A strong infusion can be made from pounded root and boiled water to treat diarrhea, sore eyes, and to enhance vision. It is wise to avoid touching the plant with bare hands as the tiny hairs can cause pain and irritation in the eyes.
Sand-verbena is commonly found near creosote bush from sea level to elevations of about 8,200 feet. Two different poultices can be made from the plant. The first can be made from flowers and leaves, which can then be applied on the skin to reduce swelling and pain from burns. The second poultice can be made from the root to ease pain caused by lacerations.
California buckwheat has an impressively long list of medicinal applications, including treating headache, stomachache, diarrhea, bleeding, and wounds. The root can be pounded into a powdered poultice and applied to lacerations as a type of antibiotic bandage. A decoction made from root and water can treat colds and sore throat.
Sphaeralcea, Desert Globemallow, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
While the hedgehog cactus may not bear the most desirable fruits of the Arizona desert, it is indeed extremely edible and nutritious. The fruits and seeds contain impressively high amounts of vitamin C, while the pulp contains traces of antibiotics which can be mixed into a helpful poultice for skin lacerations, burns, and other trauma.
Eriogonum Fasciculatum, Mojave Desert California Buckwheat, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
This drought-responsive ocotillo has one of the most unique life cycles in the desert. After a heavy rain bright green leaves will appear on its long stems. Then, as arid conditions return, the leaves dry out and drop from the plant. This type of rapid response assures the plant will produce foliage about three times a year, instead of annually like most. Due to this unique cycle the ocotillo can be a very important source of sustenance for certain fauna of the desert who feed on it.
This low growing chia produces some of the most nutritiously rich seeds known. From healing diabetes to supporting the heart and digestive system, chia seeds are believed to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
Yerba Santa, meaning “holy herb,” is extremely rich in flavonoids which can be used in a wide range of medicinal applications. A tea made from the leaves is a very effective decongestant and allergy reliever, as well as a treatment for colds and coughs. A poultice from the leaves can be applied to the skin to treat cuts and lacerations, sprains, muscle pains, and insect bites.
Carnegiea Gigantea, Saguaro, Saguaro National Park, AZ, 2018
This iconic yucca of Joshua Tree National Park has many edible parts, along with many household and survival uses. The flower buds, before opening, can be parboiled in salt water to remove the bitterness, drained and then cooked again and served like cauliflower. The opened flowers are rich in sugar and can be roasted and eaten as a type of candy. The fruits can be roasted, then formed into cakes and dried for later use. The root can be boiled or roasted, and the seeds can be gathered and eaten raw. As for everyday uses, a fiber obtained from the leaves can be made into rope, baskets, sandals, clothing and other necessary materials.
Nicotiana Trigonophylla, Desert Tobacco, Sonoran Desert National Monument, AZ, 2018
Dudleya Saxosa, Panamint Liveforever, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
This wild tobacco species goes by many names, with the Tarahumara of the Southwest calling it tabaco del coyote, “tobacco of the coyote,” and the Seri Indians of Northern Mexico calling it hapis casa, “that which is smoked, rots.” The plant is believed to have magical powers, and is thus smoked as a cigarette in a variety of ceremonial contexts.
Reaching heights up to fifty feet tall, and ages up to one hundred and fifty years old, the saguaro holds its status firmly as the largest cactus in the United States. As such, it is of no surprise that it's also one of the most useful of all plants growing in Arizona. The fruits can be eaten raw, they can be cooked into an edible gruel or syrup, or they can be fermented into an intoxicating beverage. The seeds, which contain high levels of vitamin C, can be gathered and stored for long periods of time and eaten later when food is scarce. The woody ribs are very strong and useful as building materials and first aid splints. Whether making candles, chicken feed, medicine, food, or alcohol, the uses of this giant saguaro seem to go on extensively.
As the global climate warmed at the end of the last Ice Age, this organ pipe cactus slowly migrated north from its warm, dry tropics, up to the Sonoran Desert, arriving in Arizona only 3,500 years ago. It is a very fussy cactus, as it only thrives in extremely warm climates with south facing rocky slopes. This likely explains why dense populations are only found in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, along with a few other select locations in Northern Mexico. Even so, it bears fairly large fruit for its body size, and holds the reputation as one of the most delicious of the desert.
Marking Useful Plants, Superstition Mountains, AZ, 2018
Echinocereus Engelmannii, Hedgehog Cactus, Papago Park, AZ, 2019
Most dudleyas are on the rare and endangered plant list due to their sensitivity to the environment, and issues with plant poachers smuggling them from California to Asia. Considered by some to be a delicacy, the fleshy leaves can be eaten raw and the stems are slightly sweet and refreshing to chew.
Stenocereus Thurberi, Organ Pipe Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ, 2018
Chilopsis Linearis, Desert Willow, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
Fouquieria Splendens, Ocotillo, Hat Mountain, AZ, 2018
Salvia Columbariae, Chia Seed, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
Larrea Tridentata, Creosote, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
Ephedra Viridis, Green Ephedra, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Abronia Villosa, Desert Sand-Verbena, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
Yucca Brevifolia, Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
The ephedra genus has some of the oldest known medicinal and ceremonial uses documented. In the Shanidar caves of modern Iraq, 40,000 to 60,000 year old Neanderthal remains have been found resting peacefully with the ephedra plant clutched to their chests. It is believed Neanderthals placed this ephedra with the deceased as a type of guide for their last journey. Similar ceremonies are evident with the Tamang people in Nepal, where they cremate their dead with dried bundles of the ephedra burning.
: place of life outside
Fieldwork of edible, medicinal, and psychoactive plants growing throughout the Southwest
Marigolds are found almost everywhere in the world. They grow easily, bloom reliably, and have few insect and disease problems. More importantly, they are very useful for medicinal purposes, such as treating headaches, wounds and bleeding, toothache, swelling, as an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, and for strengthening the heart.
The sacred creosote bush can be easily found covering dry plains and mesas throughout the desert. Known as the “plant that cures everything," creosote often symbolizes a long life full of knowledge and good health.
Yerba Santa, Globemallow, Dudleya, Ephedra, Elephant Tree, Blue Palo Verde, Barrel Cactus, Saguaro, Cholla, Prickly Pear, Senna, Mesquite, Whipple Cholla, Desert Christmas Cactus, Fishhook Cactus.
Baileya, Desert Marigold, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
Eriodictyon Trichocalyx, Yerba Santa, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, 2017
With powerful antibacterial properties, the flowers and bark can be used in a tea to help with severe cough, sore throat, and fever. The same tea can also help treat heartburn, stomach pains, diarrhea, cramps, bladder infections, and dandruff.