The Product That Brought Me to Tears


Two weeks ago when I went to our commercial kitchen to help with the final packing of our latest shipment, I unexpectedly had a moment of tearing up.  You wouldn’t think that seeing a box of cholla buds ready for shipment would bring a grown and somewhat aged man to tears, but it did.    I had to ask myself, “why this emotional reaction?”
 
I became a doctor with the clear intent to use food as medicine. It has been quite a journey since then, but I haven’t veered from that original intent. As important as treating individuals with health problems has been for me, perhaps as important has been my attempts to help change the food landscape so that people have access to and knowledge about the healing foods that are humanity’s heritage.  These efforts have led me to speak at farmers conferences (see upcoming event below), join the Weston A. Price Foundation and to grow as much of my own food as possible. Seeing those packages of cholla (pronounced "choya") buds symbolized to me that I have taken a very meaningful next step.
 
Cholla buds are a Slow Foods Ark of Taste heritage food, meaning that the Slow Foods organization --- perhaps the most important food organization in the world -- has deemed the cholla bud an important food to preserve and promote.   The only way to preserve and promote a food is for people to grow it, collect it, sell it and eat it.
 
The flower buds of the cholla cactus, cholla buds are a sacred food to the Tohono O’odahm people, native to the Arizona Sonoran desert.  It was particularly given to pregnant women, growing children and the elderly, perhaps because of its high calcium content.   We also now know that cholla buds contain a chemical that acts much like the anti-diabetic drug Metformin in preventing and treating diabetes and the Metabolic Syndrome. 
 
Our cholla buds are collected from an area of the Sonoran desert that has been stewarded by our farmer/forager friend Kyle for more than four decades. He takes great care to harvest the buds in a way that ensures this magnificent plant will thrive for generations.  Partnering with such small-scale growers and foragers is one of the key missions of Dr. Cowan’s Garden; we aim to bring to our customers the best heritage and sustainably harvested wild foods available.  By linking our customers with these small-scale entrepreneurs, we are attempting to create a strong and viable food chain between the land, the food, and the people who are choosing to eat traditional and heritage foods.  Seeing this package of cholla buds somehow just made this whole process come to life for me.
 
Dried cholla buds are easy to use.   In the pouch they will last for years, although my guess is you will go through them much more quickly. Simply soak the buds in water for 24 hours, then drain the water and use the buds in soups (whole) or cut up as part of the diversity of vegetables in any casserole or stir-fry.  Cholla buds, which, when cooked, have a texture similar to morel mushrooms and a very mild asparagus-like taste, tend to absorb surrounding flavors, so they add texture more than distinctive taste in prepared dishes. We hope you enjoy this unusual, hard-to-find food that is sacred to the native peoples of the Sonoran desert. See one of our favorite ways to use the buds below.
In health,
Tom Cowan, M.D.