We’ve all heard of the mesquite tree in Texas — whether we’ve sat around a mesquite fire cooking fajitas or enjoyed the shade of the beautiful tree. It has been dubbed the “Tree of Life” because of its ability to offer life-giving sustenance in harsh environments. The tree has an amazing history and provides native people, past and present, with the Big Five; food, fuel, fertilizer, furniture, and fence posts. Literally every part of the tree is useful.
The nitrogen-fixing attributes of mesquites are well known and left in fields, returning much-needed nitrogen to the soil. The deep roots go out as far as the canopy of the tree, reaching down to the water table and making the tree a survivor in severe conditions.
As the mesquite was the most important food plant for Native Americans, village sites were selected based on mesquite trees. The bark was harvested and used to weave baskets and pounded to make mats and fabrics. The wood was used for firewood, pillars, furniture, and tool handles. Today, the wood is still popular for fencing and corrals.
The most important uses for mesquite trees are the pods, which hang in clusters. Native Americans ate great quantities of fresh beans. The seeds or beans are sweet and offer nutritional benefits. The pods were ground into a meal, usually with a metate, to make small sun-dried cakes and flatbreads.
Today, local companies like the Cappadona Ranch sell mesquite goods. They roast the pods and grind them into a beautiful dark flour, which smells like roasted chocolate. The Cappadona banana bread recipe is a must for your family — mixed with half all-purpose flour and half mesquite flour.
Although the pods were the most important resource, all parts of the mesquite were used. The flowers were collected in the spring, roasted, and pressed into a food ball. The leaves were boiled in water for a tea that was also used as an eyewash and treatment for stomachaches.
The mesquite gum that oozes from the tree bark has medicinal benefits, including helping with a sunburn, easing stomach distress, and reducing headaches. The sweet chewy sap was used as a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. The sap was also used as a glue and mortar.
Of course, mesquite trees not only benefit people but wildlife, as well. Hundreds of animals and plants rely on the mesquite tree for survival and reproduction.
Bees rely on the pollen to produce food for their young and honey for the winter. Deer, javelina, coyotes, jackrabbits, skunks, quail, and dove consume the beans — as do livestock.
In order to protect our environment, we need to continue to grow our relationship with our native plants and animals. Enjoy the magic of the mesquite at Quinta Mazatlán from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and Thursday nights. Follow Quinta Mazatlán on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms to learn more about our natural heritage in South Texas.