Edible - Medicinal Desert Plants Walking TourSaturdays
at 8:00 a.m. August 4 and again September 1
Moves to 1:30 p.m. October 13 and October 28

          Prickly pear cactus fruits yield more than just a colorful  margarita mixer -- they're nutritious and have a unique taste. Both the pads and fruit of these cacti are a Sonoran Desert staple so popular they are exported worldwide. Learn about Edible, Medicinal and Useful Desert Plants starting at 8:00 a.m. on Summer Saturdays August 4 and September 1.
        Have you tasted the sweet flour that can be ground from mesquite pods? How about prickly pear cactus fruit jelly -- or a ‘nopalito’ pickled from strips of prickly pear cactus pads? Desert plant enthusiast Jim Shepherd guides an 8:00 a.m. one-hour walk on the first Saturday each month this summer where you'll see prickly pear cacti, the towering stalks of our native Agave chrysantha, and mesquite trees - with a chance to taste a few ‘de-sert edible’ samples ranging from prickly pear jelly to nopalitos, mesquite flour, and agave nectar. Ethno-Botany is the study of edible, medicinal and practical uses for desert plants that have fed, clothed and healed desert dwellers for 1,000 years.
Read more about special guest tourguide Choctaw Nation ethno-botanist David Morriswho returns as guide October 28 at 1:30 p.m.
         You'll see plants along our Curandero Trail on this leisurely one-hour guided walk: agaves, prickly pear cacti, mesquite trees. During the walk guides share a synopsis of Arboretum history and narrate ways prickly pear cacti, ratany, agaves and jojobas have fed, healed and clothed Sonoran desert peoples for more than 1,000 years.
** Please note: this guided tour explores the Curandero Trail, which has steep sections that are not suitable for visitors who use wheelchairs or walkers.
As with most other weekend guided tours here, the edible-medicinal plants walk is included with $12.50 daily Arboretum admission.        Please keep in mind that information shared on this tour does not constitute medical or dietary advice; opinions and views expressed by volunteers are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum or its management
Visitors can explore our Curandero Trail and learn more about useful desert plants on your own, too -- signs along the trail explain many of the plants, and in both English and Spanish.
An ethno-botanist and member of the Choctaw Nation, David Morris is another featured guide for this walk, and has has done extensive research into plants that heal and nourish.
          Ethno-Botanist Dave Morris is a fan of jojoba seeds, shown in thephotos at left. These acorn-size seeds can take on a mild hazlenut flavor after being lightly roasted.   Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is also known by the nicknames "goat nut," deer nut and coffeebush -- the latter from its reputation as an acceptable coffee substitute when mature seeds are roasted. Waxy oil pressed from the nuts is widely used in shampoos and skin lotions; tea brewed from jojoba leaves can sooth inflamed mucous membranes.
Ask Dave Morris about his favorite desert plant and he cites the agave. "Fleshy leaves of the agave were the source of fiber (sisal) for the early desert natives. The fibers would be used for cordage, rope, baskets, mats and sandals. The heart of the agave was roasted and eaten and the leaf tea is thought to relieve arthritic pain," said Morris. Learn more about this plant, about creosote and others which continue to nourish, heal and clothe people of the Sonoran desert. Here's another, too: Native Americans in the desert refer to the mesquite tree as the "tree of life". The pods can be ground up and they provided the main source of flour until the introduction of European heat, rye and barley. The barkof the esquite can be boiled to produce a germ-killing wash for minor cuts and scrapes. The Piipash (Maricopa) obtain a black paint from mesquite bark that is used to add designs to their traditional pottery." 

Inspired by our trail and guided tours that interpret uses of edible-medicinal desert plant here at the Arboretum, ethno-botany enthusiasts Kathy and Tom developed their own Curandero Trail around the 2.5 acre perimeter of their Gold Canyon home and business, Smiling Dog Landscapes. Kathy and Tom guide tours of their trail during Fall and Winter months. There's no fee to attend, but spaces are limited and pre-registration required; call 480.288.8749 or email info@smilingdoglandscapes.com
"You may already be familiar with prickly pear, roasted jojoba seeds and the refreshing tea you can brew from ocotillo blooms," says Kathy, "perhaps you've even had a saguaro fruit smoothie. We'll talk about these and other desert edibles, and on the walk you'll also encounter the ingredients that go into my recipe for an allergy tincture using Mormon tea, creosote, brittlebush, triangle-leaf bursage and white ratany."
Boyce Thompson Arboretum is affiliated with the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in addition to being an Arizona State Park. UA students, faculty and staff may bring your CatCard or University I.D. to save an addition dollar off admission!

Read about other weekend guided tours and events