Chilopsis linearis - Desert Willow
It is spring in the Sonoran desert. The cacti are blooming from the short, sprawling prickly pear to the majestic Saguaro reaching above all its (natural) surroundings. Our various Cholla cacti of red, yellow, orange, peach and maroon flowers are also beginning to bloom all around us. There is a sense of excitement and opening as the desert blossoms. For those who venture out to visit these extraordinary beings which inhabit this terrain through searing heat and numbing frosts one may be delighted by the beauty, the ferocity, the complexity of forms, the ingenuity of adaptation. Our desert friends of the plant kingdom inhabit a grace, ferocity, integrity and magnanimity one can only begin to feel once you walk in their home and squat down beside them for a closer look. Get out early with the sunrise this time of year and enjoy a brisk walk through a patch of local desert landscape. Take in deep breaths of rich oxygenated air from the stomata of a Mesquite tree before they close up as the day grows hot and dry. Recognize the myriad of life forms which congregate around these spring blossoms - ants, honey bees, carpenter bees, moths, and the errant human being.
Fouquieria splendens - Ocotillo
Once appreciated for their beauty and inspiration these flowers will eventually dry and shrivel before their fruits and seeds become mature. But this may be a time to look to these flowers for their health promoting aspects beyond their uplifting presence. Prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo, desert willow . . . these illustrious desert plants each create prolific spring floral displays with a color spectrum that of a rainbow. The pigments within these flowers responsible for their display are largely flavonoids. Flavonoids exist in great variety throughout the plant kingdom. They can serve numerous roles in the life of a plant including flower coloration, filtration of UV light, chemical messengers, and protection against other organisms. In human beings they have a variety of benefits as well. Some are strong antioxidants (flavanols, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanidins), some are cardioprotective (proanthocyanidins), some are anticarcinogenic (flavanols, chalcones, flavones), and many are anti-inflammatory (flavones, flavanones, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, and hyrdolyzable tannins). The good news is we can find many of these flavanoids in rich concentration in our spring desert flowers. They often taste delicious, their appearance is beautiful, and you feel great drinking the tea!
Acacia constricta - Whitethorn Acacia/Vinorama
Look for dry prickly pear and cholla blossoms still on the plant. They are much easier to gather once they’ve dried on the plant. There’s an additional benefit in these flowers in that they are a wonderful demulcent moistening the mucous membranes and soothing irritation in the gastrointestinal, pulmonary, and genitourinary tissues. Desert Willow flowers can be gathered right off the tree or you can wait until they dry and fall to the ground. Don’t be afraid to pick them up and put them away in a glass jar. Gathering your Ocotillo flowers may require a little help from a (tall) friend. Well, the branches are quite flexible and you can often bend them down to your height. Just snap off the whole strip of flowers and let them dry in the shade. They take the longest to dry - 2-3 weeks depending on the weather. Once you have them all dried you can mix together for a beautiful blend to enjoy as either a sun tea or hot infusion. Mix in Chamomile for an evening tea. Add some Calendula to help clear the lymph system. Add some Spearmint or Lemon Balm to spice up the flavor.
Desert Flower Tea:
Desert Willow flowers
Prickly Pear flowers
Whitethorn Acacia flowers
Combine 1 cup of dry flowers in a half gallon jar. Fill with clean water. Place the jar in the direct sun for 3-4 hours. Strain and enjoy.
Fouquieria splendens - Ocotillo
Be creative and enjoy the flavors of the desert. Let them nourish your soul and heal your spirit as your body is refreshed!