Honey Mesquite Beans are awesome! Whether you make “poor man’s honey”, hearty Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Mesquite Cookies, or just enjoy the shade – these “trash trees” are well worth your time!
Always Use Caution in the Wild
As I’ve said before in my other foraging posts, always use caution when eating things in the wild.
Do your research and carefully compare pictures and descriptions of whatever you’re wanting to pick and eat, BEFORE you put anything in your mouth.
The nice thing about mesquite trees is they’re easy to spot and the beans are very unique looking so you should have no trouble identifying them correctly.
Watch the video!
It’s a good place to start foraging if you’re new to it. Another beginner foraging plant would be the mulberry tree. You can check my post all about foraging for mulberries and making mini tarts HERE.
How to Identify Honey Mesquite Trees
There are over 40 different kinds of mesquite trees but the three most common are the Screwbean Mesquite, Velvet Mesquite, and Honey Mesquite.
I’m talking about the Honey Mesquite in this blog post. It’s supposed to have the best flavor.
The leaves are small, bright green, and grow in pairs along the branch for a feathery look.
The branches also have large, hard thorns so you don’t want to run your hands through the leaves or you’ll probably regret it.
Watch out while you’re walking under a tree because I’ve had more than one thorn stab through my shoe and into my foot.
The bark is rough and scaly. There can be one main trunk or several trunks.
Where Can I Find Mesquite Trees?
Mesquite trees can be found in the southwestern United States all the way down through South America. They are also found in Northern Africa and Eastern Asia.
Most of what you can find in Texas is the honey mesquite tree. Look for them in flood plains, parks, backyards, or anywhere water is present at some point in the year.
What Do Mesquite Beans Look Like?
Before they’re ripe, Mesquite beans look like long, bumpy green beans.
They turn various shades of tan, yellow, red, pink, and purple as they ripen. They can be a light cream color, tan with red stripes, or completely dark purple.
I’ve read the more red/purple there is, the better the flavor but I haven’t tested that theory myself.
Do Not pick them if they have any black spots. A good rule is to leave it if you’re unsure at all.
Why Are There Holes in My Mesquite Bean Pods?
Bugs like the beans too and you’ll probably see tiny holes in some of the beans.
Those are from the bruchid beetle that lays its eggs on the flower. The flower closes up and turns into a bean with the eggs still inside. The matured beetle will make a hole in the dried bean and fly off.
They are harmless so if some of them are still inside the bean by the time you go about making your jelly or flour, you just got some free added protein!
No big deal.
And you can easily snap off and discard the part of the bean with any holes or blemishes.
Are Mesquite Beans Edible?
All varieties of Mesquite bean pods are edible.
The bean pods are where you’ll find the sweet flavor honey mesquite trees are known for.
You can eat them while they’re still green like a vegetable or wait until they’ve dried out and then they’ll be sweet. Just watch out for the seeds! They’re rock hard!
Honey mesquite is supposed to be the best tasting bean pods.
Full disclosure – it’s the only one I’ve tried so far so I’ll have to update this post if I get a chance to try any other kinds.
Can Mesquite Beans Be Harmful?
Most sources say to only pick from the tree itself and never from beans that have fallen to the ground already.
Although I know it’s tempting because they usually cover the ground under the trees and it would be “so much easier” to just use those instead of picking. But let me tell you why that’s a bad idea.
Firstly, this is to avoid a virtually invisible mold that can develop into an aflatoxin which can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and increased risk of cancer. It can be especially dangerous to anyone with a compromised immune system as well as very small children or the elderly.
The toxin thrives in a high heat, high moisture environment which means cooking or baking it in a conventional kitchen doesn’t kill it.
Secondly, the beans on the ground should also be avoided because they can be contaminated by the many animals that like to eat them or use the tree for shade.
Most of a coyote’s diet in the late summer is made up of mesquite beans and they’re just one of them many animals tracking who-knows-what all over the beans on the ground.
We harvest a lot from parks also and you know the dogs do their business under all the trees.
So put a tarp or sheet down as you harvest if you’re not picking them directly with your hands and they’ll land safely on the fabric.
What Do Mesquite Beans Taste Like?
When ripe, the raw bean flavor is pleasantly sweet with an earthy, honey and molasses taste.
**Scroll to the bottom for the printable Mesquite Bean Jelly recipe!***OR check out my Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Mesquite Cookie Recipe HERE**
The flavor can vary from tree to tree. Break a bean open and nibble the inside. If it has a chalky or bitter aftertaste, don’t pick beans from that tree and move on to the next.
Why Do Some People Hate Mesquite Trees?
Historically, Native Americans made medicine, glue, furniture, flour, and drinks from different parts of the tree. Settlers used the wood to build fences because it’s rot resistant.
They can be very useful trees and even enrich the soil but they have a downside.
Mesquite trees are considered an invasive species even in areas they’re native to because they’re so hardy and grow like weeds.
They out-survive when other plants die off from drought or heat and absorb a lot of ground water which makes it difficult for grass to grow.
They’re taken over a lot of grassland previously used for cattle and are difficult to get rid of which has earned them the nicknames, “the devil’s tree” and “trash trees”.
When Do I Pick Mesquite Beans?
Mesquite beans can be harvested any time between June and September.
Remember to only pick beans on the tree.
If you have a season of summer storms, it’s best to harvest before the rainy season sets in to avoid mold potentially growing on beans that had already ripened and dried on the tree and now are getting soaked again by a lot of consistent rain.
How to Pick Mesquite Beans?
You can easily pull beans off the tree by hand.
They will often fall off when they’re completely dry so you could knock those ones off onto a tarp.
Pick beans that have lost their green coloring, snap when you break them, and don’t have any black or moldy-looking bits.
When I pick beans, I look for the nice plump and healthy ones. The sweet flavor seems to come from the pithy part inside that surrounds the seeds. The plumper the pod, the more pith there is.
How to Prepare Mesquite Bean Pods?
After you harvest your beans, give them each a quick once over and break off and discard any parts of the beans with holes or blemishes.
Once they’re sorted you can give them a give rinse and pat them dry.
Now, you want to dry them completely so the seeds rattle in the pods when you smack them and they don’t bend at all.
You can leave them in a very hot, dry car for a few days, use a dehydrator, or in the oven on the lowest setting.
Using the oven method might result in roasting the beans and could change the flavor a little.
I’ve used already dry beans right off the tree and beans dried in the oven method and they taste the same to me. Still delicious.
Once you’ve dried them you want to keep them dry until cooking. Don’t let moisture set in or there’s a potential for mold growth.
Now that you have picked, sorted and dried your beans, you can either steep them for bean juice or grind them to make mesquite flour.
Check out my Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Mesquite Cookie recipe.
How to Make Mesquite Bean Jelly
Honey Mesquite Jelly is delicious! It has a fresh honey flavor with sweet, nutty hints of molasses and caramel and the citrus to brighten it up.
The flavor lingers in your mouth long after your last bite and it’s delightful!
To make the jelly, give your beans a quick rinse then break into small pieces.
Throw 8 cups of beans into a pot with about 6 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes than turn off the heat and cover with a lid.
Let the beans steep for about an hour.
The longer you steep, the stronger the flavor but it can also depend on the beans themselves since each tree can have a slightly different flavor.
Strain out the beans but you don’t necessarily need to throw them away yet.
The beans still have so much flavor to give.
You can dehydrate them and grind them for flour or steep them again for more jelly. Just let them steep longer than the first time to get more flavor.
My friend let her beans steep a second time and she left them for hours. And that batch was more flavorful than the first batch!
For each batch of jelly you need have about 3 cups of bean juice.
Mix in a packet of pectin with a whisk so you don’t get lumps or a grainy texture to the finished jelly.
Bring to a boil then add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 4 1/2 cups of sugar.
Mix thoroughly then bring to a hard boil and boil for 1 minute.
Add a small pad of butter (like a 1/4 of a teaspoon) to clear the foam from the top.
How to Can My Jelly?
To can the jelly, sterilize your jars, lids and rings by boiling them in water for 5 minutes. Or you can run them through a hot water cycle on your dishwasher.
You need about 8 half pint jars or 4 pint jars.
Place them on a clean towel without touching the rim of the jars.
Fill the jars with the hot jelly, leaving about a 1/4 inch of space at the top.
Wipe any jelly off the rim with a clean paper towel.
Place the sterilized lid and rim on the jar and screw them on finger tight.
Boil a large pot of water with a rack at the bottom or a kitchen towel if you don’t have a canning rack.
Place the jars in the boiling water, making sure there’s at least 1 inch of water covering the top of the jars and boil for 10 minutes.
Carefully pull the jars back out and place onto the dry towel. This gives the hot jars a barrier just in case the counter is very cold. You don’t want to shatter the jar with a drastic temperature change.
Leave the jars to cool for 12 to 24 hours. As the jars cool, The little bump on the lids should pop as it suctions down to the jar, creating the seal. After 24 hours, if the lid hasn’t suctioned down, you have to reprocess the jar.
My favorite way to enjoy this delicious and beautiful jelly is just on buttered toast. So good!
You can also use it for thumbprint cookies, in smoothies, in cake fillings, or anywhere else you use jelly or honey.
Check out my post for making Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Mesquite Cookies.
How Long Does Mesquite Jelly Last?
Keep the sealed jelly in a cool, dry place for up to 2 years.
After you open one, it will last up to 6 months in the freezer or 3 months in the fridge.
Things You Might Need or Want to Try
Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases
***Affiliate links: Purchasing anything off of Amazon 24 hours after clicking any of my Amazon links helps support the blog at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!!**
Mesquite Bean Jelly – I am not at all affiliated with this website/company/farm but the jelly looks good and everyone should try mesquite jelly at least once in their life. So if you can’t the mesquite beans and make it yourself, you can still order some of the jelly online.
Large Pot – Just get something that fits at least 4 jars standing up, with an inch of water above the tops.
Canning Set – this set has all the tools you need to make the jelly. I especially like having the magnet tool, tongs and the jar lifter (when I’m using it correctly😁-check out my Mustang Grape Jelly making video) .
Canning Jars – You can probably find jars for way cheaper if you go to your local grocery store instead but, here’s a link if you can’t find any where you live.
Pectin – also probably cheaper if you buy it at the store.
ladle – a ladle makes filling the jars easier.
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Don’t Forget to Pin it!
- 8 cups mesquite bean pieces
- 6 cups water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 4 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 -1.75oz box pectin
- 1/4 teaspoon butter
- Run your canning jars, lids, and rings through a hot water cycle in your dishwasher or boil them for 5 minutes to sterilize them, then place everything on a clean kitchen towel.
- Break the pods into small pieces so you can easily measure out 8 cups.
- Throw them into a pot with 6 cups of water. (it should just barely cover the beans)
- Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes then turn off the heat.
- Cover the pot with a lid and let steep for 1 hour.
- Strain out the beans. You should have about 3 cups of bean juice.
- Mix the pectin and bring to a boil.
- Add lemon juice and sugar.
- Mix thoroughly and bring to a hard boil.
- Boil for 1 minute then add butter to clear the foam.
- Pour hot jelly into the prepared jars leaving a 1/4 inch of space at the top.
- Wipe off any jelly from the rim with a clean paper towel.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and place a canning rack at the bottom or a kitchen towel.
- Place sterilized lids and rings on the jars and screw on finger tight.
- Place jars in the boiling water with at least 1 inch of water covering the top of the jars.
- Boil for 10 minutes.
- Pull the jars back out and place onto dry towel.
- Leave them to cool for 12-24 hours.
- Check the jars after 24 hours to see if the button on the lid has suctioned down. If it has - success! If it hasn't, you have to re-process the jelly or just enjoy it as freezer jam.
- Make sure to harvest beans from the tree and not from the ground.
- Nibble on the bean pods to find the trees with the best flavor.
- Dry your beans before using them so they rattle in the pod to concentrate the flavor. You can do this by leaving them in a hot, dry car for a few days, in a dehydrator, or in the oven on the lowest setting.
- The longer you let the beans steep in the water, the stronger the flavor will be.
- After straining out the beans, you can use them for another batch or dehydrate them and grind them for flour.
- The sealed jelly will last up to 2 years in a cool, dry place.
- An opened jar will last up to 6 months in the freezer before the flavor starts to be effected or 3 months in the fridge.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 43Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 1g