Okay, so first of all, this post is titled part two because I have gone back and changed the stinging nettles post to Wild Edibles part one. I hope to do a few of these talking about the things that we harvest from the land and how we utilize them on the homestead. We do a lot of wild edible harvesting, so stay tuned for these scattered posts as things come into season or I think of them.
Today I wanted to talk about Agarito, or Agarita berries (Mahonia trifoliolata). Here is the wikipedia page. We call them Agarito, but I have heard them called both names, and I won’t argue which one is correct because I have not the foggiest idea. I do know that they are wonderful and the bushes are in full bloom with little yellow flowers that smell simply marvelous.
As you can see in the picture, these bushes have holly-like leaves and are not very friendly. When they prick you they leave a little stinging red dot that gets itchy later.
Note: You may begin to notice as this series goes on that most if not all wild plants and animals in this part of Texas can and will poke you, scratch you, sting you, bite you, make you itch, make you numb, or make you want to cry. We deal with it, because some blessings have to be unwrapped. Since moving here, I have been cut, scraped, sprayed by a skunk (more than once), bitten by a Black widow, stung by countless hornets (which I am mildly allergic to), chased by snakes and terrified by monster-like bugs (and I don’t spook easy). So it goes. My siblings and I quickly learned to adapt and avoid. End note.
Agarito bushes are dark green with yellow blooms in the spring like you see above, and then little hard green berries in the spring, and then soft, aromatic red berries in early summer. The bushes are hardy, drought tolerant, desert-acllimated and they grow pretty fast from what I have observed. They like to grow at the base of other trees, usually oaks, but I have seen very large bushes standing out on their own before. The bushes can get quite large, we have more than on on the land that are as tall as me and quite big around.
The berries are small and red on the outside, and yellow and seedy on the inside. They are about the size of a pearl. They are a little difficult to harvest, but they are small and sweet and worth it if you can get a lot. We usually start harvesting in the beginning of May, and there are plenty of bushes so we never get them all. We have developed a lot of silly little ways to get them. Jennifer uses a fork to reach into the plant and dislodge the berries with minimal sticky leaf contact. Robert usually uses gloves, which can get bulky but works okay if you tuck your sleeves into them. I usually just reach into the plant and get them, because I have never had much success with the other methods. I get poked and scratched but it doesn't bother me too much. Someone suggested laying a tarp under the bush and just beating it until the berries come out, but I don't think anybody has tried that yet. Seems like a lot of damage might be done to the plant. The berries are sweet, but if you bite into the seeds they taste bitter. We usually harvest them into a quart jar and then just rinse them and dump them into our crank food mill, which is really good at removing the seeds and despite being small they actually make a good amount of juice.
We have made both wine and jelly from the juice of the Agarita berries, and both were very, very delicous. I can't really describe the taste, they are sweet but slightly sour, and the juice is very light and refreshing. You do have to be careful, though, because we have had small children eat their fill and later found out that a large amount of berries can clean out your system pretty well. I suppose a lot of things are like that though.
You can find a lot of recipes online for the jelly - I will do a post this summer with our recipe and procedures. I would love to try to do a second ferment for water kefir with some agarita berry juice and pulp, I think it would taste wonderful. So hopefully I can do a part two of this part two someday and let you know more about how we cook and use these berries. (You may also notice I am always promising future blogs. I'll get there, I'll get there.)
I hope this was helpful or at least interesting. I will try to be back with part three soon - I hope to do one on mesquite pods for coffee, cactus fruit for an awesome, refreshing summer drink and jelly and wine, cactus pads for pickles and side dishes, wild plums, and wild garlic. These posts will be sporadic and as things come into season, so please stay tuned.