Mesquite trees are found in northern Mexico throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, and as far north as southern Kansas, west to the Colorado Desert in California, and east to parts of Texas
These deciduous trees can reach a height of 20 to 30 ft although in most of their range they are shrub size. They have narrow leaves 2.0 to 3.0 inches long. Twigs have a characteristic zigzag form.
The bean pods of the mesquite can be dried and ground into Mesquite flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads, or used to make jelly.
The Native Americans made a type of flatbread from mesquite flour. If you want it to rise, the mesquite bean flour is used in combination with other flours. Substitute ¼ cup-to-½ cup mesquite flour in each cup of grain flour. Mesquite bean flour can be used in breads, pancakes, muffins, cakes, and even cookies. Mesquite powder is also high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc, and is rich in the amino acid lysine.
It is ill-advised to eat the beans raw, the bean contains small amounts of an anti-nutrition protein, a trypsin inhibitor that interferes with the enzymes that convert proteins into amino acids. Cooking eliminates the problem.
Harvesting mesquite beans
Mesquite beans can normally be harvested between June and September. You can tell if the pod is ripe. It should snap when you break it and vary in color from light brown to red or purple. Only harvest the pods that are dry.
The best trees will produce a sweet-tasting pod. You can pick the pods by hand or you can spread a tarp on the ground and gently shake the limbs. The ripe pods should fall onto the tarp.
Don’t pick up pods that have been on the ground; they can be contaminated by mold and animal feces. Any pods with black mold on them should be discarded. The safest method is to wash all the pods you have collected in a solution of one-tablespoon bleach with five gallons of water. Then rinse them in clean water and spread out to thoroughly dry. Store the dry pods in a clean covered container.
You can then grind your pods into a powder as needed, using a blender or hand grinder. If you have a fine strainer run the flour through it to get the fibers out. The flour is now ready to use.
How to use mesquite beans
Mesquite beans are naturally full of protein and fiber and when ground into flour, they make a nice, hearty pancake, tortilla, breads, and even goodies like cookies. It’s a gluten-free flour but doesn’t have the same lengthy shelf-life as all-purpose flour. For long-term storage, you’ll want to store your mesquite flour in the freezer or refrigerator in a very tightly sealed container.
Admittedly, for most people, it would be hard to harvest enough beans and mill them to end up with a sizable amount of flour for storage. I’ve seen this done by an urban plant nursery in the southeast Phoenix area, but they had a very large, outdoor mill, numerous trees, and even then, it was quite an operation!
This site has a number of recipes that use mesquite flour in some interesting ways, including adding a bit to smoothies and salad dressings. If harvesting and grinding mesquite beans isn’t practical for you but you would still like to taste this unique type of flour, you can purchase it on Amazon.
When you know how to utilize the plants around you, you are that much closer to becoming fully self-reliant, which is the ultimate goal when it comes to being prepared.