Wednesday, April 15, 2009
#5 Where You At?
Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.
To address this part of the quiz, we need to first define what our "bioregion" is. A bioregion is different than just drawing a circle with a radius of some random diameter, which is one popular approach to trying to eat "locally." While the distance limitation is valid, the bioregion differs because it may extend further or may actually constrain the definition of "local" by being smaller than the hundred-mile radius.
In the case of living in Phoenix, AZ, I'll define my bioregion as the Arizona Uplands subdivision of the Sonoran Desert, which is quite huge. The Arizona Uplands are the highest part of the Sonoran Desert, extending from north of Phoenix into northern Mexico, covering the eastern part of the Sonoran Desert. This encompasses mountain ranges up to about 4500 feet, which receive an average of up to fifteen inches of rain per year, down to about 1000 feet, where the landscape transitions to the much hotter and drier Lower Colorado River Desert subdivision of the Sonoran. Compared to the rest of the southwest deserts, we live in a rather lush bioregion here in the Arizona Uplands.
Edible plants are abundant in the Arizona Uplands. There is a ton of great information on what and how to harvest plants in a book called Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert by Wendy Hodgson, which is compiled from oral histories by indigenous people of the area. The Sonoran Desert at large has supported over 70 different cultures, many of which still exist today, subsisting in part on traditional native foods. My five favorite native edible plants around here, ones that I've actually harvested and eaten on my own, are saguaro fruit, mesquite pods, wolfberries, yucca pods, and miner’s lettuce.
We actually gathered miner’s lettuce on a hike last weekend and had some for a trail snack. Orion said he “love’s it” and even brought some home to have in his school lunch the next day. Miner’s lettuce can be found any time of year in shaded canyons.
Yucca pods can be sliced and fried when young and green, usually in the spring. Wolfberries are abundant in the spring, from February through April, after a good rainy winter. This year, not so plentiful. Mesquite pods can be gathered in June, and ground into flour and stored to make cakes and gruel throughout the year. Saguaro fruit ripens in July, and can be harvested for both the seed and the pulp. This can also be dried and stored.
Supplemented with quail, rabbit, deer and javelina, one could subsist nicely in the Arizona Uplands. But I’ll stick with my two favorite store bought staples, granola and yogurt. Maybe I’ll add a handful of saguaro seeds to the next batch of granola in honor of my bioregion.