Harvesting Your Native Garden

0

Part of my appreciation of our native desert plants comes from the indispensable gifts that these plants have provided for millennia to humans, wildlife, birds, insects, soils, and the whole ecosystem. Indigenous peoples have long valued and used native desert plants for food, medicine, healing, shelter, clothing, utensils, and ceremony.

I would like to share some of these uses that we can incorporate into our lives today, but this comes with a responsibility to reciprocate thoughtful care and stewardship for these tenacious but fragile desert dwellers. I always encourage respectful harvesting and mindful use of our native plants (join one of our classes to find out how!). I also strongly encourage the purchase and planting of native plants in our own yards, especially if we want to harvest their gifts regularly (see Native Plant Nurseries  for nurseries that sell California native plants). By incorporating plants native to our own region into our yards, we also help sustain native butterflies, birds, wildlife, and migration corridors for all of them, as well as reducing our dependence on added water, fertilizers, and pesticides in our yards (and growing plants that thrive in our climate reduces our time and cost in maintaining our yard). It is truly a win-win scenario.

Mojave Yucca ~ Spring is the season to try sautéed flowers and flower buds of Mojave Yucca, Yucca schidigera. The flowers and flower buds of Mojave Yucca were roasted or first parboiled then roasted and eaten by indigenous peoples, although the fruits were the most favored part of the plant for eating. I prefer the taste of the sautéed buds to the flowers, but both are enjoyable when sautéed lightly in olive oil, with a shake of salt and pepper. The older flowers become slightly bitter with age as they begin producing more saponins; cooking or boiling breaks down the soap-like saponins. If the flowers you find are at full maturity, check out higher elevations to find younger flowers or unopened flower buds. Native Americans parboiled older flowers before roasting them to remove the bitterness and saponins. A little later in the season, as the fruit pods start to ripen, we will post about how to harvest and prepare the pods either roasted or dried as a fruit leather or mashed into a sweet meal.

Clockwise photos from upper left:

  1. Mojave Yucca in bloom
  2. Washing harvested flowers and buds
  3. Opened flower and unopened flower buds
  4. Mojave Yucca flowers sautéed in olive oil
  5. Washed yucca flower buds
  6. Sautéed flower buds in olive oil

 

Mojave Yucca plant parts traditionally used:

  • Leaf fibers – Bowstrings, netting, ropes, mats, brushes for body painting and pottery, coiled rope soles for sandals, starting material for baskets, saddle blankets, and strings for shell money
  • Seed pods – Toy animals for children, with sticks added for legs; pods roasted when green to eat, or dried and pounded into a sweet meal
  • Flowers – Young flowers roasted or sautéed, older flowers parboiled and then panfried, dried to preserve
  • Flower buds – Unopened flower buds roasted or sautéed and eaten
  • Roots – Mashed & mixed with water for soap
  • Seeds – Necklaces