Harvest Early, Harvest Dry

For your safety, it is best to harvest mesquite pods before the summer rains, and never wet or wash your pods.  This practice reduces the growth of molds/fungus on pods. There is a relationship between an invisible fungus (Aspergillus flavus) and a natural carcinogen known as aflatoxin B1. Recent research at the University of Arizona by Dr. Nick Garber, Dr. Sadhana Ravishankar, and the Mesquite Harvest Working Group showed a clear correlation between aflatoxin levels and rainfall. Many mature pods harvested after a single rainfall (a single event during which they got wet) were unsafe for human consumption due to high aflatoxin levels. These same studies found mesquite pods harvested before the rains had safe aflatoxin levels—well below the minimum levels allowed by aflatoxin sampling of food products. The Tucson mesquite pod harvest season is mid to late June. Ripe pods range in color from yellowish tan to reddish or purplish (not green), and are dry and brittle. They come off the tree easily.

Harvest off the Tree

Always harvest pods from the tree, not the ground. When you harvest from the ground there is greater risk of the pods having come into contact with fecal matter, herbicides, pollutants, fungus from the soil, or irrigation water that may increase the amount of fungus or mold on the pods. You can find quality pods on trees in washes, small drainages, backyards, and along low-traffic neighborhood streets. Often, city trees are the most abundant producers because they receive supplemental water in the form of runoff from nearby rooftops, patios, and streets—especially when people have set up water-harvesting earthworks around or beside the trees.

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Mesquite pods are ground by pounding, not with a metate. This was labeled as a “Mojave Indian grinding meal.”

How to Harvest Mesquite

Pick ripe pods from the tree. Taste one! Always judge sweetness before continuing to harvest from that particular tree. Flavor varies from tree to tree. The sweeter the better! A good-tasting pod will have no chalkiness, no slight burning sensation in the throat, no drying out of your mouth, and no bad aftertaste. Pull gently and the pods should come right off. If you have to pull hard, they’re not ready yet! Pick only those pods that are good-tasting, clean, and nice-looking (free of black mold).

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I put these on a pretty rock to stage the image. Don’t do this at home!

Dry Carefully

Dry pods should snap easily in two when you try to bend them. If they are not dry, lay them out in the sun on a cloth, metal roofing, or the hood of your car until they pass the snap test. Drying may take 1 to 3 days.

Store

Once pods are dry, store them in a dry, rodent-free place until milling day. Store in food-grade containers or bags. Used, clean food-grade buckets make good storage containers. You can get these buckets (with lids) from donut shops, grocery-store bakeries, some sandwich shops, or the eegees corporate office in Tucson (the eegees buckets have nice strong metal handles). Note: Plastic garbage cans or bags are NOT for storing food because the plastic in the cans often contains harmful biocides.

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Bruchid, or bean beetles, are common in mesquite pods. They are tiny and usually grey. This is a different species than found locally. Photo courtesy of your tax dollars and the USDA.

Don’t Be Bugged!

Bruchid beetles may hatch out of the pods during storage—they are what make the small holes in the pods—but they are harmless! Allow the bruchid beetles to escape and most will leave on their own accord. If storage container is open to insects, beneficial tiny wasps can also enter the container to prey upon the bruchid beetles. To avoid beetles, freeze your pods. Remember, though, to thaw and dry pods at least three days before milling so they snap easily in two when you bend them.

Mill into Meal or Flour

A scant handful of dried pods can be ground in a blender to make mesquite meal.  If you have a Vitamixer, they offer a “dry” blender top that does a dandy job.  An old fashioned crank corn grinder, once used on every pioneer farm to turn dry corn into chicken food, works well too.

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If you want flour, take your mesquite pods to the Desert Harvesters milling events. See DesertHarvesters.org for places and times of their milling events. Be sure the pods you bring for milling are clean and free of mold as well as gravel, dirt, or any other debris that could damage the mill or contaminate your flour or that of people whose pods are milled after yours. Only properly prepared pods will be milled!

Using Mesquite – News You Can Use

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savor-honey-southwestMore on using mesquite and other SW products in – Using Honey in New & Savory Ways (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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