Common Names: Algarroba, American Carob, Huarango, Kiawe, Mesquite
Parts Used: Leaf, Bark, Fruit, Flower, Resin
Native To: Southwestern United States + Mexico
There are around 40 varieties in the Prosopis genus, which grow widely in areas with nitrogen rich soil - particularly in the Southwestern United States + Mexico. Prosopis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite) is the most common variety, found spread throughout the Chihuahuan + Sonoran Desert regions, as well as most of the state of Texas. Mesquite is an invasive plant and can be found in small "forests" wherever it may grow. [Steinberg, Peter 2001]
Mesquite grows as a low shrub or small tree reaching up to 40 feet in height depending on its access to water. [Steinberg, Peter 2001] In dryer parts of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Mesquite remains compact with multiple trunks protruding with thorny stems - easily mistaken for brambles when it looses its leaves in the winter. However, in arroyos or rain caches, the Mesquite grows as a single trunked tree with crooked and drooping branches.
The bark of the Mesquite is grey-brown to black and appears smooth on newer growth, but twisted and scaly on older trunks and branches. The stems are covered with sharp spines which can sometimes be covering the bark of the trunk as well. Newest growth stems are bright green, eventually turning grey-brown as they age.
Mesquite blooms from mid spring to early fall, bursting with blossoms after every monsoon in the late summertime. The flowers grow as long conical spears dotted with tiny yellow blossoms that look like funny little pom-poms when fully in bloom.
The leaves are alternate, compound, and bi-pinnate. Each pinna consists of 10-20 wide, smooth, medium-green leaflets that are typically blunt or rounded at the tip.
The long, pea-like seed pods range in color from reddish-brown to pale yellow when ripe. The pods of the Screwbean Mesquite form as tightly wound coils (like a spring or a screw). When the pods are ripe, they become hard and fall to the ground. These are the pods that we harvest for use.
Protein, Fiber, Sucrose, Nitrogen (leaves), Thereonine, Isoleucine, Alkaloids, Flavanoids, Phenolic Acids, Glycosides, Tannins, Triterpenoids [HerbaZest Editorial Team] [NCBI, 2019]
Mesquite is an invasive plant. There are no known sustainability issues for harvesting this plant.
When harvesting Mesquite, be sure to wear gloves so as to avoid the painfully sharp thorns. Harvest the fallen beans that have hardened. When harvesting the leaves, gently pinch the leaf bracts from the joint where they meet the branch. When harvesting the young bark, cut young branches just above a joint (this allows the branch to regrow) and peel the bark from the branch with a sharp knife. The trunk bark can be gently peeled off by using your hands or a sharp knife. When harvesting bark directly from the tree, be sure to harvest vertically instead of horizontally, and stripping the bark from around the girth of the tree will inhibit the movement of chemicals and food vital to the tree's survival. The resin can be harvested by scraping it away from the branch with a sharp knife.
Mesquite has had many traditional uses throughout history. The indiginous people of the United States and Mexico relied on Mesquite as a vital food source, a medicine, and a tool.
The wood of the mesquite is commonly used for woodcrafting, revered for its beautiful coloring and hardiness and sometimes referred to as Texas Ironwood. The wood is also used traditionally for cooking meats as it gives a lovely, somewhat sweet, smoky flavor.
The bark of the mesquite was boiled down by indigenous peoples into a liquid extract and used as a laxative and emetic tonic. [Michael Moore, 1989] The leaves of the Mesquite were traditionally used in a tea for tummy troubles, headaches, and occassionally even for painful gums. The leaf and sap were also made into a tea and used as an eye wash or a wound wash. [Johnathan Duhamel, 2013]
The flower can be used in delicious springtime tea, or can be made into a flower essence to help promote joy, balance, and childlike enthusiasm.
The sap or resin can be made into a potent salve or infused oil for severe chapped lips + skin, cold sores, and sunburn. Records show that the indigenous people even used an infusion of the sap to treat veneral disease. [Johnathan Duhamel, 2013] [Michael Moore, 1989]
Scientists continue to study the use of Mesquite Bean in treatment for blood sugar regulation due to its low glycemic index of 25. [Johnathan Duhamel, 2013] [NCBI, 2019]
The Mesquite Beans have been used by indigenous people throughout history as a food source, grinding the pods down into a fine meal and mixing the meal with water to create cakes and breads. The Mesquite beans contain a large amount of crude protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals - making them a very nutritious part of the desert diet.
Mesquite is considered a generally safe herb - however, if you struggle with kidney disease or cardiovascular disease there may be some serious side effects. [The Medic Shack, 2016] Always consult with your physician before beginning any form of therapy with Mesquite.
Ways to Use:
Tea, Decoction, Tincture, Powder, Salve, Infused Oil, Poultice, Flower Essence
Sweet, Aromatic, Warming, Moistening, Mildly Stimulating
[Steinberg, Peter 2001] Prosopis glandulosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/progla/all.html [2020, September 2].
[Jay W. Sharp] Mesquite Tree https://www.desertusa.com/flora/mesquite-tree.html
[Edible Wild Food] Honey Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa https://www.ediblewildfood.com/honey-mesquite.aspx
[HerbaZest Editorial Team] Mesquite, Updated: Jun 18, 2020 https://www.herbazest.com/herbs/mesquite
[NCBI, 2019] Prosopis Plant Chemical Composition and Pharmacological Attributes: Targeting Clinical Studies from Preclinical Evidence, Javad Sharifi-Rad, Farzad Kobarfard, Athar Ata, Seyed Abdulmajid Ayatollahi, Nafiseh Khosravi-Dehaghi, Arun Kumar Jugran, Merve Tomas, Esra Capanoglu, Karl R. Matthews, Jelena Popović-Djordjević, Aleksandar Kostić, Senem Kamiloglu, Farukh Sharopov, Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary, and Natália Martins https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6995505/
[The Medic Shack, 2016] Medicinal Plants of the Desert http://www.themedicshack.net/desert-medicine/
[Michael Moore, 1989] Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West
[Johnathan Duhamel, 2013] Mesquite trees provide food, fuel, medicine, and more https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2013/07/07/mesquite-trees-provide-food-fuel-medicine-and-more/