Bosque Flora Treasure #2: The Buffalo Gourd

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Bosque Flora Treasure #2 was discovered last June by this wanderer and his friend and fellow Slavic-American Steve on a Bosque woodland path. But unlike BFT#1, the jimson weed that grows southwards and not far from the Rio Grande, BT2 - also in an isolated colony - grows el norte and away from the Rio. In addition, like BFT#1, it is historic, many-named, and was found to have many uses by natives.

Bosque Treasure #2 is the gorgeous, tantalizing, and hardy Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima). Also known as Wild Pumpkin, Wild Gourd, Missouri Gourd, Fetid Gourd, Coyote Gourd, Coyote Melon, and Calabazilla, this perennial vine of the southwest was found sprawling over a sandy berm and neighboring vegetation and dead wood near the western bank of the Corrales Drain about as far north as Eagle Ranch Road. It has large pointy leaves and baseball-sized pale green spheroid gourds with pale yellow vertical stripes that dry straw colored.

I became fascinated by and interested in this floral treasure for these reasons:

1. Its indigenous Lore As with jimson weed, indigenous peoples in the southwest had many uses for this native plant: its gourds were/are used as drinking vessels, food, cosmetics, detergents, analgesics, insecticides, spoons, and ritualistic rattles. I found that an Albuquerque organization is even dedicated to the study, appreciation, and sharing of information about gourds. According to their web site, The New Mexico Gourd Society "promotes the horticulture and appreciation of gourds, gourd growing, and gourd arts and crafts by providing a supportive, sharing, and educational environment through meetings, printed material, multimedia, festivals, and shows."

2. Its Medicinal Uses As with jimson weed, native Americans tribes implement parts of buffalo gourd into their cultures as medicine. Some tribes boil the roots and apply the infusion to chest pains; others grind the root into a powder and drink it as a laxative, disinfectant, and toothache remedy; and others bake it and rub it over rheumatic areas to relieve pain and help control swelling. Finally, the poultice of the smashed buffalo gourd plant is believed by some to remedy skin sores and ulcers.

3. Its Artistic Uses The Navajo, Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi all played a role in the evolution of the style of silver necklace known internationally as the Squash blossom design, which is one of the most distinctive and beautiful designs in Native American jewelry. It is obviously derived with the Natives' fascination and appreciation of the squash blossom and flower for its beautiful color, delicate texture... and its delicious flavor.

4. Its Culinary Uses Even today in the Southwest and in Mexico, squash blossoms are eaten, often enjoyed stuffed with ricotta, battered and fried, in tacos, and on pizza. My personal favorite dish is the famous 'Calabacitas' dish of squash, corn, onions and green chili here in New Mexico. Visit this site for interesting and tasty squash blossom recipes.

• The three-inch-wide flowers open before dawn and wilt by late morning.
• The gourd was one of the first cultivated plants in the world.
• The buffalo gourd is sometimes recognized by its fetid odor and bitter gourds.
• In rural Mexico, the gourd is dried and carved hollow to create a bule or aguaje that is used to carry water around like a canteen.
• The most interesting squash factoid for this commentator is the history of the inverted crescent pendant on squash-blossom necklaces. It is called the 'Naja' by the Navajo and is one of the few jewelry motifs found throughout world cultures. Ironically, it is believed to derive from Arab language and culture, for it resembles the crescent moon, one of the major symbols of Islam. Naja in Arabic means "trustworthy."

The crescent moon motif goes back as far as the Paleolithic period (as in Akkadian cylinder seals as early as 2300 BC) and is mentioned in the book of Judges as an ornament worn around the necks of camels. During the Middle Ages, the Moors (Muslim North Africans) who occupied Spain adopted the crescent symbol as a bridle ornament, and thought the inverted crescent would protect both themselves and their horses from 'the evil eye'. The Spaniards conquistadores brought that same idea with them to "New Spain" (Mexico) for the protection of their horses and of their soldiers. Thus, the Moors taught the Spanish, who taught the Mexicans, who taught the Navajo their belief systems (as well as metallurgy).

For me and my Bosque Buddies, the Bosque provides a wonderful opportunity and space to break away from our daily routines and a refreshing opportunity to relax, learn, admire, examine and explore what nature has to offer.

Seedpods to carry about:
Charlotte Bronte: "Friendship however is a plant which cannot be forced -- true friendship is no gourd spring up in a night and withering in a day."
Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator: "What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset."
Henry David Thoreau: "As naturally as the oak bears an acorn and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem, either spoken or done."
Also Leopold: "I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness."