History Untold: Wild edible plants helped sustain South Texas natives

Park Ranger Chantelle Ruidant-Hansen gave KSAT a tour of the trails of Mission San Juan

SAN ANTONIO – A walk through Mission San Juan reveals the rich landscape that helped sustain the San Antonio region’s early settlers.

From cactus to Texas persimmons to mesquite trees -- all of these native edible plants and trees helped sustain the early settlers and continue to grow in our backyards.

Park Ranger Chantelle Ruidant-Hansen gave KSAT a tour of the trails of Mission San Juan, where wild berries and grapes cover the area.

“We have so many things in our natural environment that do grow really well. And I think they need to be appreciated more and explored,” Ruidant-Hansen said.

She pointed out something still known in the Tex-Mex menu -- nopales and tunas, or cactus and prickly pears.

“It has the texture of a green bean, where it has a bite. There is a cactusy slime if you don’t cook it the right way,” Ruidant-Hansen said.

The tunas come from the flowers and have a lot of seeds. They were a favorite among the natives, the park ranger said.

Ruidant-Hansen also pointed out wild onions and Texas persimmons. Beans from the mesquite tree were used to make flour, which is high in protein and fiber. It is still sold today.

Mustard grapes cover the trees along the trail, as do mock berries, agarita berries and mulberries.

“While we might think it’s really bitter, right? Wow, this is a fruit, but it doesn’t taste very sweet. For them, these are some of the sweetest things they’re tasting,” Ruidant-Hansen said about the native settlers.

Part of her reason for becoming a park ranger in her native hometown was to help enlighten others about the rich natural wildlife in this area.

“We’re probably not going to make dinners out of the things I showed you today. For me, it’s an appreciation of the nature and the beauty of San Antonio,” Ruidant-Hansen said. “I hope that, you know, people will learn more about this and then appreciate where they are from.”

Click here to learn more about the trails and the missions’ history.


Read more History Untold stories here

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About the Authors

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.

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