by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center
Pioneers were resourceful, worked hard and figured out how to work with the land, including its healing powers. Much of this knowledge came from those before and the indigenous people who knew the land well.
These medicinal plants were used by Yavapai County founders.
Agave has thick leaves clustered that resemble a giant artichoke; referred to as the Century Plant because it blooms once every century. The tall flower stalk is high in sugar; leaves are full of fiber. Flower stalks can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant offers antibiotic, antiviral and healthy fungicidal properties.
Barrel cactus is a short, round plant. Flowers and fruit are both edible. The fruit lacks needles and can be consumed raw from the plant, seed and all.
A TV myth is that water can be extracted from barrel cactus for emergencies, which is invalid. Barrels are tough to open. When successful, they are known to cause diarrhea, so not a good emergency water source. Carry a bottle.
Mahonia is often referred to as Oregon grape holly. The bright gold flowers of spring form dark “sweet tart” berries in midsummer. The grapes are eaten fresh and made into preserves. The roots are used for liver, gastrointestinal and microbial issues.
Manzanita is the Spanish word for “small apples” and describes the fruit flavor. However, it is mealy and contains an abundance of seeds. They can be eaten raw. The best use is as a manzanita jelly. Tea made from its leaves was used to cure urinary tract infections.
Prickly pear cactus is easily identified with its flat pads and oval-shaped fruits. The flowers and pads are edible when young and tender. The fruit is ripe when deep red.
Prickly pear has some medicinal properties by balancing blood sugar. Its pulp and juice soothe the digestive tract, and the inside of the pads heal burns, wounds, or inflamed skin when applied topically.
Serviceberry trees are found throughout the ponderosa pines, providing summer berries. Tea from its leaves is not drinkable but was used as a wash for bruises, stings and insect bites.
Silk tassel is used as a pain reliever and antispasmodic for cramps. The Mohave and Kawaiisu Indians use it for stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Each is a stunning landscape plant — they are easy to grow and create a low-maintenance landscape.