The mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) belongs to the family Leguminosae, or pod-bearing trees. There are seventeen genera and over thirty species of pod bearers native to North America, the best known of which are the various species of locust trees. The mesquite is found in arid and semiarid regions, ranging from Texas to southern California and north to Colorado and Utah.
Mesquite currently cover about 100 million acres in the southwestern states of America and in Mexico. Over 50 million of those acres are in Texas. Varieties include: honey mesquite, honey pod, algarobo, velvet mesquite, common mesquite, and western honey mesquite. In the desert plains, mesquite is more of a bush, but they can grow an average of 20-40 feet tall in other areas. A thorny tree, the mesquite flowers and produces beans in the autumn. The mesquite tree's root system can grow more than 100 feet down in search of water, making it a hardy survivor in harsh climates.
Long before the first Anglo settlers came to Texas, Native Americans used mesquite in its entirety, seeing it as an integral part of their culture. They made sewing needles from the thorns and used the inner bark to make baskets and fabric. The bean pods served as food and were used to make medicinal tea. The mesquite's sap was used for black dye and sweet gum, and, of course, the wood was used to make arrows and bows for hunting.
Early settlers used the hardy mesquite for fence posts, wagon wheels and furniture, as well as fires for warmth and cooking. Mesquite slabs even served as street and walkway paving.
Today, many people associate mesquite with barbecue, but it has numerous other uses, such as flooring and staircases where it's ideal due to its durability. It's become a medium for artistic carvings, and is still used as a food source in items such as jellies, honey, liquid smoke and pod flour. It also provides livestock fodder and cover and serves as food for deer and turkeys.
Finally, mesquite is used to make furniture pieces ranging from floors, doors, paneling, lumber and fence posts to rocking chairs, humidors, desks and tables.
Mesquite is a very stable wood; when it shifts or moves, it doesn't buckle or split. Long-lasting, it can withstand heavy weight and moisture changes. Mesquite is medium brown and gold with a swirling smooth to coarse grain that makes it a beautiful medium to work with. "Defects" such as bark pockets, ring shake and resin pockets are found in larger logs. Occasionally, mesquite wood will show evidence of mineral streaks, ingrown bark, latent buds, and bug blemishes. These defects often add to the character of the rustic furniture created from mesquite wood. Mesquite trees provide much more than shade and firewood.
Throughout history, they have quietly provided necessities crucial to our survival and to the balance of nature. From firewood to furniture, mesquite has proven to be one of the most useful trees in Texas.
Mesquite pods are among the earliest known foods of prehistoric man in the new world. Today flour products made from the pods are still popular, although only sporadically prepared, mostly by Amerindians. Pods are made into gruels, sometimes fermented to make a mesquite wine. The leaves can be used for forage. Providing good bee pasturage also, nectar from mesquite yields a superior honey. The wood is used for parquet floors, furniture, and turnery items, fencepost, pilings, as a substrate for producing single-cell protein, but most of all for fuel. Toasted seeds are added to coffee. Bark, rich in tannin, is used for roofing in Colombia. The gum forms an adhesive mucilage, used as an emulsifying agent. Gum is used in confectionary and mending pottery. Roots contain 6–7% tannin, which might discourage Rhizobia.
According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the juice is used in folk remedies for that cancerous condition he terms "superfluous flesh." Reported to be cathartic, cyanogenetic, discutient, emetic, POISON, stomachic, and vulnerary, mesquite is a folk remedy for catarrh, colds, diarrhea, dysentery, excrescences, eyes, flu, head cold, hoarseness, inflammation, itch, measles, pinkeye, stomachache, sore throat, and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981). Pima Indians drank the hot tea for sore throat (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977).
Aqueous and alcoholic extracts are markedly antibacterial.
Perennial deciduous thorny shrub or small tree, to 12 m tall; trunk to 1.2 m in diameter, bark thick, brown or blackish, shallowly fissured; leaves compound, commonly many more than 9 pairs, the leaflets mostly 5–10 mm long, linear-oblong, glabrous, often hairy, commonly rounded at the apex; stipular spines, if any, yellowish, often stout; flowers perfect, greenish-yellow, sweet-scented, spikelike; corolla deeply lobate. Pods several-seeded, strongly compressed when young, thick at maturity, more or less constricted between the seeds, 10–25 cm long, brown or yellowish, 10–30-seeded. Seed compressed and oval or elliptic, 2.5–7 mm long, brown (Reed, 1970).