Tohono O'odham Native Foods
in “The Arizona Republic” in the fight against four common diseases: Cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Diabetes and obesity are the greatest threat to the health of the Tohono O’odham since the tribe has forsaken its natural food diet and latched onto a high fat diet and the fast-food way of life.
Overweight, along with family history, are the biggest risk factors in diabetes and it’s important to stay active. The road back to healthy living is the route many of the tribal members are currently taking in the return to traditional foods though their Community Action program.
Tohono O’odham traditional food advocates from Southern Arizona mainly draw their knowledge from the work of Lebanese-American botanist Gary Paul Nabhan who was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1990 and founded Native Seeds/SEARCH Program. The Tucson-based organization works to preserve native plants in the deserts in the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico. It provides seeds to various groups including the O’Odhams for their Papago Farms Project.
The traditional Tohono O’odham diet relied on crops cultivated during the summer as well as plants gathered from the desert.
Bawi* - (brown and white tepary beans).
These beans are high in protein and taste meaty. White tepary beans are slightly sweeter than the brown variety.
Ke:li baso – (O’odham cantaloupe)
This wrinkly-skinned cantaloupe is also known as “old woman’s knees” or “old man’s chest”. It’s juicy flesh tastes like a cross between a regular cantaloupe and cucumber.
Ha:l – (O’odham squash)
The young squash is light yellow and similar to zucchini. It is sauteed or steamed. The mature squash is more like an orange-fleshed winter squash and is often steamed with brown sugar.
Milon – (O’odham watermelon)
This watermelon has sweet yellow flesh instead of the more common red flesh.
H’un – (O’odham corn)
This white-kernel corn is 6 inches long and takes only 60 days to grow as part of its adaptation to the desert’s short summer rains. The kernels are dried and cooked into a savory gruel.
These are chewed raw, ground to make gruel or boiled in water to make a sweet drink. They are believed to be a good source of calcium. Manganese, iron and zinc.
Bahidaj (saguaro fruit)
Moist and sweet, these are harvested in June and July, eaten fresh or made into sryup, jam, snacks and wine. Saguaro seeds contain protein and fat. Bahidaj sitol (saguaro fruit syrup) tastes like molasses.
Prickly Pear Fruit
These are eaten fresh, or the juicy pulp is sun-dried , mashed and dried to make syrup. Prickly pear fruit is mild tasting and believed to be a good source of water and calcium.
Ciolim (Cholla buds)
These are picked and, after the spines are removed, roasted, sun-dried and stored. They are rehydrated by boiling in water and eaten plain or sauteed. Cholla buds taste like mild asparagus tips and are believed to be high in calcium.
This story was edited, in part, from an article in The Arizona Republic bylined Chen May Yee.