Summary of the mesquite tree and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: a'naally

Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)

 

You can better enjoy the views of Tecolote Canyon and San Diego Bay sitting under the Chilean Mesquite bordering the top of Kumeyaay Garden. Although native to Chile, this stately tree is well adapted to southern California conditions. It gets up to 46 feet tall and the trunk may reach 3 feet in diameter. It has long leaves (8 inches maximum) comprised of 12 to 20 leaflets arranged in pairs. Beware; a pair of stout, curved thorns subtends each whorl of leaves. The small, densely clustered, yellow flowers form an inflorescence called a spike and bloom from October to December. The fruit is a legume (bean pod) up to 6 inches long.

 

A’naally is the Kumeyaay name for Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana), a species native to California and used extensively by the Kumeyaay and Cahuiilla. The tree is shaken and the pods are gathered from the ground in June-September. The pods are dried, pounded in a stone or wooden mortar, and eaten as pinole. It is stored in a basketry granary. Mesquite pulp is chewed, sucked, and then spat out. The leaves are made into a tea and used as an eyewash and drank to alleviate a fever. The root is dug with a stick, peeled, used to make cradle frames, hoods, and lashings. The inner bark fiber is soaked for a month, spun on the thigh to be used in girdles and for string. Mesquite gum is used as a dye and as a shampoo to darken and grow hair. The bark is boiled to create a black pigment. Mesquite wood charcoal is applied as a tattoo. Mesquite trees are felled and the wood is sharpened by fire and made into bow staves, clubs, pike stabs, beaver sticks, shovels, weeding tools, pestles, and balls. Mesquite is also excellent firewood.

 

This is Delfina Cuero’s account of Mesquite:  

We went down into the desert near Mexicali every year to get Mesquite beans. Mesquite beans make good flour for bread. They can also be soaked in water to make a good cool drink.

 

mesquite

Bean pods from the Chilean Mesquite

photo credit: Dick Culbert CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons