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Huhugam Ki Museum Mesquite Pod Collection

These are the correct mesquite pods the Huhugam Ki is looking for.
Photo courtesy of Huhugam Ki Museum

During July and part of August, the Huhugam Ki Museum paid Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members cash for turning in buckets of clean mesquite pods they had collected. The museum plans to grind the pods into mesquite flour for future activities.

The museum grinds the pods into flour by using a hammer mill, which the museum purchased more than 10 years ago. The flour will be used for various educational activities and also to make the Huhugam Ki’s famous mesquite pancakes and mesquite oatmeal cookies. In the past, the museum has collected more than 300 gallons of mesquite pods. Each 5-gallon bucket of pods will make 1 gallon of the flour.

The best place to collect mesquite pods is right from the tree itself, when pods are dried out and just about ready to fall off with little effort when tugged. The long seedpods start off green and look like green beans before turning yellow. You can also collect them on the ground after they have fallen off the tree; however, you need to ensure that these pods have no dirt or animal droppings on them and that they are far from any road. The museum asks that buckets of pods be free of any rocks, twigs, weeds or minor trash.

Mesquite pods are a traditional food source that was available every year for the O’odham and Piipaash. During lean times caused drought or lack of hunting or farming, the pods would be there so the people would not starve.

Like anything that is given to the people, you have to work to make sure you have enough for your family and the others who may need it. The mesquite tree has always been considered one of the most important plants in the O’odham-Piipaash way of life. There are stories about the tree; it has been here since time immemorial and needs to be taken care of.

Several different types of mesquite tree species grow in the Valley and throughout the Community. The Chilean mesquite has pods as thick as a finger. These are not the ones the museum wants, because they tend to be bitter and the Chilean mesquite is not indigenous to the Community.

The best place to locate the indigenous trees is at the north end of the Arizona Canal, past Bunnyville, northeast of the Community. These are velvet mesquite trees, whose pods have a sweet taste. Honey mesquite pods are also recommended.

The pods are usually ready in late June through August. It’s vital to harvest the pods before the monsoon season hits, so they don’t blow away or get soaked from the rain. Dirty pods and those that are damp or have mold could contaminate the rest of the batch.

According to Huhugam Ki Museum manager Gary Owens, mesquite trees are a member of the legume family. The seeds are inside the pods, and mucilage that grows around the seeds is what makes up the pods.

“The mucilage is what we grind into a sort of flour and keep,” Owens said. “The seeds of the trees are small, very hard and not easy to propagate. They either have to be scratched or scarred or travel through the intestinal tract of an animal to remove the protective coating [before they will germinate].”

Owens said that mesquite pods are important to the Community. “The museum is providing a service to have people connect with traditional practices. The museum needs mesquite flour and is giving the members the opportunity to gather the pods and get paid for it. It is a simple process, but … it is not just the act of gathering [the pods]; there is much more behind it, as in all the teachings of the O’odham and Piipaash.”

Chilean mesquite: Prosopis chilensis

Honey mesquite: Prosopis glandulosa

Velvet mesquite: Prosopis velutina