Southwest Foraging by John Slattery
Gather thee cacti: Southwest Foraging If you think that all nightshades — other than tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant — are poisonous, it isn’t true. The berries of black nightshade make a “superbly delicious” pie, says John Slattery in Southwest Foraging: 117 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Barrel Cactus to Wild Oregano (Timber Press). If you’re a fan of Euell Gibbons’ classic Stalking the Wild Asparagus (first published in 1962), you’ll love this book’s 326 pages and hundreds of color photos.
Take mallow — a “weed” that grows just about everywhere. Slattery invites us to use the young leaves in a salad, stir-fry, or soup — but judiciously, because they’re “slightly rough when raw or a bit slimy (for some) if used in excess in a cooked dish,” somewhat like its “cousin,” okra. You can also purée and boil the young roots, use the plant for gumbo, meringue pies, and thicker sauces. Mallow is also known as cheeseweed because the seed capsules look like little wheels of cheese; these have a nutty flavor and can be eaten as a trail snack, or taken home and cooked. Mallow tea is a gentle treatment for sore throat or cough. The plant likes disturbed soil, including along roadsides — and the author advises “avoiding areas prone to toxic accumulations,” such as spray or runoff toxins, where you are thinking of collecting.
The focus of Southwest Foraging is on food plants — there is nothing here about osha and other strictly medicinal herbs — but healthful attributes for many species are noted. The berries of manzanita, for example, make a good jelly, while the leaves can be used to make an astringent medicine for the urinary tract.
Slattery is the founder of Desert Tortoise Botanicals and the Sonoran Herbalist Apprenticeship Program in Tucson. His new book is strong on the proper identification of the plants, and he cautions readers to collect sustainably.
— Paul Weideman