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Prosopis glandulosa Torreyana (Formerly P. juliflora) – Mesquite

  • Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torreyana, Formerly P. juliflora)
  • Also Called: Honey mesquite, Pechit
Mesquite flowers. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Mesquite flowers. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Distribution and Habitat

Mesquite can be commonly found in washes and other low ground before 3,000 ft. altitude. This plant can be found from as far as Texas to the lower parts of California, in the Mojave desert. This was an extremely important plant for desert dwelling native American tribes.

Description of Plant

Low tree or large shrub with several trunks and can grow up to 25 feet high. Mesquite has deciduous compound leaves which are bright green. Has 7-17 pairs of leaflets ranging from 1.5-2.3 centimeters long. Mesquite has small greenish-yellow flowers which are long in slender, cylindric spikes. Yellow pods appear which are flat and can occur as one to several pods in clusters. Fruit is in pods and are long and constricted between the seeds. When ripe the beans are brittle and straw colored. Some varieties can have ripe pods with random red streaks.

Mesquite blooms April through June. Pods ripe in fall.

A foraging ground squirrel eating ripe fallen Mesquite pods. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

A foraging ground squirrel eating ripe fallen Mesquite pods. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Description of Plant Uses

A similar species, P. Pubescens, was used in a similar way to P. glandulosa. P. Pubescens is also known as Screw Bean or Tornillo because of its pods which coil many times in a spring like fashion.

Mesquite was considered one of the most important food sources to desert dwelling tribes. Mesquite beans were eaten raw and were also ground (sometimes even with the whole pod) into a flour which was made into atole (a type of hot meal resembling gruel) and bread. Mesquite has a pleasant sour-like taste. Grass seeds, animal fat, berries and dried greens could be added to mesquite flour to add variety to the meal. The sap from Mesquite was also eaten raw.

One tribe is said to have ground Mesquite pods in the hollows in the earth where they would mix the meal with soil. This was said to improve the taste and sweeten its flavor. The process of adding water to Mesquite flour and allowing it to sit and dry slightly fermented the patty or biscuit which was made. This was also known to slightly improve the flavor.

Velvet Mesquite Tree. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Velvet Mesquite Tree. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

This meal sustained many tribes through the winter months when other food sources were scarce. Some tribes even had names for each stage of the mesquites grown, describing it from tiny pod to the fully ripe bean when it had fallen onto the ground.

Women of Native American tribes spent a good part of the day grinding mesquite beans into meal. They would pick the ripe beans off of the trees until the mesquite was completely bare.

To store the beans they were put on the roof of dwellings to dry. If beans were not considered good enough to be stored they would be ground into meal. Small amounts of water were added to meal which were formed into cakes and dried for storage. These dry cakes were especially important on wet days when it was too damp to grind mesquite seeds.

Slices of cakes were fried, used to thicken stews or eaten raw. The ground flower was used to make everything from bread to beverages.

The flowers of mesquite produce a sweet tasting nectar which can be sucked out. Flowers were also roasted and can be eaten whole.

A pulp surrounds the seeds inside of the mature pods of mesquite. This can be eaten raw and actually contains up to 30% sugar.

A beverage can also be made by boiling the mature pods and then straining out the residue.

An alcoholic drink was made with mesquite. A combination of mesquite flower and water would be fermented which would make a slightly fizzy alcoholic beverage.

Ripe pods of the Mesquite. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Ripe pods of the Mesquite. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

The Pima Indians used the black gum of the mesquite as a hair dye by boiling it down in water and applying it with a rag. They would then cover the hair in a layer of mud and allow it to sit overnight. It would be washed out the following morning.

The thorns of Mesquite were used with ink to puncture the skin for tattoos. The charcoal from Mesquite was also used in tattoos and gave a blue color.

A resin from the sap was also used as an adhesive. With additional water added to the resin it could be used as paint.

The wood of the Mesquite was often used to make mortars, bows, arrows and even digging sticks.

Fiber from the roots was used to make baskets and was even used to a small extent for clothing. The wood of Mesquite was also used to build homes and furniture. It was also known to be the best wood for cooking fires. Digging sticks were also made out of the wood, about four feet long and two inches in diameter, to dig for roots.

A Mesquite fire was also used to bake pottery.

Unripe pods of Mesquite. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Unripe pods of Mesquite. Image released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Medicinal Uses

  • Open Wounds: The black gum of the mesquite tree was boiled down to make a cure for a variety of ailments. It was used as an eyewash for sore eyes, open wounds, chapped skin or lips, sunburn and even venereal diseases.
  • Eyewash: See Open Wounds.
  • Chapped Lips/Skin: See Open Wounds.
  • Sunburn: See Open Wounds.
  • Lice: The boiled down sap was mixed with mud to make a solution used to remove head lice.
  • Severe Sunburn: A solution made from dried beans, boiled down, was used to aid in severe sunburns.
  • Venereal Diseases: The black gum of the mesquite was also used to cure “bad disease”.
  • Sore Throat: Mesquite sap was also gargled to sooth a sore throat.
  • Emetic: This was made by boiling the inner bark.
  • Cathartic: See Emetic.
  • Headache: A tea was made from the leaves of the mesquite to aid in headaches and stomach problems.
  • Stomach Trouble: See Headache.
  • Pink Eye: A tea was made from the leaves of the mesquite and then applied directly to the eyes.
  • Painful Gums: The tea made from the leaves was held in the mouth to numb painful gums.

Mesquite was considered by the natives as a cool plant and was not used to aid in high fevers.

Poisonous Look Alikes

Mesquite can look like Coralbean which has poisonous seeds.

Nutritional Value

Mesquite is high in protein, carbohydrates and calcium. Every four tablespoons of mesquite meal is the equivalent of seventy calories.

One Response to “Prosopis glandulosa Torreyana (Formerly P. juliflora) – Mesquite”

  1. Mandakini Says:

    Hi

    Could you please tell me the detailed nutritional values of mesquite flour, and whether it is good for diabetics.(if possible also glycemic index)

    I need this information desperately please

    Thank you very much!

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