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MPSW - Prosopis glandulosa

    Prosopis glandulosa  

              var. torreyana = Prosopis juliflora var. torreyana

              var. glandulosa = Prosopis juliflora var. glandulosa

    Prosopis velutina

               = Prosopis juliflora var. velutina

    Prosopis pubescens


Taxonomy: Magnoliophyta (angiosperm), Magnoliopsida (dicot), Fabaceae


Common names: honey mesquite, mesquite, western honey mesquite, prairie mesquite, glandular mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa); velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina);  screwbean mesquite, tornillo (Prosopis pubescens)


By: Sarah Gibson, Rachel Hands, Christine Martinez (Summer 2001 Workshop)



Taxonomy · Appearance · Habitat · Phytochemistry · Propagation · Preparation · Toxicity · Uses · Medicinal Uses · Nutritional Uses · Other Uses · References

A member of the legume family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae), subfamily Mimosoidae, the genus Prosopis has about 44 different species that grow in North America, South America, Australia, northern Africa and eastern Asia. Though often thought of as a weed in places such as Australia and the United States, mesquite bears a variety of highly beneficial characteristics. Its uses are numerous; it serves as a source of food, wood and even medicine.

Mesquite tree behind Gardiner Hall on the campus of NMSU 


The taxonomy of mesquite is confusing, at best. Due to the presence of livestock, which eat and disperse the seeds, mesquite has spread and hybridization has subsequently increased. The high extent to which hybridization occurs presents a challenge to the identification and taxonomy of mesquite at the species and varietal levels (U.S. Department of Agriculture). Varieties of mesquite found throughout the southwest have long been referred to as Prosopis juliflora. However, this nomenclature has recently been found to be erroneous. Prosopis juliflora is actually an entirely different species which can be found in parts of Central and South America. Mesquite plants that have been known as Prosopis juliflora in the southwest are varieties of two separate species, Prosopis glandulosa and Prosopis velutina. The taxonomy of Prosopis pubescens is clear, but it is medicinally interchangeable with Prosopis juliflora (Moore, 1989). Due to these factors, this website will generally refer to all three species as mesquite. 

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Mesquite grows as shrubs or small trees with smooth brown bark that roughens with age. Mesquite wood has an outside layer of yellow sap wood with interior reddish-brown wood. The branches bear spines, single and paired. In the case of Prosopis pubescens, the spines accompany leaf stems (Moore, 1989). The spines of Prosopis glandulosa emerge at nodes on the branches (Desert USA). Unlike mimosas (with which mesquite can be confused), mesquite spines are straight rather than curved (Moore, 1989). The bipinnate leaves are composed of long and narrow oppositely arranged leaflets. Prosopis pubescens leaflets are generally smaller than those of Prosopis glandulosa (“Mesquite”). Prosopis velutina leaflets have gray colored hairs (Desert USA). The small yellow flowers are in a cylindrical spike configuration. Each flower has a five part corolla and ten stamens. They bloom in spring and summer producing a slight fragrance. The fruit produced by Prosopis glandulosa is a flat green pod characteristic of most legumes. Prosopis velutina pods are brown. The pod of Prosopis pubescens is coiled and yellow-brown in color. Unlike those of many legumes, the pods are inhidescent and do not open when mature (Rogers, 2000). The small oval bean-like seeds within the pods are surrounded by an edible pulp.

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A mesquite tree in bloom



Mesquite is extremely abundant in southwestern United States and grows throughout the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mojave and Colorado deserts. It is found in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, southeastern California, Utah, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas and Arkansas. Mesquite is usually found in plains, canyons and hillsides below altitudes of 5,500 feet (Desert USA). It can grow in nearly any soil type including saline and high alkalinity soils (Agriculture Protection Program). Though extremely drought tolerant, it tends to grow in areas near water courses such as desert washes, streams, arroyos and creeks. Areas with groundwater are favored by mesquite for their constant supplies of water which mesquite reaches with its taproots that extend into the ground as much as 75 feet. In addition to the extremely long taproot, mesquite manages to survive in dry conditions by soaking rainwater up through lateral roots that extend in all directions (“Survivor in a Hot, Dry Land). 

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Prosopis spp. is known to contain the following compounds:


Found in the plant. Has antidepressant activity.


Found in the plant. Has antiallergenic, antibacterial, antidermatitic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity.



-structure not available-




Found in plant. Has hepatoprotective activity.


Found in plant. Has no reported biological activity, but makes the bean pods a good source of sugar (Kay, 1996).


Found in plant. Has analgesic, antiallergenic, antibacterial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity.


Found in bark (6,000-84,000 ppm), root (67,000 ppm) and wood (9,000 ppm). Has antibacterial, antidiarrheic and antiviral activity.


Found in plant. Has antiamebic activity.

For a full report of the constituents of mesquite and their activities, see Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases ( The bark and roots of Prosopis glandulosa also contain alkaloids (Kay, 1996).  The pods contain 80% carbohydrates, 13% protein, 25% fiber and 3% fat (NFT Highlights).

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Mesquite tree with ripe pods


Pollen is released as single grains (Rogers, 2000). Mesquite is spread only by seed (Agriculture Protection Program). The genus Prosopis is distinguished from other genera in Mimosoidae by its fleshy seed pods that do not open to release the seed (Rogers, 2000). Rather, the seed are distributed by animals that eat the pods which remain undigested and pass through the digestive tract and are then deposited, complete with manure. This method of transportation is perhaps beneficial to germination in that the acid within the digestive tracts of cattle break through the hard coating of the seeds (Agriculture Protection Program).

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All parts of the plant should be dried after collected. For easier powdering when dry the bark and branches can be cut into smaller pieces when they are still fresh (Moore, 1989). Gum can be obtained by breaking branches off of the trunk. After several weeks gum will have been secreted and can be collected (Moore, 1989). Dry pods can be collected starting in the summer and up until the fall. Green pods are available in early summer.

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Mesquite is not known to be highly toxic. However, there are parts of the plant that can have adverse effects. When eaten, the seeds can cause digestive problems (Tull, 1999). Though the spines aren’t necessarily poisonous, they may cause soreness (“Honey Mesquite”). The flowers are allergenic and the pollen can cause hay fever (Tull, 1999). The gum may also cause irritation (Kay, 1996).

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Medicinal Uses

The medicinal properties of mesquite have long been known and utilized by many native tribes throughout the southwest United States and northern Mexico such as the Pima, Seri, Papapago, Paipai, Paiute, Tewa, Mayo, Yaqui and others. Mesquite is commonly used to treat eye conditions, open wounds and dermatological ailments. Acting much as an antacid it can also treat digestive problems (Davidow 1999). Mesquite has antibiotic activity and its aqueous extracts are antibacterial (Kay, 1996). It has soothing, astringent, and antiseptic properties (Davidow 1999).


Branches, stems, bark:

The branches, stems and inner yellow bark can be used as purgatives. The stems can be used to treat fever. Mesquite bark can also be used for bladder infection, measles or fever.



Mesquite pods are used to make eyewashes. Sunburn can be treated with a decoction of the beans. The pods can be prepared as a poultice that is applied to a sore throat or a as a drink that is taken for animal stings. 



The part most used for medicinal purposes is probably the gum exuded from the trunk. It can be used as an eyewash that can be used to treat infection and irritation. Its several dermatological uses include treatment for sores, wounds, burns, chapped fingers and lips and sunburn. Also good for stomach ailments it can be taken for diarrhea, stomach inflammation, system cleansing or to settle the intestines. Other uses for mesquite gum include treatment for lice, sore throat, cough, laryngitis, fever reduction, painful gums, hemorrhoids and it can be used as a purgative. 



The leaves also make good eyewashes that can be used to treat pink eye. Intestinal problems that the leaves can be used for are diarrhea and empacho. They can also be prepared to treat headaches, painful gums and bladder infection. A poultice of leaves is used for red ant stings. Leaves can serve as an emetic or system cleanser.  

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Ripe mesquite pods and beans

Nutritional Uses

A flour or pinole can be made by grinding the ripe pods. This flour can be used to make breads and cookies. When fermented, it produces a slightly alcoholic beverage. The green pods can be boiled in water to make a syrup or molasses. A tea or broth can also be made from the pods. The gum can be used to make candy.

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Other Uses

The hard and durable wood of mesquite is often used for building purposes, weapons, tools and furniture. Because it burns slowly and smokeless, mesquite is a good firewood (Desert USA). The taproots are also used as firewood. When used for cooking, mesquite wood also gives food an excellent flavor. The bark used to make cloth, baskets and rope. The gum is used to make face paint, hair dye, pottery paint and is used as a glue for mending pottery. Wild animals, livestock and birds also find use for mesquite as shelter and food. Bees use the flowers for their pollen and nectar to produce a pleasant honey.

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Agriculture Protection Program. 20 June 2001.


Beckstrom-Sternberg, Stephen M., Daniel E. Moerman, and James A. Duke. "The Medicinal Plants of Native America Database."


Davidow, Joie. Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. Simon and Schuster Inc., 1999. 149.

Desert USA. 13 June 2001. 


“Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases.” 23 June 2001.


“Honey Mesquite.” 20 June 2001.

    < s=honey+mesquite>.

Kay, Margarita Artschwager. Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1996. 221-224.

Kearney, Thomas H., Robert H. Peebles et al. Arizona Flora. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1951. 401-402.

“Mesquite.” Collier’s Encyclopedia. 1995 ed.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989. 73, 74, 76.

NFT Highlights. 8 June 2001. 


Rogers, Ken E. The Magnificent Mesquite. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2000. 15-34, 62-68.

“Survivor in a Hot, Dry Land.” 20 June 2001.

Tull, Delena. Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest. Austin: First University of Texas Press, 1999. 89, 91-96.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Fire Effects Information 

    System. 29 June 2001. <>.

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Updated February 13, 2008

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