Celebrating Americas’ Tree of Life: the Wild, Hardy and Humble Mesquite Tree

The deciduous and hardy mesquite tree grows wild throughout the Southwestern United States, Mexico and semi-arid regions of southern and western South America, including Chile and Peru. Some common species include the Honey Mesquite, Velvet Mesquite, Creeping Mesquite and the Screwbean Mesquite. The tree can live up to 200 years, has a very expansive lateral as well as a very deep root system, is fast growing and needs very little water. Considered a weed and a menace in the U.S. southwest, the humble mesquite tree, shrub or bush has played an important role in sustaining the indigenous populations in the regions where it grows for over 2,000 years.

The following are some of the Tree of Life giving and nurturing properties of the mesquite:

1. Nutritious Food Staple. The mesquite tree produces a bean pod which, when ripened, can be gathered, dried, toasted and then ground into a powder, flour or meal. Rich in dietary fiber, key minerals, protein and other nutrients, the mesquite bean has been a valuable food staple of native peoples in regions where the mesquite grows for 2 millennia.

2. Alcoholic, Tea and Other Beverages. The leaves have been used to make tea, while the beans can be fermented to make a wine or beer like low alcohol content beverage.

3. Medicine. The native tribes of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico have long used the leaves, gum, pods, branches, stems and bark of the mesquite tree for various medicinal purposes including using it as an eyewash and body system cleanser. Other medicinal uses include treating a sore throat, headache, painful gums, coughs, burns, chapped skin, open wounds, diarrhea, stomach inflammation, hemorrhoids and bladder infections.

4. Honey. The blossoms of the mesquite tree provide a nectar source for bees to produce mesquite honey. Mesquite honey has been used as both a sweetener and for medicinal purposes by native tribes.

5. Fence Posts, Furniture and Implements. The wood of the mesquite tree is hard and, thus, suitable to be used as fence posts and furniture as well as certain tools and implements, such as wooden pestles.

6. Fuel and Flavoring Agent. Mesquite wood burns slowly, very hot and the smoke imparts a distinct flavor to meats, fish and vegetables. As such, the wood of the mesquite has long been valued as an excellent fuel source, used as firewood for both heating and cooking.

7. Beautification and Mending Agent. The gum of the mesquite has been used by native tribes as glue, face paint, a hair dye and pottery paint.

8. Natural Fertilizer. The mesquite tree provides its own natural fertilizer through a process known as nitrogen fixation. Surrounding plants also benefit from the mesquite’s nitrogen fixation abilities.

With so many life sustaining, nurturing and giving abilities and properties, the humble and hardy mesquite tree is one of nature’s gifts.