top of page

Surviving in the Desert: 20 Edible Plants You Didn't Know Existed


edible plants in the desert

When you think of deserts, you probably think of hot, dry, and barren landscapes. But what if I told you that deserts are actually teeming with life, including a wide variety of edible plants that can be used for food, medicine, and even beauty products? These plants are not only an important source of sustenance for desert dwellers, but they also play a crucial role in the desert ecosystem by providing food and habitat for wildlife.


In this article, we'll take a closer look at some of the most common and delicious edible plants that can be found in deserts, as well as their unique characteristics and uses. Whether you're a desert dweller looking to add a little diversity to your landscape or you're just looking for a new way to add some nutrition to your diet, this article is for you.




20 Edible Plants In The Desert



1. Prickly Pear Cacti

edible plants in the desert

The Prickly Pear Cacti is a drought-tolerant cactus that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a low-growing cactus that can reach up to 4 feet tall. The cactus produces large, edible pads or "nopales" that have a slightly tart and slightly sweet taste. The nopales can be eaten raw or cooked and are a great source of fiber, vitamin C and other nutrients. The cactus also produces a sweet, juicy fruit called "tuna" that can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The fruit is rich in antioxidants and is a good source of dietary fiber. The cactus is also known for its medicinal properties, the nopales can be used to lower blood sugar levels and the fruit is rich in betalains which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Prickly Pear Cacti is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


2. Mesquite

edible plants in the desert

The Mesquite is a drought-tolerant tree or shrub that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a slow-growing tree or shrub that can reach up to 30 feet tall. The tree produces small, sweet, edible beans that can be ground into flour and used to make cakes, bread and other baked goods. The beans are also a good source of protein and other nutrients. Mesquite is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. The tree is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


3. Agave

edible plants in the desert

The Agave is a drought-tolerant succulent that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a slow-growing succulent that can reach up to 6 feet tall. The plant produces a sweet sap that can be used to make a fermented beverage called "pulque" or distilled into a spirit called "mezcal". The sap is also a good source of sugars and other nutrients. Agave is also known for its medicinal properties, the sap can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. The plant is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


4. Desert Lavender

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Lavender is a drought-tolerant perennial herb that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a woody plant that can reach up to 2 feet tall. The plant produces small, fragrant flowers that can be used to make essential oils, perfumes and other beauty products. The flowers are also a good source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Desert Lavender is also known for its medicinal properties, the flowers can be used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other stress-related conditions. The plant is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


5. Cholla Cactus

edible plants in the desert

The Cholla Cactus is a drought-tolerant cactus that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a slow-growing cactus that can reach up to 20 feet tall. The cactus produces small, edible fruit that has a sweet and slightly tart taste. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The fruit is rich in antioxidants and is a good source of dietary fiber. Cholla Cactus is also known for its medicinal properties, the fruit can be used to lower blood sugar levels and the cactus can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. The cactus is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


6. Saguaro Cactus

edible plants in the desert

The Saguaro Cactus is a drought-tolerant cactus that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a slow-growing cactus that can reach up to 50 feet tall. The cactus produces large, edible fruit that has a sweet and slightly tart taste. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The fruit is rich in antioxidants and is a good source of dietary fiber. Saguaro Cactus is also known for its medicinal properties, the fruit can be used to lower blood sugar levels and the cactus can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. The cactus is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


7. Creosote Bush

edible plants in the desert

The Creosote Bush is a drought-tolerant shrub that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a slow-growing shrub that can reach up to 10 feet tall. The shrub produces small, fragrant flowers that can be used to make essential oils, perfumes and other beauty products. The flowers are also a good source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Creosote Bush is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema, and can also be used as an antiseptic. The plant is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


8. Desert Wildflowers

edible plants in the desert

Desert Wildflowers are a diverse group of drought-tolerant flowers that are native to the deserts of North America. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes and can be found blooming throughout the desert during the spring and summer months. Desert Wildflowers are an important source of food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. They are also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises. Many Desert Wildflowers have medicinal properties and have been used by indigenous people for centuries.


9. Joshua Tree

edible plants in the desert

The Joshua Tree is a drought-tolerant tree that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a slow-growing tree that can reach up to 40 feet tall. The tree produces small, fragrant flowers that can be used to make essential oils, perfumes and other beauty products. The flowers are also a good source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Joshua Tree is also known for its medicinal properties, the bark can be used to treat skin conditions and can also be used as an antiseptic. The tree is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


10. Desert Amaranth

edible plants in the desert

Desert Amaranth is a drought-tolerant annual herb that is native to the deserts of North America. It is a fast-growing herb that can reach up to 6 feet tall. The plant produces small, edible seeds that can be used to make porridge, bread, and even beer. Desert Amaranth is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat wounds and the plant has anti-inflammatory properties. The plant is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises. Desert Amaranth is a great option for those who are looking to add a little diversity to their desert foodscape, it is relatively easy to grow and can be harvested in large quantities.


11. Desert Willow

edible plants in the desert

The desert willow is a drought-tolerant tree that can be found in the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 25 feet tall. The tree produces long, thin seed pods that can be roasted and ground into a flour. The flour can be used to make cakes, bread and other baked goods. Desert willow is also known for its medicinal properties, it's bark can be used to treat fever, diarrhea and other ailments. The tree is also a great source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds.


12. Ocotillo

edible plants in the desert

The Ocotillo is a spiky desert plant that is native to the American Southwest. It is a woody plant that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The plant produces small, red, edible berries that have a sweet and sour taste. The berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The stem of the plant is also edible and can be used as a vegetable. The Ocotillo is also known for its medicinal properties, it's leaves can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions.


13. Desert Apricot

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Apricot is a small tree or shrub that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The tree produces small, apricot-like fruit that can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies. The fruit is high in vitamin A and C, and is also a great source of fiber. The tree is also known for its medicinal properties, the bark can be used to treat stomach issues and the leaves can be used as a laxative. Desert Apricot is also a great source of food for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


14. Desert Milkweed

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Milkweed is a perennial plant that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a low-growing plant that can reach up to 2 feet tall. The plant produces small, white, edible berries that have a slightly sweet taste. The berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The plant is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. Desert Milkweed is also an important source of food for monarch butterflies and other pollinators.


15. Desert Rose

The Desert Rose is a drought-tolerant shrub that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a slow-growing plant that can reach up to 4 feet tall. The plant produces small, red, edible berries that have a sweet taste. The berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The plant is also known for its ornamental value, the flowers are large and showy and bloom in the spring and summer. Desert Rose is also a great source of food for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


16. Desert Olive

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Olive is a small tree or shrub that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The tree produces small, olive-like fruit that can be eaten raw or pickled. The fruit is high in vitamin E and other antioxidants, and is also a great source of monounsaturated fats. The tree is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. Desert Olive is also a great source of food for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


17. Desert Honeysuckle

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Honeysuckle is a drought-tolerant shrub that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a slow-growing plant that can reach up to 4 feet tall. The plant produces small, red, edible berries that taste slightly sweet. The berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies and syrups. The plant is also known for its ornamental value, the flowers are large and showy and bloom in the spring and summer. The plant also has a sweet fragrance that can attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to the garden. Desert Honeysuckle is also a great source of food for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


18. Desert Sage

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Sage is a perennial herb that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a woody plant that can reach up to 4 feet tall. The leaves of the plant can be used as a seasoning and have a strong, pungent flavor. Desert Sage is often used in traditional Native American cooking and is known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat colds, flu and other respiratory issues. Desert Sage is also an important source of food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.


19. Desert Thistle

edible plants in the desert

The Desert Thistle is a drought-tolerant plant that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a spiky plant that can reach up to 6 feet tall. The plant produces small, edible seeds that have a nutty flavor. The seeds can be eaten raw or made into flour and can be used to make cakes, bread and other baked goods. The plant is also known for its medicinal properties, the seeds can be used to treat diarrhea and other stomach issues. Desert Thistle is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.


20. Desert Pea

The Desert Pea is a drought-tolerant vine that is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It is a woody vine that can reach up to 20 feet long. The plant produces small, edible peas that have a sweet and nutty flavor. The peas can be eaten raw or cooked and are a great source of protein and other nutrients. Desert Pea is also known for its medicinal properties, the leaves can be used to treat cuts, burns and other skin conditions. Desert Pea is also an important source of food and habitat for wildlife, including birds, small mammals and desert tortoises.



Summary

In conclusion, deserts may seem like barren wastelands, but they are actually teeming with life, including a wide variety of edible plants that can be used for food, medicine, and even beauty products. These plants are not only an important source of sustenance for desert dwellers, but they also play a crucial role in the desert ecosystem by providing food and habitat for wildlife. The next time you find yourself in a desert, take a closer look around and you might be surprised at the variety of edible plants that can be found.


Whether you're looking to add a little diversity to your desert landscape or you're just looking for a new way to add some nutrition to your diet, these plants are definitely worth checking out. So go out there, explore and discover the hidden edible treasures of the desert.

Establish Growers is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

bottom of page