Introduction: Weed Trees Vs. Diabetes!

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

Mesquite pods contain a soluble gum called galactomannan. It slows down the absorption of sugar and starch in the intestines. The Pima Indians of the American Southwest ground these pods for meal as a staple food for thousands of years. Now they eat modern foods and most of the tribe has diabetes.

Star and I decide to try some of these marvelous galactomannan-bearing seed pods while we build a canoe from the tree's branches.

Step 1: Galactomannan and Other Soluble Fiber Gums - the Research

Scientists are doing a lot of research on mesquite and similar plant products as treatments for diabetes. It turns out such substances are traditional treatments for diabetes in Asia.

Plasma glucose and insulin responses to traditional Pima Indian meals. JC Brand, BJ Snow, GP Nabhan and AS Truswell says:
"Mesquite (P ve/utina), the Pimas most important wild food, contains a viscous galactomannan in its seeds and pods, which has been shown to lower glycemic responses (25)." See the table below.

Sara K. Swanston-Flatt, Peter R. Flatt, Caroline Day and Clifford J Bailey (1991). Traditional dietary adjuncts for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 50 , p 643
"The bridge between traditional treatment, dietary supplement and pharmaceutical entity is illustrated by guar gum, a galactomannan fibre extracted from the seeds of the Indian cluster bean,
Cyamopsis tetragonolobus. The seeds and the pods of this plant are used as a traditional
treatment for diabetes in Asia (Pillai et al. 1980)."

Follow the citations of those papers to find the rest of the research on galactomannan and diabetes.

Step 2: Mesquite = Kiawe

Mesquite was introduced to Hawaii, where it spread rapidly. One story is that the missionaries introduced it so the thorns would make the locals wear shoes. Mesquite is known here as "Kiawe". Kiawe is pronounced "kee-ah-vey" which is the sound you make when you step on thorns. Then hop on one foot and then hop on more thorns, and fall down on more thorns.

These are Kiawe pods. These are behind Kite Beach Maui. And at most other beaches on Maui. And up most of the hillsides. Along with those thorny dead branches that cause pain when they perforate you.

Star and I tried eating some pods after surfing. Very good. They're a little bit sweet. They taste a bit like dates.
Some parts of the pod are too hard to chew up. Spit those out.
We got in the habit of nibbling some pods whenever we came across them.

Step 3: How the Kiawe Got to Hawaii

They sure are plentiful. We gathered plenty for our experiments in a minute.

Plants and Animals of Hawaii By Susan Scott, 1997 has this to say about how they got here and spread so far:

"A priest brought the first kiawe seeds to Hawaii in 1828, planting them in the Catholic Mission grounds on Fort Street in Honolulu. (...) The wood is good for charcoal, bees use the flowers to make honey, and the pods are nutritious cattle food. Early in the century, people supplemented their income by gathering kiawe pods. Ranchers paid 15 cents for a 35-pound bag, using the pods to feed horses, pigs, mules and cattle. Since the hard kiawe seeds pass through the animals' digestive systems unharmed, the tree spread quickly throughout the islands."

Step 4: I'll Grind Your Bones to Make My Bread

We threw some pods in the blender and hit the "play" button.

Step 5: Not Dry Enough

When the music stopped changing we looked inside. The pods had turned to a sort of sticky cake.
We needed to dry them more before further grinding.

Step 6: Dry in Oven

We spread the meal and pods on a cookie tin and baked them til we thought they were dry.

Step 7: Coffee Grinder Test

We put the dry meal in a coffee grinder for further grinding.
We put the dry pods in the blender. The blender worked great.

Step 8: Coffee Grinder Fails

The coffee grinder produced a small quantity of fine meal. Unfortunately it soon clogged. The heat from grinding melted the gum in the meal. It caked up on the grinding head. It was amazingly hard to chip it off.

Notice the hard seed casings in the remaining meal.

I used to have a collection of flour grinders. I wish I could test them on this stuff.
The best one was a Mormon product called the "whisper mill". I think the name was an inside joke. It sounded like a jet engine.

Step 9: Sifting

Star sifts the hard seed casings out of the meal.
They are sweet but too hard to chew.

Step 10: Health Meal

Here's our resulting mesquite meal.
You can cook it like oatmeal or make bread like cornbread from it.
I feel less diabetic already!

You can buy something similar to this for $15/lb online. Check out their recipes.

Step 11: Syrup

Star boiled the seed casings to make syrup. After she strained out the pulp, it looked like this.
We cooked some eggs-with-coconut and put the syrup on top.
It was delicious!