Edible Plant Species of the Mojave Desert

Edible & Non-Edible Plant Species of the Mojave Desert

 

A few notes regarding desert plants:

  • It is illegal to collect plants on most public lands, state parks, and national parks.
  • If you are in a life or death situation and must consume wild edibles, if you are at all in doubt whether or not the plant is edible, do NOT consume it.
  • Remember, the desert biome is extremely fragile and takes a long time to replenish.  The wild plant you pick could take decades, even a century to grow back.
  • In a survival situation, taking the time and calories to collect the amount of plants you would need for nutrition is sometimes not worth it.  Plants in some places are in low supply.  Do not bank on desert plants as any kind of emergency food strategy.

 

A few notes regarding this guide:

  • It is illegal to collect plants on most public lands, state parks, and national parks,  so this is not a habit or hobby I can support or  condone, and in most situations, I actively discourage it.
  • This is a general, basic guide for some commonly found edible plants in the Mojave and should not be used as any kind of science or even as your main guide.  A more extensive field guide is recommended.
  • There are no pictures provided in this guide, so please use this in conjunction with other research materials and photographs for positive identification.
  • This is general information and if you decide to consume any wild edibles, you do so at your own risk. If you begin feeling at all sick, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Since one can survive for many days without food, it is best to avoid  plant life unless one has made a hobby of edible plants and can  always identify the safe species.

 

Most Common Edible Plants

Mesquite/Honey Mesquite – Produces a bean pod in which beans can be removed and used in a number of ways: Dried, baked, mashed into a paste and made into cakes, and boiled into a drink.  Mesquite wood has many other practical uses as well.

Pinyon Pine –  Pinyon is perhaps one of the plants most synonymous with Mojave Desert survival.  The Pinyon was instrumental to the Paiute Indians way of life.  Pinyon Pine nuts can be eaten whole, ground into meal, and boiled into beverages.  Like mesquite, the Pinyon pine’swood served many purposes as well.

Yucca – The desert’s multi-tool.  The yucca plant’s buds, flowers, flower stalks, root and fruits can be eaten, according to “Flowers of the Southwest Deserts,” a local reference book.  The fruits can be eaten raw or roasted.  The leaves and roots of the yucca can also serve many utilitarian purposes.

Joshua Tree –  The Joshua Tree is much like the yucca: very versatile. The fruits can be roasted or boiled to eat.  The leaves and roots can be used for many things.

Ephedra or “Mormon Tea” – The leaves of the Ephedra plant look like small, bony fingers.  They can be picked and boiled with water to make a refreshing and nutritious beverage.

Juniper – The berries and needles of the juniper can be boiled with water to make a beverage.  It is not recommended to eat the berries alone.

Creosote – Creosote berries can be boiled with water to make a beverage.

Assorted Cacti – Almost all spined plants like cactus are totally edible.  The pads can be stripped and cut into strips, then cooked like vegetables.  The fruits of cactus such as the prickly pear can be stripped of their spines and directly eaten.  Use caution when dealing with cactus, they can be very painful and  annoying.  Certain species of cactus have barbs and hooks that make them difficult to remove from human skin.  Use a tool with a long reach to stab the cactus and hold it while you peel the spines off with a knife.

 

WHAT NOT TO EAT

To be on the safe side, any plants with the following characteristics should be avoided and definitely not consumed:

  • Any plant excreting a white sap or milk.
  • Any plant bearing white berries. Red berries are only okay to eat about half of the time, so please be sure it is not poisonous.
  • Any mushrooms or fungi unless well-educated about them.

The following plants are not safe plants:

Nightshade, Locoweed, milkvetch, rattleweed, jimsonweed, coral bean, Turpentine bush, mistletoe.

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