Tall stately mesquite trees are not what most people think of as a herb! But this graceful tree with durable wood was used as a medicinal herb as well as a source of food, tools, and building materials.
The seed pods of mesquite (wihog in O’odham) were an important food source for the Natives, and are becoming increasingly important today as research determines how healthful they are for humans.
Mesquite pods, and their meal and flour, are considered a “slow release” food due to galactomannin gums which have been found to lower glycemic responses. Their glycemic index is 25 percent, compared to 60 for sweet corn, and 100 for white sugar.
Many parts of mesquite were used medicinally. Sore throats were treated with a hot tea blend of the clear sap plus inner red bark. Toothache was treated by chewing the root.
Stomach and digestion issues
An infusion made from the leaves of mesquite was used to treat stomach aches. For flagging appetite, especially is someone was otherwise ailing, a tea was made from the leaves and was taken before meals.
The clear mesquite sap (usabi in O’odham) is not only edible but a highly palatable treat, eaten right off the tree. It was often collected and saved, sealed in pottery vessels, and fed to the ill, children especially. Because “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Along with food and medicinal uses, the bark of mesquite was used for baskets and fabrics. Root bark can be mixed with other fibers for rope. And the durable wood is used for tools, building, and last but not least – firewood.
Of vital importance to a select number of folks was the use of mesquite against hair loss. This treatment was used by men only, and consisted of the black sap that oozes from mesquite wounds (not the clear sap) mixed with other secret herbs and applied to the scalp. Mesquite herbal soap for “macho” hair is still available in parts of Mexico.
Parts of this article appeared on an alternative form of Savor the Southwest – a site I used to write for. More about the history of that site – here.
Mesquite use is covered more extensively in Dr. Jacqueline Soule’s book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today”
Father Kino’s Herbs – Out of Print!
The last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today The review says:
“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”
A steal at only $20! This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute. We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!
If you live in Tucson,consider purchasing your copy locally at Antigone Books, or Rillito Nursery (call first because they keep running out).
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The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.