In This Issue:

Ethnobotany by Deborah Wisniewska-Jones

Fertilizer by Louis Kilbert, Michigan


From Toronto Cactus & Succulent Club newsletter Cactus Factus--1999

Ethnobotany by Deborah Wisniewska-Jones


Aeonium lindleyi - an antidote for Euphorbia sap or latex. (Norma Lewis

Agave spp.- (Dasylirion wheeleri) Native Americans stripped the leaves of thorns then wove them into baskets, mats, and thatch. (Nolina microcarpa) In Northern Mexico, they are still collected for making brooms. (Dasylirion wheeleri) When separated from their fleshy matrix, the fibers of the youngest leaves made good rope. Immature flowering stalks could be cooked and eaten, even distilled into an alcoholic beverage. In parts of Mexico a liquor known locally as sotol is still made. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bowers)

Agave spp.-A compress for local infections and fresh wounds is made out of the wet macerated pulp obtained from the heart of the Agave, similarly such a compress is used for relieving chest congestion. Raw Agave leaves induce vomiting. The pulp of the heart of the Agave is also used to treat chapped lips, rashes, sunburn and snowblindness. (Arizona Cactus and Succulent Research

Agave spp.- Eight species occurring in the Southwest were one of the Indians most important plant groups. Many Tribes lacked access to the plants, so they were a valuable trade item. Nearly all parts of the plant could be eaten, leaves, flower stalks, blossoms and seeds. Leaves and stalks were roasted in large pits and eaten or pounded into cakes and dried in the sun for later consumption. The leaf mass was eaten like a giant artichoke, when the charred outer leaves were discarded a brown juicy mass was revealed that tasted like molasses. Flowers were boiled to remove bitterness and could either be eaten immediately or sun-dried, if not harvested the flowers produced seeds that were gathered and ground into flour.

The Apache and Chiricahua Indians extracted the juice from young flower stalks to make an intoxicating drink known as pulque (which is the main ingredient of tequila). Village men might be gone for a week during an agave harvest. In some areas hundreds of stalks were gathered in a single day, and it is not an exaggeration to say that a man's worth was determined, in part, by his ability to find, harvest and properly cook agave leaves and stalks.

Agave spp.-fibers were used to make bowstrings, brushes, cradles, nets, slings, shoes, skirts, mats , rope, thread, basket foundations and snares. The leaves were soaked and pounded to release the fibers, which were dried and then separated by combing.

Uncooked the leaves of some species of agave can be toxic. Indians from the Chihuahuan Desert would poison arrow tips with juice from the leaves of the A. lechuguilla. (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett)

Agave barbadensis- Endemic to Barbados. The inflorescence elongates at a remarkable rate and is used as a float by fishermen diving for sea eggs (white sea urchins). In rural areas washed clothes are spread over the plant to dry. Scratches made on the leaf heal a conspicuous buff color and so, armed with the terminal spine as a pen youngsters often scrawl graffiti on the leaves. (Wild Plants of Barbados by Sean Carrington)

Agave tequilana- used for making Tequila

Agave angustifolia- used for making mescal, an alcoholic beverage.

Aloe- Was recorded as being used as far back as 2000 years ago. People believed it prevented hair loss and rubbed it into their scalps. Scientists have found that aloe has anesthetic, antibacterial and tissue restorative properties. Internally herbalists prescribed it for stomach disorders, constipation, insomnia, hemorrhoids, headaches, poison ivy, mouth and gum disease and kidney ailments, and used to relieve x-ray burns from treatment of cancer. In folk medicine it is said to be used as a remedy for skin cancer. It is said that Alexander the Great conquered Madagascar so that his army had a good supply of the herb for healing wounds. In the African Congo the Slukari hunters rub the gel of aloe over their bodies to remove the human scent before they stalk their prey.

Aloe arborescens- The Zulus a decoction of the leaf is administered to women just before parturition in order to assist the process. A cold infusion is used as a drench in the treatment of sick calves.

Aloe broomii- In the Steynsburg district the leaves are boiled down and a brownish fluid is obtained. It kills ticks, is an excellent disinfectant, a splendid ear remedy for sheep and a good dip. A dessertspoonful of juice from the leaves administered to a horse rendered the blood temporarily so bitter that any ticks on the animal would fall off.

Aloe cooperi, boylei, ecklonis and kraussii- The Zulu cook and eat the flowers as a vegetable. Young girls undergoing initiation rites must bathe themselves on the first night of their entering the initiation school with a lotion prepared from this species. Barren women drink a decoction of the roots so that they may become pregnant. During her pregnancy she must bathe herself with the same decoction which is also drunk at the confinement and after the birth of the child.

Aloe cooperi- The Zulu think that the smoke from burning leaves, allowed to pervade the cattle kraals will protect the cattle from all the ill effects of eating improper food, e.g. too many dried mealie stems or frost-bitten pumpkin shoots.

Aloe davyana- the Chuanas and Kwenas take a decoction at frequent intervals during pregnancy, probably as a purgative.

Aloe ferox- In Basutoland (Sesuto) this is one of the ingredients found in the Manaka or horn carried by the witch doctors. Leaves used in the production of "gumma aloes". The production is as follows: A skin is spread over a hollow in the ground and the leaves are stacked in circular fashion with the cut basal ends inwards, the spininess of the leaves preventing them from slipping. The aloetic juice collected in the skin is transferred to a large tin or pot, and boiled, and after evaporation is complete it is transferred to a suitable receptacle to cool. When dry and hard it is ready for sale. Another method is leaves stacked in an elongated "U" manner, the juice draining down a trough into a sunken tin. Only the leaves of A. ferox are used.

Aloe globuligemma- The Bakones and Bapedis say that each year the terminal raceme points in a different direction; if pointing to the east it indicates a dry season, if to the west, a good rainy season.

Aloe humilis var. incurva- A Basuto native belief not far removed from witchcraft, is take a uprooted plant and place on a shelf in the hut of a barren woman; if it flowers under these condition she will become pregnant, but will remain barren if it withers. ( But then it goes on to say that the plant is clearly A. aristata because no form of A. humilis occurs in Basutoland.)

It is an interesting fact that the juice of this plant mixed with water is sometimes used by the Natives for washing their bodies. It is said to have a tonic and refreshing effect on the system.

Aloe latifolia- The Fingos and Gcalekas apply the leaf pulp to boils and sores and to injuries where inflammation has set in. The leaf pulp and yellow juice are applied to ringworm by the Xosas. Sutos burn, crush, and boil the plant and sprinkle the mixture round the village as a charm against lightning. (It is believed that lightening is caused by witchcraft.) To stamp out an epidemic of colds (or influenza?) all the inhabitants of the village must bathe in public in an infusion of the plant. The Sutos also place the ash from burnt leaves in the ground under a broken limb in an animal to hasten union. In earlier times the juice of the leaves was used in tanning skin robes and shirts, but on account of the adoption of European clothing this use is not now often seen.

Aloe Marlothii- Zulus use it in the treatment of roundworm infections. A decoction of the green leaf and root is drunk, or given as an enema. The ash of the leaf is mixed with tobacco in making snuff. Women rub the green leaf pulp over the breasts in order to hasten the weaning of children. Is drunk as a decoction of the shoots for stomach troubles, will cause vomiting when taken in large amounts.

Aloe saponaria- Zulus and Europeans use a cold infusion of the leaves in the treatment of "blood scours" in calves and of enteritis and indigestion in fowls. The Zulus also make use of this preparation for raising the hair on hides preparatory to tanning. Natives in Transkei use the plant in the treatment of wounds, the leaf pulp and yellow juices as an application to ringworm.

Aloe tenuior- The Fingo and Xosa use as a remedy for tape-worm. It is said to be efficacious and safe. This preparation is also a purgative.

Aloe variegata- In the Transvaal it is infused in brandy and taken for the relief of hemorrhoids. It is also stated that the locality is incorrect as A. variegata does not occur in the Transvaal. It is also believed that if a leaf is warmed and cut open and the juicy part applied to an aching tooth speedy relief is obtained.

Aloe vera- Is of great use in X-ray burns and that it had been used in China for centuries in the treatment of ordinary burns. ALOE ARBORESCENS- Also used in the treatment of X-ray burns in South Africa as Aloe Vera was unobtainable. Placing a split leaf, with the juicy pulp exposed as a dressing direct on the raw area. On one occasion a leaf of Aloe mutabilis was used with equally beneficial results. Of course now a days Aloe is used for almost everything, skin creme, shampoo and conditioner, in baby diapers and the list goes on and on, I've used it on horses with sunburned noses with great results and on horses that have been on antibiotics for a long period of time, cleanses the colon.

(Wild plants of Barbados by Sean Carrington) In the western world is used as a laxative. In Caribbean is used to stop children from sucking their thumb.

Cissus quadrangularus - is a wide spread species in the drier parts of India. A paste made from ground stems is applied over the area where the bone is broken or injured and it helps in setting it. In fact in parts of north India its name translates to mean, "bone joiner" (Menna Singh from cacti_etc.

Euphorbia antisyphilitica - Candelilla - Pencil thin stems are gray from a thick coat of wax. The stem wax has long been collected for making candles, soaps, shoe polish, ointments and other products. Stems are tossed into vats of boiling water, an addition of sulfuric acid peels off the wax. As the wax floats to the top it is skimmed off. The plants themselves have other uses for their wax. It makes an impervious coat that helps prevent water loss and by reflecting solar radiation, keeps stem temperatures from rising to lethal levels. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bower)

Euphorbia hirta - The latex is and irritant but is used to remove warts. A tea prepared form the plant is used in many parts of the world as a treatment for asthma and in the Caribbean to reduce fever and promote urination. (Wild Plants of Barbados by Sean Carrington)

Fouquieria splendens- (ocotillo) Apache Indians ground the roots into a powder and mixed it with warm water to make a soothing bath to relieve fatigue. Root tea was used to reduce the moist coughing of older people. Root powder applied to swollen joints and contusions to reduce swelling. Branches made excellent firewood. They also used to make a living fence, shoving each ocotillo branch into the ground side by side and watering, would take root in a few weeks and were effective barriers against rabbits trying to get into the garden. The red blossoms made a tasty drink. The seeds were ground into flour. The protein in the seeds 29% (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James "W. Cornett).

Fouquieria splendens- Ocotillo-Many Indian tribes report that the flowers and roots of ocotillo are commonly placed over fresh wounds to stem bleeding. (Arizona cacti and succulent research)

Gasteria - Flowers are edible and were first eaten by the Khoi, raw they have a flavor reminiscent of a sweet fresh bean though with a burning after-taste. The young buds of G. brachyphylla were boiled as rice by the Khoi, hence the vernacular name 'hottentot rice'. The flowers (called oukossie) of G. disticha are used in a bredie (stew). An Oukossie stew is traditionally prepared during the Sept.-Oct. wine festival, which coincides with the G. disticha flowering period. In rural South Africa plants are still commonly used for 'magical' purposes. A specific feature of a plant or animal is often believed to be acquired by the user when ingested in a particular way. For instance the heart of a lion would render strength or the eye of vulture keen eyesight. The mottled leaves of Gasteria species provide a camouflage effect so that it blends into its background, making it difficult to find. For this reason G. croucheri is highly prized for it magical properties by Zulu warriors in Natal, who believe when it is eaten it makes the user partially invisible. It is often consumed before faction fights or in an attempt to hide from an enemy. The Xosa believe that when placed on top of their homes the plants will ward off lightning. Occasionally plants can be found actually growing on the rooftops of Transkei dwellings. (Gasterias of South Africa by Ernst van Jaarsveld)

Gasteria croucheri- Used by the Xosa who believe it to be a remedy for paralysis. The leaves pulped in cold water are used to wash a patient's body. (Gasterias of South Africa by Ernst van Jaarsveld)

Jatropha cuneata- (Euhorbiaceae) The sap has been used to treat skin eruptions, dysentery and sore throats and to staunch bleeding from slight wounds. Seri Indians have employed the stems in basketry and made reddish-brown dye from the roots. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bower)

Sansevieria - fibers are used to make ceremonial garbs used during circumcision. They are planted near huts as a protection against being struck by lightning. The belief is that lightning is caused by witchcraft. (Unknown source-Norma Lewis)

Sedums - Native Americans, ancient Romans, Russian peoples and Japanese believed sedums had special powers or qualities. They grew the plants for their malic acid or planted them above the doorways of their dwelling to keep away lightning or evil. Also a model of Durham Cathedral was encrusted with sedums. Fish and other sea creatures were modeled with chicken wire, stuffed with sphagnum then covered with sedum plants. These were suspended above blue beds of lobelia cultivars, which represented water, creating the illusion of fish leaping from the sea. (Sedum, Cultivated stonecrops by Ray Stephenson)

Sedum acre-Generations of countrywomen in England knew it as welcome-home-husband-though-never-so-drunk. Even as early as Anglo-Saxon times it was used to treat gout, and numerous other ailments. Nicholas Culpepper said that it had been used as an abortifacient, a cure for scurvy, a formentation, an emetic and a purgative and was prescribed in small doses by homeopaths for anal fistulas and hemorrhoids, he even recommended it to cure venereal disease. Carl Linnaeus recommended it for scurvy and dropsy. (Sedum, Cultivated stonecrops by Ray Stephenson)

Sedum anglicum- used to stop internal and external bleeding. It was recommended for fevers, cankers, fretting sores, and scorbutic cases. (Sedum, Cultivated stonecrops by Ray Stephenson)

Sedum rosea-was named because of the odor given by the broken, dried roots, which were used as an additive to ointments. Rose root contains potent alkaloids that are used even today to treat diseased eyes. (Sedum, Cultivated stonecrops by Ray Stephenson)

Sedum reflexum (S. rupestre) was introduced from Flanders to Britain as a salad crop. It was said to have a fine relish, pleasant taste, and to be a good treatment for heartburn. (Sedum, Cultivated stonecrops by Ray Stephenson)

Sedum telephium - In Medieval England it was picked on Midsummer Day and hung from cottage rafters where it continued to grow, it was thought to keep away distemper as long as it remained green until Christmas.

Sempervivum - house leek-put on roof tops in Europe to protect against lightening and evil spirits. (

Yucca- Used by the Southwest desert natives for arthritic and rheumatic pains, the root is used: take 1/4 ounce root and boil in one pint of water for fifteen minutes and take 3 to 4 times a day. (The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D.)

Yucca spp.-Black ashes of Yucca are made into a paste by mixing them with water. This is then smeared over the entire body to break a fever. Diuretic and emetics are commonly made from both the root and leaves of the Yucca. Dandruff and associated hair and scalp problems are effectively treated by making a shampoo of the root of many varieties. The young shoots of Yucca serve as a pain reliever when mashed and boiled. Water is added to the boiled leaves or chopped up root section of the plant induce vomiting.(Arizona Cactus and Succulent Research.)

Yucca elata - Soap tree, Rich in saponins, a class of chemicals that produce lather in water, thus the common name "soap tree". Native Americans have sliced the stems and roots for shampoo and soap. They have used the leaf fibers for weaving baskets, mats, sandals and nets, and they have eaten the flowers which are rich in vitamin C. Cattle also eat the younger flower stalks. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Desert by Janice Emily Bowers)

Yucca-Among the Hopi, the head of a child was washed with yucca suds on the twentieth day after birth, first by the paternal grandmother and then by each member of the father's family. Yavapai warriors, returning from battle, purified themselves by taking yucca baths. As a fiber producing plant the Mojave yucca or Yucca schidigera. Whole leaves were used to bind supporting poles in house construction. Fiber was prepared by soaking the leaves in water, placing them on a flat rock and pounding away the softer tissues with a wooden club. What remained were tough white filaments that could be twisted together to form threads. Used to make sandals ropes mats, clothing elements, nets, hairbrushes and mattresses. Yucca fibers were used in baskets, in the initial stages of construction, pliable but string yucca fibers were incorporated into the first few coils at the bottom of the basket. Red and brown designs were often made by weaving in strand of the inner fibers of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) roots.

Flower stalks, blossoms and seeds of all yucca species were consumed. Fruits of the banana yucca (Yucca baccata) were particularly relished and eaten baked, raw, boiled, dried, or ground into a meal. The fruits were eaten in their entirety after cooking, the skin and seeds were often discarded. The remaining pulp was crushed into paste and sun-dried for several days, then kneaded into cakes that could be stored for winter use. (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett)

Yucca brevifolia - Joshua tree - Pioneers used the tree trunks and branches in construction of corrals and fences, in the dry desert climate the dead fibrous wood becomes resistant to decay. In the 1880's the Atlantic and Pacific Fiber Company of London, England acquired 5,200 acres of Joshua tree land near Palmdale, Ca. The destruction almost demolished the whole area of trees. Things looked bleak, but fortunately for the Joshua tree, the paper proved to be inferior and all the grandiose plans met with failure. Attempts were made to peel the tree logs into thin decorative veneers to be stained with various wood colors but the dyes were quickly absorbed by the porous Joshua tree and that ended that. More successful were the applications in which the soft, light wood was used as tree protectors, surgeon splints, artificial limbs and break-away furniture for the film industry. For many years powdered Joshua tree wood was used to make beer foamier and to produce fluffier whipped cream and meringues.

Today's main economic interest in the Joshua tree is the production of steroids from its seedpods. One of these chemical agents has replaced the old sawdust additive in everything from beer to shaving creams. Other steroids are used in the medical field. Large parts of the Mojave Desert and parts of Mexico where similar yuccas grow are harvested annually for this valuable product.

In 1875 in Los Angeles during the great boom, land was being sold everywhere, real-estate sellers took trainloads of people out to what they called "Widneyville-by-the-desert. The people were appalled by all the growth of cacti and the Joshua tree, and wouldn't buy. So the sellers did a bit of pruning on the Joshua tree then impaled oranges on each bayonet-like spike, and it looked like an orange grove. After that blocks and blocks were sold at boon prices, but no house was built on the actual site. During the 1890's rumors floated across into Nevada mining camps that banana trees had been successfully grafted onto Joshua trees. The desert would soon be covered by one gigantic banana plantation! (Joshua Tree National Park, A visitors guide by Robert B. Cates)



Ferocactus spp.-Three species occurring in the Southwest are best known for having an interior so juicy that they can provide a dying human with a life-saving drink. Not so. Chemical evaluation indicates that it is too alkaline to aid a thirsty traveler, a person would be worst off. Add to this the water lost through perspiration as the dehydrated individual struggles to break open the tough cactus and the story crumbles. The juice can cause headaches in F. covillei and diarrhea and pain in the extremities in F. wislizenii. However women collected the buds in spring, flowers in late spring and the fruits in early summer. They were plucked with two sticks to avoid the spines. Then parboiled to remove bitterness. After cooking they were eaten or dried in the sun for long-term storage. Cooked fruits tastes like artichoke and the flowers taste like Brussels sprouts. Other uses; the cactus body was used as a container by cutting off the top and scooping out the insides, seeds crushed and mixed with water make a gruel. A slice of the cactus with the spines removed was roasted and wrapped in a cloth and applied to sore places on the body for pain relief. (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett)

Opuntia spp. - A pad broken off is passed over and open fire to burn off the spines, then split in half, warmed (20 seconds in a microwave oven) and bound to the chest with a cloth to relieve rheumatic and asthmatic symptoms. Similarly earaches are treated by cleaning a pad, cutting it in half, warming it and placing it over the ear...a very effective remedy. Likewise, hemorrhoids are relieved with a pad of prickly pear, cleaned and split and warmed. The gooey juice of prickly pear cactus is used as a very soothing skin lotion for minor rashes, sunburn and windburn. Snakebites, insect bites, burns, rashes, sunburn and minor abrasions are all treated with a poultice made from cleaned prickly pear. (Arizona Cactus and Succulent Research.

Opuntia -prickly pear-Early settlers in west Texas, cultivated large prickly pear cactus fences around their homesteads, to protect themselves against hostiles. There weren't many trees in that part of the country so building wooden fences was out of the question.


Cylindropuntia - Cholla - The Hopis chew on the roots of the cholla to treat diarrhea. The Navajos commonly use poultices made of the cleaned joints, They are de-spined, split lengthwise, heated and applied to relieve the pain of arthritis. (Arizona Cactus and Succulent Research)

Opuntia bigelovii- (Teddy bear cholla) Desert packrats can handle cholla joints with impunity. They build their dens by molding cholla joints with other materials such as sticks and prickly pear pads and they clear tiny pathways through impenetrable cholla thickets making a quick and safe retreat from coyotes, foxes and other predators.

(Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bowers)

Opuntia-Is useful for forage for cattle, sheep and goats primarily because cactus has a higher conversion efficiency of water to dry matter than any other class of plants and because cactus can persist during dry periods when all other forms of forage have vanished. Plus cattle out on scrub or deserts eating Opuntia pads, would greatly reduce their need for water.

Planting, cultivation, fertilization and care - Cactus cladodes are dried in the shade for several days to allow the cut surface to heal over or treated with a lime/copper sulfate solution to control bacterial rots. The soil is plowed and cultivated as well, just as in any other crop. The cladodes are planted about 1\3 of their height with the flat surface facing east-west. It is important to have good weed control until the crop is established. In Argentina horses are placed in spineless cactus field to consume the weed, since they do not eat spineless cactus. Or a herbicide can be used, or the cactus can be planted so a disk and tractor can provide weed control. After the cacti reach a height of more than 1 meter, cattle sheep, and goats can be admitted at rates of 1 cow/ha, they will eat both cacti and weeds.

Thornless vs. thorny cactus forage varieties - Thornless varieties must be fenced to prevent cattle and wildlife from total consumption of plantings less than 2 yr. old. In Texas deer, javelina, rabbits will completely consume new plantings. In contrast thorny varieties do not have to be fenced but the spines must be burned off with a propane torch before feeding. But thornless varieties are not as cold hardy as spiny varieties, so care must be taken in selecting planting stock. There are some varieties of spineless that are relatively cold hardy but are rather slow growers. All of these forage varieties can be obtained free from Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 50-100 cladodes quantities.

Comparison of cactus to hay - Several ha of cactus can provide a considerable reserve of animal feed during drought periods. Unlike hay stored in the barn the cactus in the field does not deteriorate in quality. In drought periods in summer or winter cactus is green with vitamin A and only need to have the spines burned off or cattle admitted to the fenced area. By consuming 40 kg of cactus per day containing about 85% water cattle are also consuming 35 liters of water per day which can be beneficial in drought periods.

Either spiny or spineless opuntia, when planted in rows, fertilized and weeded can achieve annual dry matter and fresh weight yields of 17,000 kg/ha and 17,000 kg/ha respectively with crude protein concentrations about 10%. When properly supplemented with protein, trace elements and critical vitamins, excellent growth and conception rates are possible. Opuntia has great potential to increase production in average rainfall years and to provide a critical reserve of forage for animals in severe drought years. In droughts cactus also provides a source of green forage and a much appreciated source of water for livestock.( Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Opuntia as a food source-fruits-The Texas A&M University-Kingsville are also field testing cactus varieties since 1984 as a vegetable for human consumption. The fruits are referred to as Nopalitos. The principal obstacle to widespread commercialization are temperatures below freezing -10 c or more, for more than 10 consecutive hours, but it is feasible with some type of protection to the plants. Pear fruits can be red, orange, green, purple or yellow, and the seeds vary from small to large and very few to quite a lot, the sugar content of the fruit is slightly greater than a cantaloupe 13%-15%. (Texas A&M University-Kingsville)

Opuntia- Medical implication of prickly pear cactus-A herbal remedy for diabetes. (See Medical Implications of Prickly Pear Cactus, Alberto Frati, Chief, Department of Internal Medicine)

Opuntia basilaris - All above ground parts of the plant were used. Young joints were broken off, rubbed in the sand to remove the glochids, cut into small pieces and boiled in water and eaten. The Panamint Indians of Death Valley dried and stored the joints as well as the flower buds for later use. The fruits on the plant were knocked off with a stick, the glochids rubbed off with a handful of grass or rubbed in sand taken back to camp where they were buried in an earthen pit with hot stones and cooked or steamed for up to twelve hours. Then they could be eaten or stored. The seeds are quite large and were sometimes removed and ground into a meal and made into an edible mush by adding water. There were medicinal uses as well: pulp would be scraped from the pads and placed directly on the cut or wound. Glochids were sometimes rubbed into moles and warts in the belief such treatment would remove them. (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett.

Opuntia leptocaulis- (Desert Christmas Cactus) Native people harvest the fruit and eat them fresh. Although they lack spines they are abundantly supplied with tiny barbs or glochids. Sometimes the fruits are spread on the ground and brushed with creosote bush branches to remove the barbs. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bowers)

Saguaro (sah-WAH-ro) - Carnegiea gigantea - Provide homes for wildlife, Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers carve nesting holes in the upper branches. Later on other birds such as elf owls, screech owls, purple martins and house finches occupy the holes. (Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts by Janice Emily Bowers)

Saguaro- The O'odham Indians of Arizona marked the beginning of the year at the harvest of its fruit, in June, early July. Since the saguaros can reach 50ft and the fruit was at the top, the Tohono O'odham struck the fruits with a long wooden rib of a dead saguaro, with a small sharp stick on the end. The skin of the fruit was discarded and a portion of the pulp was eaten fresh, but most was placed into a large olla and soaked in water to loosen the small black seeds. The seeds were strained off, the pulp was allowed to cook, until the water boiled away leaving a thick syrup. After it was cooled it was placed in ceramic vessels and sealed with mud to preserve for later use as a sweetener. Allowed to ferment it made saguaro wine. Seeds were ground with water to make gruel used with flour to make bread. The ground seeds were also mixed with cholla buds and wheat flour and eaten, where thought to induce milk production in wet nurses. An important ceremonial ritual took place after the saguaro harvest with dancing, singing and consumption of the wine. The syrup mixed with water then poured into ollas, fermented for four days, the wine would spoil in 24 hours so there was some attempt by the men to consume all of it. (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett)

Stenocereus thurberi - Organ Pipe Cactus. The fruit is believed to be much tastier than its counterparts, Saguaro, the taste is reminiscent of watermelon. Indians of the Sonoran Desert have harvested it for centuries and still do today. The tennis ball size fruits were collected with a long pole with a sharp stick fastened at the top. After the spines were removed they could be eaten, skin and all, unlike the saguaro, or peeled, sliced and dried for storage. Wine could be make from the fruits pulp. Sometimes the seeds were ground into meal, mostly not. A technique for separating the seed from the fruit was unusual. According to a description written in 1740 by Father Consag, the Indians would spend several weeks in one locality collecting and consuming organ pipe fruits. They made it a point to defecate in selected spots so they could return and collect their dry feces. The feces were ground by hand to winnow out the undigested organ pipe seeds. The seeds were then toasted, ground on metates and eaten. This "second harvest" as it was called, was totally objectionable to the early missionaries but was efficient in tapping a source of food that would not otherwise be utilized. (Probably why the seeds were not collected often) (Indian Uses of Desert Plants by James W. Cornett)


Both peyote and mescaline are illegal in the U.S. Member of the Native American Church are permitted the ritual use of peyote because they established it as a religious sacrament long before the laws came into effect, they are not permitted to use mescaline.

It grows wild from Central Mexico to Northern Texas. Its known history dates back to pre-Columbian times; possibly as early as 300 BC During the past two centuries the religious use of Peyote has spread northward into the U.S. and Canada among many of the Plains Indian Tribes such as the Navajo, Comanche, Sioux and Kiowa.

About 350mg of mescaline is required for a psychotropic experience, but 100mg can be just as good. Mescaline may comprise as much as six percent of the weight of the dried button but probably is closer to 1 per cent. A button, the diameter of a quarter weighs about 2 grams, it usually takes 6-10 buttons to get the desired effect. There are several other alkaloids present in the cactus, so the experience is somewhat different than a pure mescaline trip.

Two of these other alkaloids - Hordenine and Tyramine have antibacterial activity. The Huichol Indians have rubbed the juices of fresh peyote into wounds to prevent infection and to promote healing. The Tarahumara Indians consume small amounts of peyote to combat hunger, thirst and exhaustion especially while hunting. They have been known to run for days after a deer with no food, water or rest. Peyote has many uses in folkloric medicine including the treatment of arthritis, consumption, influenza, intestinal disorders, diabetes, snake and scorpion bites and datura poisoning.



Louis Kilbert, Ph.D., President Michigan Cactus & Succulent Society,

It will be spring soon! The best time to do most of your potted-plant chores; the best time to fertilize them. "Natural" fertilizers contain the chemicals that provide nourishment to our plants. Manufactured (artificial?) fertilizers contain many of these same chemicals. There are some things not added to the latter that are present in the former. The three chemicals most likely to be deficient in any soil are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K)(also called "potash"). The three numbers you will see listed on a box of feritlizer are the concentrations of NPK in that order. Nitrogen is for leaves and the green epidermis of succulents, Phosphorous is for flowers and seeds, and Potash is for strong stems including the interior structure of cacti. It is important to have enough calcium and magnesium as well.

Horse manure contains about 0.7:0.3:0.6::N:P:K and 0.3% calcium and 0.1% magnesium. (Caution: if you plan on using manure, fresh manure is chemically very "hot" or reactive; it will damage your plants! Chicken manure is especially hot. Manures should be composted for up to one year before being used as fertilizer.) There is a woman, "The Turtle Lady", on the Winter Hardy Cactus group on the internet who has trained her horses to urinate in a different spot from where they defecate. Urine adds salt to the mix. Therefore, she is creating low-salt natural fertilizer.

Salt poisoning is the one bane of fertilizing. All plants, including cactus and succulents, require fertilizer. Plants grown in pots are especially susceptible to salt poisoning, sometimes called salt build-up. You can see the salt building up on the top edges of an old clay pot and various places on a plastic pot. Potassium in the form of potassium chloride (Potash of chlorine) is one of the primary culprits responsible for this problem. Wood ashes from a fireplace or fire pit contain another form of potash; I'm not sure if it would be any better. Caution: wood ashes must be aged or composted before use! In the open-garden, fertilizing with potash in the fall is advisable, because potassium binds to the tiny particles of clay and stays there; whereas, chloride is washed through by winter snow-melt and rain. It's the chloride that most causes salt poisoning. If you grow your plants in saucers on windowsills, the chloride cannot wash out of the soil and builds up. Dry potassium chloride will cause "burning" ( osmotic damage) to the roots, so it's always best to use water-soluble potash when fertilizing pot-plants.

Nitrogen in commercial fertilizers comes mostly from urea and ammonia, natural components of urine. Nitrogen is also sometimes supplied as "nitrate" (NO3-), which is the form that is actually taken-up by plants. On the other hand, nitrate is washed out of the soil, because it is highly soluble; and therefore, must be added regularly. Urea-formaldehyde is a slow-release form of nitrogen. In the garden, nitrogen is most likely to be lost in winter (don't fertilize with nitrogen in winter), because micro-organisms which would tie-up and hold the nitrogen in the soil are inactive. Whereas in a potted plant, nitrogen is most likely to be lost during the heavy watering days in the heat of summer and most effective in the cooler days of spring and early fall.

Phosphorous is a major component of bone and therefore of bonemeal. (The form actually taken-up by plant roots is dihydrogen phosphate {H2PO4-}). At relatively high pH's (6.0 or more) phosphate combines with calcium or magnesium in the soil; and in that form, the phosphorous is available to the roots. At lower pH's (less than 6.0) or strongly acidic soils, the phosphate combines with aluminum or iron making it unavailable to plant roots. This is also why it is necessary to add extra iron to acid soils (e.g. azaleas and rhododendrons).

Important factors of fertilizing: 1) Timing; When is the best time to fertilize? and Which fertilizer should be used at the various times of the year? 2) Relatedness; The three major components (NPK) must be balanced, too much of one may inhibit use of the others. and 3) Leaching: You can make leaching work for you by washing salts through and out of the soil and by using slow-release pellets to keep leaching from washing all the fertilizer out of the soil.