Harvesting Cholla: The Pleasures of Intangible Heritage

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by Kimi Eisele

For hardy desert dwellers, springtime means foraging for food amidst the cactus spines. Cholla buds are rich in calcium and magnesium and, like nopales, fall low on the glycemic index, which means they can help stabilize blood sugar. In a time of pandemic, finding nourishment from the desert — and from the people who know it well — takes on special significance. BorderLore editor Kimi Eisele produced this audio essay on the intangible cultural heritage of cholla harvesting.  

Interviewed in this audio essay: Amy Valdés Schwemm, Tanisha Tucker, Jesus García

Special thanks to Vanessa Barchfield for production support.

All photos by Kimi Eisele:

A close-up of Cholla flowers bloom deep red, yellow, orange, and hot pink.
Cholla flowers bloom deep red, yellow, orange, and hot pink.
Two people, posing in the desert, each wearing a sun hat and face mask. The person in the background is holding two buckets.
Kimi Eisele and Amy Valdez-Schwemm harvest cholla cactus buds on the west side of Tucson.
A box of cholla buds atop a metal rocker loveseat.
My makeshift workspace for de-spining cholla buds.
A silver pot of cholla buds, with one open, orange bud.
Sometimes the blooms open once they’re off the plant!


Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) works to create a healthy, sustainable and culturally vital community on the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona.

The blog Savor the Southwest offers bountiful tips and recipes for desert harvesting.

Desert Harvesters’ Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living (2018) offers recipes and information about harvesting over 15 desert foods, including cholla.

1 thought on “Harvesting Cholla: The Pleasures of Intangible Heritage”

  1. Thank you for sharing this we have hundreds of cholla plants and several mesquite trees on 1.3 acre home in Catalina.
    Stay safe, and be sure to tell your Loved ones that you Love them!




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