that legends are made of. It thrives on dry rocky slopes, can shed and re-grow its leaves multiple times in a season, lives to be 150-200 years old, and knows how to move the extracellular fluids in the human body to invigorate health. Ocotillo plays a critical role in its ecosystem by blooming in harmony with migrating hummingbirds. Unlike most other desert plants that flower when water is present, Ocotillo produces its flowers in sync with northbound hummingbird migrations, providing the birds with a critical food source and receiving pollination services for themselves. This relationship is so ancient and imbedded in the plant that the inherent knowledge associated with the timing of Ocotillo blooms is genetically passed down among the generations. Fouquiera’s wisdom of place does not stop there. Its photosynthetic bark allows it to drop and re-grow its leaves as needed to conserve its limited resources. As a medicinal plant, Ocotillo is known as a mover of pelvic congestion, facilitating lymphatic and venous flow. It is useful for other forms of stagnation, too, such as swollen tonsils, sore throats, slow healing injuries, and mild expectoration. Flowers are collected for tea and the bark from freshly cut stems is prepared for tincturing. Using the right tools, working with prickly desert plants is not as bad as it may seem and is well worth the effort. Ocotillo is reasonably abundant here in the northern Chihuahua Desert, which is the northeastern edge of its geographical range.


Ratany flowers cropped.JPG


Krameria lanceolata is a low growing spreading plant that favors dry rocky soil and produces some of the most striking flowers in the desert. Like other Krameria species in the Southwest (K. grayi K. erecta etc), it is a partial root parasite that interacts with Chaparral and other desert shrubs as hosts so make sure you know who Ratany’s companions are. The sharing of alkaloids between parasitic plants and hosts is well documented in botanical literature and has the potential to change the nature of Ratany’s phytochemistry. This plant also has a unique relationship with native solitary bees by providing them with a critical resource required for their offspring. The flowers have no nectar and very little pollen but entice the bees with oil that they scrape off the petals, store in pouches in their legs, and offer to their young. Krameria species from South America have long been used in the world marketplace for herbal preparations when an astringing, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory herb is needed and have consequently become endangered plants. Roots are the strongest but aerial parts can also be used for teas and tinctures. Tinctures are commonly made with 50% alcohol and a small amount of glycerin added. Ratany is helpful for oral healthcare including inflamed gums and mouth sores, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, heavy menses, and first aid wound care. Short-term use is wise due to the level of tannins in this plant. Given the environmental degradation of Chihuahua Desert grasslands, the ecological importance of this plant to native pollinators, and the widespread abundance of other herbs with similar properties, wild harvesting of this plant is not recommended in our area.

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Larrea tridentata is an indicator plant for the Chihuahua Desert, so widespread that it has come to define the character of this physiographic region. It is however, known to originate from related species in South America that spread with the aid of migratory birds when the climate warmed at the end of the last Ice Age. Since then Chaparral (like Mesquite described below) has been steadily expanding its range, expedited with the help of extensive cattle grazing that has disrupted fragile desert topsoil, degraded grassland plant communities, and promoted shrub encroachment. Just as Larrea has slowly and steadily transformed the landscapes of the Southwest, it creates profound shifts within the environment of the human body. Leaves are harvested, dried, and prepared as tinctures, infused oil, salve, topical tea, or used as a purifying smoke. Chaparral is strong medicine, most often used topically or internally for short durations, and works as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-microbial. It is inhibiting to both free radical damage and pro-inflammatory mediators in the body reducing histamines, prostaglandins, and leukocytes. This makes Larrea a useful remedy for chronic inflammatory illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, and eczema. It is also helpful for boosting liver functioning to assimilate dietary oils for healthier hair, skin, and nails. As an antimicrobial, it is indispensible for tenacious infections such as athlete’s foot, Candida, herpes, warts, and infected wounds. Recent research even suggests its efficacy in treating certain types of cancer. (Read more about Chaparral in Dara’s Plant Healer Magazine essays: Desert Aromatics in the Winter 2015 issue and the Ecological Herbalism series in the Spring 2016 issue.)

Honey Mesquite:

Prosopis glandulosa is one of the largest and most common shrubs of the Chihuahua Desert. It is distinguishable from other Legume family shrubs by its pair of long straight spines emerging from the leaf node. Its population has ebbed and flowed along with Mesquite Honey flowersenvironmental and cultural changes in the Southwest during the last 100,000 years. During the last Ice Age Mesquite developed a close relationship with the large plant-eating mammals that ate its seedpods, fertilized, and spread them across the region. As the climate warmed and the large herbivores disappeared, Mesquite retreated to arroyos and floodplains awaiting floodwaters to scour and disperse their seeds. Populations further declined as native peoples populated the area, eating Mesquite seedpods and burning the timber for fuel. Once the Spanish migrated up into the Chihuahua Desert, the Prosopis population began to expand again as domesticated grazing animals fulfilled the role of Ice Age herbivores spreading its seed while simultaneously devouring native grasses and damaging fragile desert soils, further facilitating Mesquite’s advance across the land. As a medicinal plant, it is used similarly to other astringent herbs as a topical remedy for wound healing that also helps to reduce inflammation and slow bleeding. It is also useful in oral healthcare and for the treatment of diarrhea and other gastric irritations. Leaves, pods, and bark are prepared as tea for topical and internal use and the gum can also be harvested and prepared as a mucilaginous remedy for conjunctivitis, sore throats, damaged gut mucosa, ulcers, heartburn, and other hot inflammations. The sap or gum can be collected when weepy or in solid clumps, rinsed in cold water, and dissolved into warm water. The pods are also eaten as food, either ground into flour or prepared as a sweet tasting syrup.

Cevallia flower 1

Stinging Serpent:

Once acquainted, Cevallia sinuata is a plant you will never forget. Save yourself some trouble and get to know this plant before heading out into its habitat in the Chihuahua and Sonora Deserts. As it’s common name suggests, this plant can lash out like a surprised or startled serpent when disturbed. Cevallia is covered in sharp stinging hairs that are capable of poking holes in the skin and injecting a toxin that causes pain, itching, redness, and swelling that can persist for days. Drawn to this plant’s interesting flowers, it is easy to lose one’s sensibilities, forget your manners, and touch without permission. That would be a mistake you won’t likely make twice. Unable to resist the temptation, I ever so gently touched this plant with all due respect and my hand buzzed for hours. I can’t imagine the experience of those who have accidentally stumbled upon this plant without awareness. Although not considered a medicinal plant, Cevalllia’s offering is clearly that of mindfulness. Be present in everything you do and show proper respect as you encounter others, especially in the desert where protection is a way of life.

 by Dara Saville, June 2016

Favorite References and Resources on This Topic:

  • Carolyn Dodson’s A Guide to Plants of the Northern Chihuahua Desert (2012)
  • Charles Kane’s Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest (2011)
  • Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West (1989)

Look for more detailed discussions on these and other plants of the Chihuahua Desert in Dara’s Plant Healer Magazine column Of Wilderness and Gardens.

For the Love of Weeds ~ Wild Lettuce and Company

A weed by almost any account…

Horehound the weed-2What do we mean when we call a plant a ‘weed’? Usually that indicates a plant that is growing where we don’t want it to be, a plant that spreads prolifically, or a plant that competes with others we regard to be of higher value. This Horehound (Marrubium vulgare, see photo) certainly is growing with great abundance, having spread throughout my garden on its own accord. It also grows out of the cracks in the concrete walkway leading to the shed in the hinter-lands of my yard. I’ll admit that it also crowds out some plants with more demure personalities. But what about the connotation of the word ‘weed’? Usually it is negative and that is where some of us beg to differ. Weeds, as a group, are my favorite plants. They offer nutrition, medicine, food and habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, and they hold down the fragile desert topsoil after disturbance. I love their tenacity, persistence, and their willingness to stand by our side, regardless of how destructive we may be to the natural cycles of things. I feel that they accept us as we are and offer so much, so freely. Horehound for example, is a pure beauty. Not in the traditional sense, of course. Its got tiny, barely noticeable flowers and produces annoying burrs that get stuck in everyone’s clothes and hair. But that wild form and that penetrating aroma! One whiff and I am taken back to times and places of healing and recovery. Bitterness, expectoration, and the bees simply love her.


Weeds are inevitable in our lives so why not make the most of it? Just like our digestive Arugula wild Bosque flower croppedsystems, which are colonized by microbes, so too will our gardens and urban areas become prime habitat for opportunistic plants.  As with our own bodies, we want those to be helpful or useful organisms and lucky for us most common weeds are actually very valuable plants.   Many of those pesky weedy plants growing in your yard and garden make tasty and nutritious foods and they make great medicine, too.  As foods, many weedy greens, flowers, and seeds add an array of wild-spirited phyto-nutrients to your diet.  Wild Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) and Wild Spinach (Chenopodium) are two of the most abundant wild vegetables that make up my spring and summer diet.  Harvesting invasive mustards such as London Rocket (Sisymbrium irio) and Wild Arugula flowers (see photo) are another way to add easy wild beauty to your meals while incorporating a little punch of mustard flavor.  Likewise, Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila, see photo) and Common Mallow (Malva neglecta) provide a seemingly endless supply of tasty green seeds plentiful for the picking during early spring and mid-summer. I particularly enjoy using weeds in my food and medicine because of their wonderfully tenacious and persistent nature and their ability to adapt to wide-rangingSiberian Elm seeds 3 conditions, thriving in even the most inhospitable of environments. Weeds are unique and intriguing in their paradoxical way of being in the natural world. They are stubborn in their resilience, yet yielding in their willingness to be harvested and included in any herbal arts. I like imbuing my meals and formulas with this sort of life force and plant personality because we all need a little more durability and adaptability at times. If there were ever herbs to help us meet success against the odds, we will find that medicine in ordinary weeds.



Many of our most common medicinal weeds are so adaptable and successful that they are seen ubiquitously across much of the country. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Plantain (Plantago major), and Clovers (Trifolium spp.) are all plants that are widely familiar and help to create shared experiences and herbal practices for people across the continent. However, what plants are considered to be weeds varies depending on where you Geranium filaree patch 2live. For example, Burdock (Arctium minus), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris), Nettles (Urtica dioica), and Dock (Rumex crispus) are all useful herbs that are considered to be weeds in some regions. Local medicinal weeds most commonly seen in my area include Dandelion, Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), Plantain, Redstem Filaree (Erodium cicutarium, see photo), Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Sweet Clover (Melilotus spp.), Common Mallow (Malva neglecta, see photo), Siberian Elm, and Wild Lettuce among others. Collecting a basket full of these weedy herbs will provide you a wide variety of medicinal effects including nutritives, diuretics, choleretics, astringents, demulcents, emollients, styptics, lymph and blood movers, stomachics, immune modulators, anti-spasmodics, and more. These persistent plants can be made into tinctures, salves, creams, sprays, tea, food, liniment, poultices, soaks, and anything else you can dream up.  Working withMalva neglecta flower2 weeds, we integrate ourselves more deeply with our immediate surroundings, we create a more sustainable and cost-effective practice, and we can produce formulas for health and well-being while alleviating the pressure on less common medicinal plants.  In a world of changing plant communities and growing human populations, I am always grateful for those plants that are willing to grow alongside us in the perpetual and dramatic landscape alterations that we make.


Wild Lettuce:

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) is one of the local weeds that I most commonly call upon in my herbal practice. I love its scruffy yet elegant form, its an abundant and nutritious spring green, and its medicine is as good as any of the other herbs that I find growing around me.  It was one of the first herbs that transformed my thinking about weeds years ago.  While pregnant with one of my children, I came down with a vicious and unrelenting cough that rocked my third trimester world.  My herbal mentor at the time gave me a formula that effectively relieved the coughing when nothing else worked.  It was a weedy remedy that included Wild Lettuce.  That experience changed my life as I began to realize the power that resided iWild Lettuce rosette.JPGn some of the overlooked and under appreciated living beings all around me everyday.

Wild Lettuce is a prolific reproducer that thrives in the most hostile of environments. I often see this plant growing happily out of cracks in the sidewalk, in vacant lots, or along the busiest of highways. In its early stages (see upper photo) Wild Lettuce can be confused with Dandelion or other weedy green rosettes, so look for the spiny hairs on the midrib under the leaves and on the mature stem (see lower photo). In the spring (around here that’s March and April), Wild Lettuce leaves are still young, supple, and good tasting.  Gather them for cooking at this time befoWIld Lettuce leaves and pricklesre the central main stem begins to form.  Use it as you would any other leafy green in your daily culinary arts (see bottom photo).  Once the central stalk grows, it becomes rather bitter tasting and much more fibrous in texture.  Now it is moving into its medicinal phase.  This plant’s mild pain relieving action and its anti-spasmodic properties make it a great addition to any formula for coughing, cramping, or other twitchy uncomfortable situations. I also add the tincture to sleep formulas, especially for those who toss and turn at night. In order to incorporate the milky white secretions from the woodier parts of the plant, tincture Wild Lettuce fresh and include the main stem. This plant can grow in dense stands where ample water resources exist (such as your garden) so make sure to look for mildew, which can grow on the leaves and appears as a white powdery film.

Ready to get started?  Try making your own Wild Lettuce Polenta Casserole.  This is a simple and versatile recipe that can be prepared with endless variations according to the foods that are in season around you.  Its gluten free and you can make it vegan by replacing the butter with coconut oil and leaving out the cheese.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Polenta Layer:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 TBSP of butter or cooking oil of choice
  • a sprinkling of dried crushed Bee Balm (Monarda) or Oregano
  • a sprinkling of Cayenne to your taste
  • 1/2 cup pecorino cheese (optional)
  • a pinch of salt

Vegetable Layer (Use vegetables of your choice, but here’s what I like.):

  •  1 to 2 chopped onions
  • 3 cups of chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups of chopped Wild Lettuce leaves
  • 2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • add more herbs of your choice including more Monarda, fresh Basil, or Rosemary
  • enough oil to saute the vegetables

Cheese Layers:

  • 2 cups of grated cheese  (I like to use sharp cheddar, but it comes out nicely with others, too, including dill havarti.)


  • Add more color with sliced tomatoes or thinly sliced red bell peppers.
  • Add protein by sprinkling with ground nuts and seeds such as almonds or hemp seeds.
Wild Lettuce Polenta Casserole

Making Wild Lettuce Polenta Casserole


  • Cook your polenta and layer it on the bottom of your casserole pan.  To cook the polenta, bring the water to a boil and add the remaining polenta layer ingredients, whisking constantly.  Cook this mixture on a low simmer, whisking frequently, for about 15 to 20 minutes.  It should be smooth, not gritty in texture, and the water should be fully absorbed. When it is finished, put it in the bottom of an oiled casserole pan.
  • In another pot, saute the onions, garlic, and herbs for the vegetable layer.  Add the Wild Lettuce leaves and a small amount of water.  Cover and cook for several minutes.  Then add the mushrooms and continuance cooking, covered, until the vegetable are to your liking.
  • Back to the casserole pan with the polenta in it. Layer half of the cheese on top of the polenta and then add the vegetable layer on top of that.  Cover it with the rest of the cheese and your other toppings.
  • Cover the casserole with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

by Dara Saville, April 2016

To learn more about how to identify and work with weeds as food and medicine, join us for our next round of Local Medicinal Weeds, Wild Food Foraging, or any of our other classes.


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.


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.


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)


  • 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


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