The Merzouga désert maroc spreads from the mountains of Northern Arizona to Mexico’s Baja California. An area known for its temperature extremes as well as its abundant plant life. Although conditions in the Sonoran Desert can be unforgiving the desert has provided its native inhabitants with many beneficial and useful plants. The fruit, seeds, leaves, pads and even some of the flowers are not only used for food but also to make natural health remedies.
Nopal Cactus (Prickly Pear)
The nopal cactus (prickly pear) has been used medicinally by the indigenous peoples of this region for centuries. It has been used to lower blood sugar levels and to reduce the side effects of drinking too much alcohol.
Traditionally, cactus juice from the nopal cactus has been used for scrapes and minor burns. According to research studies the nopal cactus fruit (figs) helps to reduce pain and inflammation associated with a number of ailments.
The reason nopal cactus fruit has so many health benefits is due to the high number of betalains found in the fruit. Betalains are antioxidant proteins. They give the nopal fruit its bright color. Due to the hot summers and cold winters in areas of the Sonoran Desert the nopal cactus produces high levels of betalains to protect itself from the elements. There are 24 known betalains and the nopal cactus of the Sonoran Desert is the only plant that contains up to all 24. Nopal cactus found in other areas of the world do not have the same number of betalains. Other foods containing betalains are Swiss Chard and beets. Neither one of these foods have the same number of betalains as can be found in nopal cactus fruit.
The pad of the nopal cactus has been used as a vegetable in Mexico for centuries. They are called “nopalitos” in Spanish. The spines on the prickly pear cactus pads are removed and the pad is then grilled over the fire like a juicy steak.
The ripe nopal cactus fruit can be eaten like any fresh fruit with one caution; even the fruit has little spines on the surface and must be handled with care. The cactus fig must be split open with a sharp knife and the inner fruit eaten or scooped into a bowl. Nopal cactus fruit tastes like a ripe watermelon. Fresh nopal cactus fruit can be eaten by itself or added to a tasty smoothie drink. Here is a recipe for a healthy Sonoran Desert smoothie:
Anciently, the Aztec Indians grew chia plants for their seeds. The chia seeds gave their warriors strength and stamina. Chia seeds were such an important part of the Aztec soldier’s diet that whenever the Spaniard Conquistadores found fields of chia they destroyed them. Today, we know that chia seeds contain high amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils. The seeds are also a great source of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. They also contain calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, copper, niacin, and zinc.
In spite of all its nutrient power seeds from the chia plant is gluten free and has fewer net carbs than most other grains.
The chia plant (salvia hispanica) is a member of the mint family. Fortunately, pests and insects do not like the plant so it is easy for farmers to grow organic chia without the use of pesticides and insect sprays. Chia is grown commercially in Latin America, Australia and here in the U.S. in Southwestern Arizona.
The creosote bush (chapparal) is one of the most common plants in the Sonoran Desert. It is found in some of the driest parts of this desert region. This is due in part to its ability to successfully fight other plants for limited water resources. Creosote is used as a germ killer and in treating tumors.