Stock your shelves with desert plants

Pam Boedeker

The December meeting of SaddleBrooke Nature Club began with Jim Cloer telling the group about volunteer opportunities with the Catalina State Park Nature Program. Possibilities are endless from photography to geology and plant study.

The speaker at the meeting was Jean Groen from Apache Junction. Jean has a lifelong love of cooking and experimenting with seeds, plants, weeds and berries. Her home economics degree from Northwestern University and a Cherokee Indian grandmother contributed to her education.

Jean presented slides and narration of the many plants she and Don Wells found on their numerous hikes through the hills and mountains of Arizona. Through her eyes each prickly desert plant has beauty and benefit.

Just a few of the plants she included were the Agave, sometimes called Century Plant. It was used by Native Americans for many things including its fiber and food. The crown, which resembles an artichoke, can be baked. Agave is best known for the tequila that can be made from it.

Barrel Cacti are not the source of water John Wayne demonstrated in the movies! They can provide protein to people desperate for food.

The Creosote Bush may smell like railroad tracks when it rains but they are not the source for that creosote. The bush is the oldest living plant in the desert. It makes a great salve! Indians used its wood for cooking.

Jojoba provides a nut that can be a good snack if eaten in moderation. Its oil is produced commercially. It is a gem of a plant that has been used as a shampoo and has been known to cure most any ailment from asthma, colitis and sore throat.

The Prickly Pear’s fruit is known as a tuna but no-one seems to know why.

It’s a good source of food for animals and people. The pads can be boiled or roasted. The fruit makes great jelly and candy. The pads and blooms are used to heal injuries, diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract infections and hair loss. Tea made from Prickly Pear is used to treat colitis, asthma and diverticulosis.

Jean creates and sells many desert delicacies. We were treated to mesquite cookies! She makes jelly from many desert plants. Her salsa is fabulous! How about Cattail Pollen Pancakes? Dandelion/Wild Rhubarb Pie? Jojoba coffee? Mugwort salad?

Don Wells and Jean Groen have collaborated on publishing many books about plants of the desert. Jean leads hikes and gives talks at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Information about speaking engagements, food and books can be found through

SaddleBrooke Nature Club’s next meeting is January 12, at 4:00 p.m. in the Coyote Room at HOA 1. Sonia Gasho will be talking about Ranching in Arizona. She represents Stronghold Beef in Pierce, AZ.

For more information, check out the club’s website at