Elderberry is a plant closely rooted to human development. With several varieties found across the globe, many communities have used its flowers and berries for medicinal and culinary purposes for hundreds of years. Though there are many types of Elderberry, the one that grows especially well in the Southwest is the Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana). Reaching 15 feet tall in maturity, it can be used in residential or commercial design as a shrub or tree. With its beautiful cream colored flowers in spring and summer and it’s dark purple fruit in fall, Mexican Elderberry can become a valuable addition to any space.
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the fruit and flowers of the Elderberry provide numerous health benefits. The berries are high in nutrients and antioxidants which help reduce inflammation, reduce damage from oxidative stress, and protect the body against free radicals from pollution. Multiple studies have also shown that Elderberry flower infusions and berry extracts aid in helping the body fight against influenza virus and soothe symptoms. Elderberry extract lozenges were found to reduce symptoms like headaches, fever, body aches, and congestion in 24 hours of consuming. Repeated doses of Elderberry syrup boosted symptom recovery in 2-4 days. These remedies can be used as a natural alternative to other commercial medicines available to treat influenza and the common cold.
In food, Elderberry can be used in jellies, pies, and homemade wine. It is important to note that before consuming, berries should be cooked to help the body digest them better. Here at the gardens we look forward to turning our Elderberries into syrup and the flowers in homemade loose leaf tea! If you don’t have an Elderberry tree in your backyard, look into local foraging laws in your area to determine if harvesting Elderberry in public spaces is a viable option for you. Whether it’s in medicine or food, Elderberry is definitely a multipurpose beauty!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emma Jones is a student at Utah State University studying Conservation and Restoration Ecology with a double minor in Sustainable Systems and Sociology. Beans and rice speak to her soul and she attempts yoga on a regular basis.
Many of us Westerners find the very idea of eating insects distasteful but we’re in the minority. Insects are eaten in 80% of the worlds countries and for good reason. Insects are numerous, can be easily raised humanely with a small carbon footprint, and are high in protein & low in fat. One can even make flour out of ground up crickets and use it to create all sorts of baked goods that have an extra health benefit. Here is a recipe for some tasty cricket cookies, made with flour you can buy (or perhaps make yourself if you have access to truckloads of crickets or grasshoppers).
Cricket Cookies Recipe
3 cups cricket flour/normal flour mix (or 2½ cups normal flour and ½ cup pure cricket flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks softened butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp almond extract
Optional: 1 cup chocolate chips or topping
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a bowl, mix the flour(s), baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, add the sugar, butter, and almond extract. Start beating this, then slowly add eggs. Add flour mix and beat until fully combined. You can add chocolate chips/other now or when you set the mix on a pan.
Spoon out the mix onto a standard baking pan. You can size cookies how you like, but one spoon should be sufficient. Also note the bigger you make your cookies the longer they will take to cook. Cook cookies in oven for about 9-10 minutes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Written by Vilheim Piwowarek, resident entomologist of the DOT Garden. As an insect enthusiast and insectivore, he is very passionate about understanding insect roles in the Garden, alternative pest management, undercutting insect-related misconceptions, and staring at insects for hours at a time. He is starting his Senior year high school.
Garlic is amazing! Along with being delicious to eat and great to cook with, it also has many benefits other than its tasty insides. For example, eating garlic can reduce your cholesterol. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are also contained in garlic. Potassium, iron, vitamin C, and calcium are just a few of the nutrients that you benefit from when consuming garlic. Additionally, If you cut the cloves of garlic in half and directly apply to your skin, it can help get rid of acne and cold sores. In fact, garlic has been used as a health aid since ancient times.
In the garden this summer, I helped harvest and clean garlic. The type of garlic that we harvested in mid-June is called Spanish Roja. To harvest, we loosened the ground around the garlic so it could be pulled out of the ground. We were very cautious to not dig into the vegetable with our shovels. We then carefully placed the garlic in a pile. If we tossed the garlic too vigorously on the ground, it could bruise. Once all the garlic was harvested, it was placed on racks to be dried.
In addition to the process of harvesting the garlic, we also had to clean it. After a few weeks of drying on a rack we began cleaning another type of garlic called Tashkent Violet Streak. To clean the garlic we cut off the stems about an inch from the garlic itself. Then we peeled off the outer wrapper of the garlic which was covered in dirt. Finally, we trimmed the roots as far up as we could without hurting the garlic. When all of the cleaning was done the garlic was set on the drying rack once more. These vegetables were now ready to go to be sorted into seed stock and food for the CSA.
I had no idea that harvesting garlic was such an intricate process. I have learned that farmers take time to provide quality food to our families. I definitely have more appreciation for the farmers that deliver the food to our tables.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Diego Moore is a rising sophomore at Albuquerque Academy. Self-proclaimed lover of puppies, kittens, rainbows, and Lucky Charms, Diego also has a passion for music and plays guitar in a band through School of Rock here in Albuquerque.
On Thursday, we had international visitors in the DOT Garden. Sarah Montgomery, Director of The Garden’s Edge, a local non-profit, brought two farmers that she works with in Rabinal, Guatemala. These farmers, Maria Elena and Julian, showed us how they process amaranth, a grain that is critical to their community – in addition to being yummy and super healthy!
In the DOT Garden, we have grown amaranth because it is a drought-hardy, healthy, and beautiful plant. However, the tiny seeds can be very hard to separate from the rest of the plant after harvesting.
Maria Elena and Julian have a lot of practice winnowing the tiny seeds from the chaffe for both seed saving and food production, and they shared their skills with 8-9 and 6th grade Environmental Club students, as well as a few of our volunteers and friends.
We learned a few important tricks about amaranth:
It is much better to harvest amaranth when it is fresh – not dried, as it gets prickly when it dries. When it is fresh you can use your hands to get most of the seeds out of the flowers. If you do dry, you have to do the “amaranth dance” to loosen the seeds (our students ended up having fun with the amaranth dance, although Maria Elena cautioned us that they never do this in Guatemala because then you shouldn’t use it for food).
You can easily winnow the seeds from the lighter bits of plant using wind or a fan, which Julian was an expert at! Hopefully our 7th graders can do it as gracefully for Harvest Festival on October 2nd.
Amaranth can be used in many ways! You can put the seeds in just about anything, but it is best when popped, which Maria Elena showed us how to do – over high heat and with no oil. All of our students were excited to try the popped amaranth, which was “like miniscule popcorn!” The popped amaranth can be used in cereal bars, on ice cream, or, it seemed, in just about anything. The seeds can be cooked for morning cereal or ground into flour!
Amaranth is incredibly healthy. It is high in protein and contains complete amino acids. Maria Elena tells us that amaranth aids memory and cognitive function (a nice brain boost for our students in the middle of the day!). In Guatemala, they use amaranth for healthy snacks, especially for pregnant women and young children, in order to prevent childhood malnutrition.
Sarah’s story of working in Guatemala is a wonderful one, and we encourage you to check it out on their website. Working with farmers like Julian and Maria Elena, Sarah helped start a farmer’s collective in Rabinal called Qachuu Aloom “Mother Earth” Association. They work especially with women, many of whom were widowed over the course of Guatemala’s long civil war. Over the years, they have gone from collecting a few heirloom seeds to hundreds of gardens, a scholarship program for young girls, a micro-lending program, and the most recent addition, a maternal health and nutrition program that also trains young people to conduct health assessments on the young children in their community! It is a very impressive organization and we were so lucky to have them share their time with us!
Food can be found in places we don’t expect. The arroyo that runs by my house in a suburb of Albuquerque offers up plump prickly pear tunas every fall, urging me to get out the tongs. It takes time and patience to harvest and process these magenta marvels, but the delicate flavor is well worth the effort.
Our DOT Garden Team has been harvesting and making prickly pear juice for several years. Below are some of our tips and hints for a glochid-free, wonderful experience! ~Karen Bentrup
Scouting for Prickly Pears
Wild-crafting can be really fun and wonderful but these fruits are generally smaller in size.
Residential, no-spray cactus are terrific since they usually have received some irrigation, are larger, and generally more accessible.
Many home-owners are willing to share. Ask permission first and then say thank you with a jar of their fruit’s jelly!
A ripe tuna is full magenta, no green on the fruit at the stem end.
Definitely use metal tongs for removing fruit. Clasp the fruit the long way and then gently twist. Pops right off. Sometimes you need to tug a bit even if ripe.
Drop into large sturdy buckets. No bags.
Wear gloves, long sleeved shirt, long pants, closed toe shoes, and for the really safety conscious – sunglasses.
Watch where you are standing, leaning and reaching – there are many spines on cactuses.
Glochids – these are tiny hair-like short spines clumped together in what look like little round patches all over the fruit. WOW – these hurt.
There are many ways to process the fruit – burning off glochids, scrubbing with heavy duty brushes, rubbing with thick leather, putting whole fruit into Vitamix!! – all can work. It all depends on what you are doing and where.
Our processing tips are for the home or school processing site for juicing.
After harvesting, put prickly pears in a big shallow pan or tub and scrub with long handled scrub brushes. Dump onto rinse area and rinse with water. This helps to reduce glochids. Removes bird poop and mouse droppings too!
Cutting – we used large low-sided trays, held fruit with tongs or metal forks and cut and scooped this way. We liked it better than wearing one heavy duty leather glove.
For best jelly – taste and appearance – use only the insides of the fruits. NOT the skins. Cut large fruit down the long axis, using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the pulp and seeds. Put in big pot. Add tiny splash of water to make sure there is liquid in bottom of pot. Bring to quiet boil, simmer and process for 10-15mins max.
For juicing – use whole fruits just cut in half and/or the skins left from scooping out the insides. Add enough water to not quite cover the fruit.
Strain thru fine mesh strainer. It’s worth $20-30 for a really good double layer, fine mesh strainer. You can also strain thru an old t-shirt and then its tie-dyed! Or use cheese cloth.
Low Sugar Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe
We did double batches and it worked fine.
We did an experiment with Pomona Pectin which relies on a different set of chemical reactions and used Agave. Make sure this powder is completely 100% dissolved before adding to juice or it will be very lumpy.
4 cups prickly pear juice (requires around four pounds of fruit)
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 package low sugar pectin
Pour four cups of the prickly pear juice into a pot and add a half cup of lemon juice.
If juice has been refrigerated, bring it up to warm temp BEFORE adding the next dry ingredients.
Mix a quarter cup of the sugar and a box of low/no sugar pectin and add to the juice. Sprinkle in slowly while friend stirs.
Bring the mixture to a full boil (a rolling boil).
Add the remaining sugar slowly and bring back to a full boil.
Boil for one minute, stirring constantly. May need to reduce temp a bit or move off and on the burner so it doesn’t boil over.
For the next 2 steps, work rapidly so the mixture does not cool and thicken while you are ladling into jars.
At end of 1 minute, take off the heat. Using a flat large spoon and skim off the foam.
Glass jars should be tempered in really hot water. The sink works well and you can add boiling water periodically to keep them really hot. Put your ladle or metal measuring cup in this hot bath so it’s hot too when you start ladling jelly.
Pour into jars.
Wipe to remove excess jelly.
Set on cooling racks.
If applying lids and rings, finger tighten at this point.
Then you can either let the jars cool and refrigerate OR following your favorite canning recipe.
There are 12 varieties of fruiting Opuntia cactus. Opuntia engelmannii (Englemann’s Prickly Pear) is native to the Sonoran Desert, and likely can found very near your house. Opuntia ficus indica is a larger, cultivated prickly pear that is often thornless and therefore easily harvested. Englemann’s Prickly Pear has pinkish flower buds that open to yellow flowers. The immature fruit is green and matures to red, pink, or magenta. Pads are paddle-shaped and slightly larger than an adult’s outspread hand. Mature pads are green with medium to long spines.
Thanks to Tom, Alia and Barbara MacFarlane for allowing us to harvest their fruit!