The Tree of Life: The mesquite is a tree or bush that grows in desert regions around the world, areas unsuitable for most farming operations. On 25% of our planet, mesquite species grow without any help from fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation or capitalization. This is not surprising as the mesquite tree’s root system can grow more than 100 feet underground in search of water, making it a hardy survivor in harsh climates. Like many members of the legume family, mesquite returns nitrogen to the soil.
Mesquite fruits bean-like pods in the fall that have long been a nutritious food source for humans, wildlife, and livestock. Mesquite pods do not open when ripe. The pods of all 3 common types of mesquite – honey mesquite, screwbean mesquite & velvet mesquite – are edible, although the screwbean is less aromatic than the more common honey mesquite. Mesquite flowers are a favorite of bees and other insects and produce a fragrant honey.
The mesquite is known as the tree of life due to its many uses – the Native Americans of the desert regions of Arizona and California used all parts of the tree. Its bark was used for basketry, pottery, fabric, rope, and medicine. The trunk and branches were used to make bows, arrows, mortars and furniture; Mesquite is a good firewood as it burns slowly and smoke-free. Thorns were used for tattooing and to make sewing needles. Leaves were used to make tea, as an eye wash, and for headaches and stomach aches. The gum has been used as candy gum, pottery mending glue, face paint, pottery paint, and hair dye.
But it was the mesquite pod, with its nutritious, bittersweet pulp, that brought the most benefit to desert peoples. The pods were collected in the fall when they were yellowish-brown in color and still hanging on the tree. They were dried in the sun and then stored in large baskets for later use. Beans (both pods and seeds) were ground into a coarse flour and then turned into a cake by adding water without boiling. Some cultures removed the seeds from the pods and ground them into a flour called pinole, which was used to bake bread.
Mesquite as a food: Mesquite meal has a sweet nutty flavor. This fragrant flour can be used in baking or as a condiment for food and drinks.
- When used in Bake, it is used in combination with other flours – the ratio is generally 1 part mesquite flour for 2 to 3 cups of grain or rice flour. Since the mesquite is sweet, consider reducing the sugar in the recipe. Try mesquite in your pancakes, muffins, cakes, cornbread, or cookies.
- As a Spice up, Mesquite Meal is great for seasoning steaks, chicken, pork and fish. Sprinkle mesquite on meat and veggies before grilling? Add it to your breading for meat and fish. It can be added to stir-fries, scrambled eggs, cookies, bread, soups and even ice cream.
For anyone who has a smoothie in the morning or uses a meal replacement drink, try adding a tablespoon of mesquite meal. Hunger only returns after 4 to 6 hours. Or use mesquite to make a cool summer drink or tea!
- Summer Mesquite Drink: Add 2 tablespoons finely ground mesquite flour to 1 cup cold water. Stir and let sit for a few minutes, then strain, add honey to taste and serve.
- Mesquite Tea: Place 1 pound. Mesquite pods in 1 gallon of water. Cook the pods over a bubbling boil for 30 minutes. Remove and strain the pods. Cool broth and serve over ice.
And a healthy meal at that! Mesquite meal is low in both carbohydrates and fat, has a low glycemic index, is high in fiber, and is naturally sweet. The amount of nutrients mesquite flour provides is amazing – it’s rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, protein and lysine.
According to medical studies Mesquite “is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels” in diabetics. The natural sweetness in the pods comes from fructose, which the body can process without insulin. In addition, soluble fiber like galactomannin gum in the seeds and pods slows the absorption of nutrients, resulting in a flattened blood sugar curve. The gel-forming fiber allows food to be digested and absorbed slowly over a period of 4 to 6 hours rather than 1 or 2 hours (resulting in a rapid spike in blood sugar).
Mesquite as medicine: Mesquite’s medicinal properties have long been utilized by many native tribes of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is most often used to treat eye diseases, open wounds and dermatological diseases. As an antacid, it can also be used to treat digestive problems. It is used as an antibiotic and has soothing, astringent and antiseptic properties.
The roots, bark & leaves are cold and dry. They have an antifungal, antimicrobial, astringent, antiseptic and antispasmodic effect. A powder or tea can be made from any of the above materials for athlete’s foot and general yeast infections. This disinfecting detergent or powder can be used for minor infections, stings, bites, wounds and scratches.
Leaves and pods can be made into an eyewash for inflammation of all kinds, including conjunctivitis. Diarrhea, dysentery, gastric ulcers, dyspepsia and most gastroenteritis are relieved by the leaves, roots and bark. Poultices, the leaves have been used topically for headaches or even red ant stings! The young shoots, ground and roasted, were used to dissolve kidney stones.
The white inner bark is used as an antispasmodic. The bark is also helpful in stopping excessive menstrual bleeding and reducing fever.
Mesquite gum or resin is the most commonly used element of mesquite. It is used as an eyewash to treat infection and irritation. It has multiple dermatological uses including treating wounds, sores, burns, cracked and rough skin, and sunburn. It is used as a tonic after bouts of dysentery, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders and food poisoning. It is used as a sedative for gastrointestinal pain, ulcers, colitis and hemorrhoids. Mesquite gum is also used to treat lice, coughs, sore throats, mouth sores, laryngitis, fever reduction, aching teeth and gums.