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  • Edible & Medicinal Wild Desert Plants

    Edible & Medicinal Wild Desert PlantsThere are a number of different plants in the desert that are edible and/or can be used for medicinal purposes in an emergency situation. Becoming familiar with edible plants through the use of a desert plant identification guide will help ensure that you don't eat the wrong plant. (Mormon Tea plant growing in Utah pictured on the right)


    Native Americans have long used desert plants for both food and medicine. For example, the Pima Nation used various concoctions of Desert Thornapple to make analgesics, earache remedies, eye washes and poultices to draw out pus from boils and sores.


    Edible parts of a desert plant typically include its seedpods, flowers or cactus paddles.

    Water Sources

    The pincushion cactus can be used as a water source. Just pry off the top of the cactus with a rock and then drink the water within.

    Medicinal Uses

    prickly pear cactus

    Many desert plants have medicinal uses. For example, the pulp from the pad of a prickly pear cactus (pictured above) can be used as a salve to heal wounds.

    mormon tea

    Jojoba seeds produce oil that is a great natural skin care medium and can be used to create many homemade products. The leaves of the Mormon tea plant contain a small dose of pseudoephedrine (tea pictured above), which means it can treat congestion and respiratory conditions.

    Food Sources

    prickly pear

    Mesquite (seed pods) as well as prickly pear cactus including both the fruit and pads (the fruit is pictured above) are both edible; the mesquite's seed pods can be ground into flour and prickly pear cactus paddles are good either boiled or grilled. Both plants have properties that help stabilize blood sugar. Agave in syrup form is often used as an alternative sweetener; the flowers are sweet and can be cooked and eaten.

    Article Written By Susan Berg

    Based in northern Wisconsin, Susan Berg has more than 10 years of experience as a writer and editor. Her work has been published in both print and online media, including the "Dayton Daily News" and BioZine. Berg earned a Master of Arts in journalism from Indiana University.

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