With coconut yogurt, western redbud and manzanita flowers
After harvesting the various desert fruits and seeds throughout the year, it has become time to clear out the pantry in preparation for the next season of harvest. The base of this granola is made with raw sprouted and dehydrated buckwheat groats which are light and airy but give a satisfying crunch. These were a key gluten free staple back in my raw vegan days and still keep their place on the shelf.
Desert Fruits: Featured here are the iconic prickly pear and saguaro cactus fruits (dehydrated and ground pulp), wolfberries, and elderberries. Other berries such as hack berry would also be a great addition, but last year I ate them all fresh and didn’t save any. Saguaro had an excellent year so I have tons of dried fruit and the seeds are abundant, so I used quite a bit here.
Desert Seeds: From barrel cactus seeds to saguaro seeds and of course one of my favorites, ironwood beans, all ended up in this granola. The ironwood beans have better flavor when toasted, so I roasted them briefly in an iron skillet… ironic, for ironwood, right? Plus, a little bit of mesquite bean flour for that nutty sweetness.
Making granola is usually very intuitive for me so it all depends on what you have on hand and ingredients can be substituted easily. Don’t have wolfberries? Easy, they are a close relative to the commercially available goji berries. Used all your elderberries for syrup over the winter? No worries, dried blueberries can be a stand-in. The seeds can also be swapped for any of your typically available or locally foraged seeds if you enjoy their flavor. Here’s my generic recipe to get you started:
Ingredients 3 parts buckwheat groats 1/2 part elderberries 1/2 part wolfberries 1/4 part barrel cactus seeds 1/4 part saguaro seeds & fruit powder 1/4 part ironwood beans, toasted 1/8 part mesquite powder 1/8 part prickly pear powder 1/8 part agave or maple syrup Sea salt to taste
Sprout the buckwheat groats by soaking in three times the amount of filtered or spring water to cover. Allow to absorb the water, adding more if necessary to keep covered. Soak for 4-6 hours. Rinse very thoroughly. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread onto dehydrator sheets and dehydrate just until dry. An oven on its lowest setting also works well.
Enjoy on top of yogurt, ice cream, acai, and more!
Welcoming springtime also means the onset of weed season. While many reach for their choice of mass plant destruction (with herbicides being of greatest concern), there are gentler and more sustainable ways to manage the green overgrowth in our yards and public spaces.
Many of our wild plants that find their way into our gardens and every crack and crevice in the concrete are full of nutritional and even medicinal benefits. For example, the ever resilient dandelion is an excellent blood cleanser and liver detoxifier while also being a fantastic source of vitamin K, A, potassium, calcium, iron and rich with antioxidants.
One never forgets stinging nettle once they encounter it as it brushes against bare skin. This prickly annual green has 2-3 times more nutritional value than either spinach or kale, which are considered some of our top green superfoods. It can be made into many foods most especially soups and pestos.
My yard has a small patch of it, everywhere else there is mallow and sow thistle… maybe a few dandelions. As I wander our country neighborhood, I notice that other folks had a bit more luck as I would call it. My introverted self hesitates to knock on someone’s door to ask if I can harvest their weeds… sure to be met with an awkward silence and then the stuttering of explaining myself. So alternately, I posted on our local social media (NextDoor… have you heard of it? Pretty handy for us shy introverts who want the inside scoop for neighborhood going-on’s.) My intriguing post started off with “Got weeds..?” and then inquired more about nettle and how to identify it. Quickly I received responses such as “why in the world I would want such a nasty plant” and “please!!! take as much as you want!!” Therefore, an opening to introduce myself and my work appeared to a whole new audience… Hint to herbalists and foragers: don’t be afraid to hit up your neighbors for unsuspecting herbs and wild edibles! Because chances are, you’ll definitely make some new friends. You get local free food/medicine, they get their yards weeded. Its a win-win.
Medicinal Uses of Nettle:
Nettle leaf is a potent revitalizing and nourishing diuretic herb, helpful in situations affecting the urinary tract and adrenals. It assists in reducing excess mucus such as with hay fever or seasonal allergies. When treating allergies with nettle, it is best to start treating with fresh nettle tincture or freeze-dried capsules a month or so before the onset of allergy season. Topically, the fresh plant can be used intentionally to sting the skin surrounding an arthritic or painful joint or area in need of healing.
I tried many different nettle soup recipes this season and came up with my own version that I was rather happy with. If you try it, I’d love to hear your feedback!
Wild Nettle Soup Recipe (vegan)
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 30 min
3 tablespoons oil (I prefer avocado or coconut oil for their health benefits)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic (or more if you’re a garlic aficionado like myself!)
1 quart vegetable stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Cayenne to taste
Salt to taste
1 large red potato, diced
1 pound nettles, blanched
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for 1-2 hours, but not necessary
1. Cook onions in oil until soft and translucent in a large soup pot. Add garlic, thyme and cayenne, cook briefly another minute or so.
2. Add the stock, salt, potatoes and nettles. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until nettles and potatoes are tender.
3. Adjust spices and salt to taste.
4. Add cashews.
5. Transfer to a high speed blender and blend, in batches if necessary until smooth. If you want a super silky soup, you can strain through a fine mesh strainer.
6. Transfer back to soup pot and warm until ready to serve.
It’s that time of year when the northern hemisphere begins to slow down, contract, and rest. An ideal time to reflect and take in all that has happened throughout the year. The celebration of death during Halloween swallowed up all that no longer serves us, transforming that energy into the seeds of something new for the coming cycle. Taking a bit of time to pause and be grateful for everything that has come our way or moved on, leaving us in this moment with just what we need. Nothing more and nothing less.
I’m here in Arizona, just north of Phoenix, visiting my parents, enjoying the dryness and subtle energies of the desert. With access to a decent amount of land here, I’ve been exploring what is available and ready to be harvested. I have found an abundance of jojoba nuts, even though they are slightly past their season.
Jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is a native perennial shrub found in the Sonoran desert throughout southern Arizona, southern California and northwestern Mexico, bearing nuts somewhat resembling little acorns. These nuts are a rich source of a prized oil that is commonly used in cosmetics and have been used in native traditions for quite some time. Despite their decent size and abundance, from my research, they weren’t necessarily used as a food source by indigenous people, most likely because of their high content of tannins. However, I did learn about making them into a coffee-like beverage.
So after gathering a few handfuls of what was left on the bushes that I encountered, I shelled them and roasted them for thirty minutes at about 300 degrees. After cooling, ground them into a somewhat coarse powder. The oils quickly made it into a thick meal that easily sticks together.
I combined about a teaspoon of the powdered jojoba to a cup of hot water and let it steep as I would a tea for about 10 minutes and then strained. The resulting beverage definitely had a coffee aroma and taste, however much lighter and quite delicious.
Last week I spent some time in Arizona visiting my family while taking some time to get rebalanced and find my center again. Going home is always good for that, right? And what better way to do that than in the enchanting desert full of radiant sunsets, captivating monsoon storms and the intense, relentless heat. It’s kinda like a week-long session of hot yoga.
It has been a while since I’ve experimented and worked with plants and herbs. It seems that the drama has been all-consuming lately, just trying to get back on my feet and function has taken up all of my energy for the last few months. The plants have taken a bit of a backseat while I work through all of this, but I know they are patiently, and maybe even eagerly, awaiting my return.
My mom has been making jelly from the prickly pear cactus fruits for many years. It is always a hit, especially as gifts and such during the holidays. I don’t eat much sugar in my diet and I’ve seen how much white sugar goes into this stuff so I have always wanted to find other ways to enjoy the fruit in a fun and creative way.
With a bit of inspiration from Mom, I decided to experiment with a Prickly Pear ice cream. Of course, if you know me, its going to be a dairy-free, organic, low sugar and raw vegan version!
First, a little more about these delicious cactus… Prickly pear, also known as Indian fig opuntia, Barbary fig, cactus pear, Opuntia ficus-indica are well adapted to dry and arid environments. The flavor of the O. ficus-indica is known to have a similar sweet taste to that of a watermelon which translates to its excellent use in jams and jellies. Indigenous people have been using this cactus as a food and other functional uses for centuries but it also has medicinal properties as well. Recent studies have found that the fruits and flesh of the O. ficus-indica have significant amounts of vitamin C and substantial anti-oxidant properties. One study determined that the vitamin C obtained from the cactus fruit decreased damage to lipids while simultaneously improving antioxidant effects and the body’s redox balance (1), compared to vitamin C supplements which do not decrease the body’s oxidative stress. In other words, you’re better off getting your vitamins from whole foods than popping a multi-vitamin. Although further studies are needed, it was also found that the Arizona cactus pear exhibited anti-cancer properties and prohibited cancer cell growth (2).
Now, on to the exciting and delicious part…Begin by harvesting your fruits using kitchen tongs or other suitable tools, carefully avoiding the spines. Here’s my mom and oldest daughter getting to work in the front yard.
First things first though, how can you possibly get past those maddening, nearly invisible spines known as glochids? One way is to hold them over a flame such as a campfire or a gas stove burner. In my case last week, however, my dad decided that a huge gas torch from the garage would do the job best. It certainly removed the spines nicely! Nevertheless, I’m sure any sort of flame would be just fine. 🙂
Once the glochids are thoroughly burned off, you can now handle these once offensive fruits much easier. (Though, I won’t promise that there will not be a stray glochid that will lodge itself in your skin and irritate you for hours, its just the risk we take for delicious wild food!) Slice them open and you’ll find a mass of rock hard seeds. These must be separated or you’ll likely chip a tooth trying to eat them, although they are edible if you were to grind them to a powder. Scoop out the flesh and seeds and place into a blender or food processor. Blend for about a minute then separate the seeds by pouring through a fine mesh strainer.
Now you have your prickly pear juice ready for your recipe! I know there are many other ways to process these cactus fruits, but I am a strong advocate for minimally processing whole foods and consuming them in their raw and natural state. So many nutrients are lost during the heating and cooking process so I prefer not to do so whenever possible. More on that in another post!
Prickly Pear Raw Vegan Ice Cream
1.5 cups prickly pear juice (see processing tips above)
1 cup unsweetened coconut yogurt
2 cups cashews (soaked for 1-2 hours, preferably)1/4-1/3 cup coconut nectar or honey (or for sugar free, I like to use stevia extract)
dash of salt
Combine all ingredients into a high speed blender, such as a Vitamix. Be sure to taste-test it at this point and adjust the sweetness according to your preference. Though, keeping in mind that once frozen, it won’t taste quite as sweet as it does at this point. Place into a commercial ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers directions. Alternatively, it can be placed in the freezer for a few hours, but won’t have the same texture and fluffiness of ice cream.
I had rave reviews from everyone who tried it. I feel like the flavor was lost a little, but it sure presented beautifully with its bright color. Besides, who can turn down a good healthy dose of vitamin C and antioxidants with their ice cream?