Mesquite As A Historical, Modern Natural Remedy

By Richard G. Santos

These last ten years since moving to South Texas, I have learned to look beyond the surface and have discovered the rich historical, cultural, genealogical and natural beauty of the area. Often I have described it as a “land of plenty where no one needs to be hungry.” The wild game is plentiful. The drought resistant native edible plants are more than plentiful. And of late, I have been writing about the drought resistant medicinal herbs and plants native of the area. Such is the case with the much maligned, unappreciated and seemingly indestructible yet edible and nutritious mesquite.

Fray Vicente de Santa Maria (1755 – 1813) in his Relación Histórica de la Colonia del Nuevo Santander (annotated by Ernesto de la Torre Villar, Mexico City, 1973) gave an excellent insight into the usage of mesquite by the Native American cultures of the present Mexican state of Tamaulipas and South Texas. He noted the hunter-gatherer Native Americans ate the fruit of the mesquite when ripe. They also ground it to powder form and used it as a form of flour to produce mezquitamal. This was then mixed with water and used as a medicinal tea, tortillas or tamales.

Years later Jean Louis Berlandier in his various 1828 – 1834 reports on the U.S. – Mexico Boundary Commission recorded the mesquite forest on the Laredo Road to Bexar and the Presidio del Rio Grande Road from Bexar to present Guerrero, Coahuila (Mexico City, 1854 and faulty English translation by the Texas Historical Association, Austin, 1980). Moreover, Berlandier’s Caza de Oso y Cíbolo (Mexico City 1854) and John Ewers annotated translation of Berlandier’s The Indians of Texas in 1828 (Smithsonian, 1968) are excellent sources for the Native American cultures of South Texas and their lifestyle and dependence and usage of the mesquite.

Today many adult males in South Texas area recall eating the fruit of the mesquite in childhood. They correctly note the mesquite pod when ripe is sweet and although some adults today eat the pods at a whim, it is more frequently mixed with hay and fed to cattle. Last week Pearsall businessman Norman P surprised me by revealing his grandmother used to prepare and serve a medicinal mesquite tea. It seems the family gathered the ripe mesquite pods and ground them to powder-flour form. The powder-flour was used to prepare a medicinal tea to drink when a person had a cold, congested chest or flu-like symptoms. Norman also recalls his grandmother during winter having a pot of hot water on the stove with mesquite powder emitting vapors. He does not know what it was meant to do but we surmised it was probably a form of humidifier such as some people in the past used and many still do today when they place a pot of hot water with Vicks on the stove to help people with breathing, sinus or allergy problems. As a sidebar, some people use a large onion to prepare an onion-tea for the same purpose.

Nutritionists today tell us the Mesquite bean can be ground and mixed with wheat flour to produce a sweet jelly, wine or nutty-tasting bread, pancakes, muffins cookies and cakes. Meanwhile, the leaves of the mesquite can be boiled and used as eye drops and especially against pink-eye! Of course most people in South Texas and the Winter Garden area use pieces of mesquite wood to add flavor to their outdoor barbecuing. Most important is the discovery that “mesquite is extremely effective in controlling sugar levels” by people with diabetes! This is due to the fact that mesquite is low in carbohydrates and fat, low-glycemic, and high in dietary fiber. The ground mesquite flour can also be used to treat athlete’s feet and fungus infections. Moreover, some use the gum or resin of the mesquite for sores, burns wounds, chapped lips and sunburn. Equally surprising the bark of the mesquite can be used to stop excessive menstrual bleeding, reduced fevers and dissolve kidney stones! The same mesquite gum or resin can also be used as a treatment for coughs, sore throat, mouth sores, painful teeth and gums and to rid a person of lice. The same can also be used to sooth intestinal pain after bouts of diarrhea, dysentery and food poisoning.

As always stated in reporting the medicinal herbs of the Winter Garden area and South Texas, we do not recommend/encourage the use, preparation or consumption of said plants and herbs, but merely report on their use and nutritional/medicinal value. However, it seems as we have forgotten what the Native American cultures taught the early Spanish colonists, and later the Anglo American settlers, regarding the nutritional and health value and importance of the medicinal herbs, plants that proliferate the Winter Garden area and South Texas.

Richard G. Santos is an international research historian and retired university professor who lives in Pearsall, Texas.

[Photo By kretyen]

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