Friday, May 24, 2013

Nomadik Harvest in New Mexico

By Amy White

When Nicole Dextras brought her Nomadik Harvest dress to be exhibited in Albuquerque, she faced the challenge of finding edible wild plants in an environment completely new to her. I had the exciting opportunity to be her guide in identifying and obtaining specimens to fill the many colorful pockets of the dress. We spent a marvelous afternoon meandering around Albuquerque snipping bits of this and that, visited Bookworks to buy a field guide, and perused the native plant garden at Plants of the Southwest.

Some people have a great memory for names or numbers, or like Nicole, for images and colors; I am a plant person. I just seem to have a built-in ability to remember names and details about all kinds of plants. Everywhere I go, I'm continually noticing edible wild plants growing along the roadside, along trails, or in neglected corners of the city.

Mobile grocery store
Artist Nicole Dextras adjusting the dress
Sewing sleeves on the moss vest.
The entrance
Nomadik kitchen setup
Preparing the Cholla dish
Within Albuquerque, you may find plants native to the river bottom, the uplands, and even the mountaintop. Some of the native edibles we found were: sand sage, wild grape, Navajo tea, Mormon tea, golden currant, globemallow, rosehip, lambs quarters, prickly pear, cholla buds, pinon nuts and needles, juniper berries, and oregon grape (or holly-leaved barberry). We also collected a few wild edibles that are introduced or even invasive species: mulberries, pyracantha berries, and Russian olives.

Making Navajo Tea on Central Ave. 

Nicole and I had a great time picking cholla buds from the cacti in my front yard, which we served after her talk. We removed the spines in the same way they do in the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona. Now that they're blooming, they're past their prime for eating, but they were quite tasty and incredibly high in calcium. They are a bit slimy, like okra or nopales, but that can be remedied by frying or grilling them, or incorporating them into soups.

Removing needles from edible Cholla buds 

One of my favorite wild edibles here in Albuquerque is mulberry. They are ripening on trees all over town throughout May, and taste similar to blackberries. You can make jam or all kinds of other sweet treats with them, but my favorite way to enjoy them all summer is in a “drinking vinegar” or “shrub”. This is an old-fashioned way to preserve fruit, which is actually very trendy right now!

Mulberry Shrub

2 cups water
2 cups real apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg's)
1 cup white sugar
3 cups mulberries

The key here is to use really good vinegar, not white vinegar, or “apple cider flavored” vinegar. Bring water, vinegar, and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in berries, let the mixture cool, then chill in an airtight non-metal container, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week. Strain out the solids, pressing to get all the juice, and return to the container. This will keep for many months. To serve, just splash some into a tall glass of fizzy water, to taste. Or use your imagination and mix a fabulous cocktail.

Nomadik Harvest Dress in action

Amy White writes about urban foraging and all kinds of fruits and vegetables for Edible Santa Fe ( as well as on her blog, Veggie Obsession ( 
This obsession started young, during magical summers spent picking blackberries with her mom, and “foraging” in her grandmother's huge vegetable garden. She makes her living as an educational consultant, developing programs to teach kids about our precious ecosystem and water resources.

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