Harvesting Your Native Garden

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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 workshops to find out how! We prepare these native plants for you to taste, drink, smell, touch, and experience). 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 our section, Native Plant Nurseries, for southwest nurseries that sell California native plants). By incorporating plants into our yards that are native to our own region, we also help sustain native butterflies, native bees, birds, wildlife, and migration corridors for all of them, as well as reducing our dependence on added water, fertilizers, and pesticides in our yards. Growing plants that thrive in our climate also reduces our time and cost to maintain our yard). It is truly a win-win scenario.

Bladderpod ~ Spring and summer are good times to enjoy sautéed flowers and young seed pods of Bladderpod, Peritoma arborea. All parts should be cooked before eating to eliminate the potentially irritating compound glucocapparin (ill-smelling, but it repels insects and herbivores like rabbits from eating the plant). Not everyone is sensitive to this compound, but if you are eating quite a bit of the flowers, flower buds, or seed pods, it is prudent to cook them to render the compound harmless. The flowers and seed pods are simply delicious when sautéed in olive oil with a shake of salt and pepper. The young, green seed pods have a flavor like a very mild jalapeño pepper. Native American Indians today, relying on native traditions, say that they boil the flowers for several hours (discarding the water several times) before sautéing them to remove any bitterness. We have found them delicious after simply sautéing the fresh flowers — so experiment for yourself!

Bladderpod is in the caper family; you can make your own wild capers by harvesting the unopened flower buds and pickling them (they are longer and slimmer than the commercial, round capers that you are familiar with, but they have a fascinating flavor similar to the capers you are accustomed to eating). Put the unopened flower buds in a jar and cover them with water. Secure the lid and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Every day for three days, drain off the water in a colander or strainer, return the “future capers” to the jar, and cover them with fresh water.

Then soak them in a brine of equal parts apple cider vinegar and water, with 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of liquid, for at least one week (a month is best). Alternatively, you can soak the flower buds in equal parts seasoned vinegar and water for a delicious caper.

Bladderpod can be encouraged to flower continuously for many months with occasional deep watering. It is also fire-retardant and extremely drought-tolerant, which makes it a perfect choice for your yard. Hummingbirds, hawk moths (that hover like hummingbirds at dusk before the flowers), quail, and other birds are attracted to this “giving” plant. We encourage you to invite this valuable native plant into your own yard. Both you and your birds and pollinators can benefit from its presence (and “presents”).

Clockwise photos from upper left:

  1. Bladderpod shrub in bloom in bloom
  2. Bladderpod flowers and inflated seed pods flowers and buds
  3. Flowers washed and ready to sauté
  4. Bladderpod flowers sautéed in olive oil
  5. Washed young seed pods (seeds inside still soft)
  6. Flower buds to pickle for wild capers

Bladderpod plant parts traditionally used:

  • Seed pods – Young seed pods roasted or sautéed to eat
  • Flowers – Young flowers parboiled, roasted, or sautéed to eat
  • Flower buds – Unopened flower buds pickled to use as wild capers