Harvest Edible Native Plants in Phoenix, ArizonaIf you live in Phoenix, if you walk around the Sonoran Desert, you are apt to think that there are no edible plants here. However, there are plants that are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and they are ready to be harvested in the fall. The flavors of the desert are unique, and wonderful.
Prickly Pear Cactus
The prickly pear cactus has been used in cooking for centuries by the people of the Sonoran Desert. The flesh of the cactus pad is a wonderful addition to salads or salsas, and the fruit is one of the best delicacies of the desert. By the end of August, the fruit of the prickly pear is starting to ripe and it continues until October. Harvesting it takes a little patience, since you have to be careful not to get hurt by the thorns on the cactus. The prickly pear fruit is used to make jams and jellies, even candy. To learn how to harvest, process and preserve prickly pear, visit Boyce Thompson Arboretum on certain weekends in August. Better yet, attend the prickly pear festival in Superior, held August 20-21, 2016.
Fruit of the Desert Hackberry Bush
The little orange fruit of the desert hackberry bush is ripening in the fall, beginning in August. This edible fruit is sweet and can be enjoyed as is, or used in jams and jellies. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden to see this fruit of the desert and learn more about it.
Fruit of the Barrel Cactus
The fruit of the barrel cactus also ripens at this time of the year. Rich in Vitamins A and C, it is naturally tart, and is mostly used candied, or in cooking sweets. The seeds can be collected from the fruit, and after being dried, they are as well. You can grow barrel cactus in your own backyard if you live in Phoenix, just as well as you grow prickly pear. To buy one, visit the Moon Valley Nurseries.
Fruit of the Desert Wolfberries or Goji Berries
The desert wolfberries are native to the Sonoran Desert and their bright red fruit is also ripening at this time. Better known as goji berries, they are sweet when ripe, known to have many health benefits. They are edible draw, or used in soups, stews, syrup, sauce or drinks. Native to Phoenix, you find desert wolf berries on your hikes at any of the desert preserves in the city, in Reach 11 Recreation Area, for example.
The Mesquite Pods
Just about everyone in Phoenix has a mesquite tree, though not many people know that the pods are edible. They are ready to be harvested by the end of the summer, when they dry and fall off the trees. Ground into flour, they are a healthier alternative to the traditional white flour, used in all kinds of pastries and breads. To buy one for your own yard, visit any of the plant nurseries in town, like The Phoenix Desert Nursery.
The agave cactus can be harvested any time of the year. Its flesh is used in numerous ways, the most common being the agave sweetener. You can find a variety of agave plants to purchase and grow in your own back yard at the Elgin Nurseries or any of the above mentioned ones.
Emese Fromm is a Phoenix-based freelance writer and translator, who tries to use some of the desert plants in her meals.