Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

List of Edible Desert Plants

Due to popular misconceptions, you might consider a desert to be a barren wasteland with only sand, heat and scurrying scorpions. While that may be true within reason, it is also true that deserts do have considerable plant life in some areas. Of these, many are edible desert plants which, in some areas, are popular (even sometimes essential) elements of local desert communities’ food supply.


Sotol plants live among the deserts' rare grasslands, on slopes. It features a ball core with hundreds of ribbon like plant shoots growing upward around the ball. The ball core is the main edible part of the plant, although the base of the plant's leaves may also be eaten. Dig the heart of the ball out with a stick before cooking for several days until the bitterness disappears.

Date Palm Tree

Found in the Middle East and Africa, the fruit from the Date Palm tree provides excellent nutrition. The tall desert tree features feather-shaped leaves that hold flowers, and then hold the dates, which grow in clusters. Date trees provide a repeating source of food along the Arabian Peninsula.

Desert Amaranth

Desert Amaranth functions as a short-lived green-stemmed herb. Varieties of this edible desert plant species grow in most deserts. Eat the tender young green shoots raw or cooked. In addition some dry the leaves for later use. Seeds are popped like popcorn or ground into flour before being added to bread recipes.

Prickly Pear

Prickly pear cactus contains flat spongy oval pads that provide food, but you need to remove the spines covering them first. Scorch them from the pads with fire or peel with a knife carefully so the spines do not puncture your skin. Scorching also softens the hard outer skin to expose the soft edible part inside more easily. In addition, the fruit of the prickly pear is good for eating as well.


Cattails, not commonly found in deserts overall, do grow sometimes by natural desert springs. These plants offer a smorgasbord of sustainable foods. These include its seeds, sprouts, flowers and roots. Even the pollen of cattails provides an edible source of food. High in starch, cook cattails much like you would cook potatoes. The sprouts of the plant are available beginning late summer, and grow from the roots.


Eat the stems, roots and leaves of desert grass raw or boiled in water to broth. Avoid any desert grasses or grass seeds that are black as these contain fungus. Consuming a desert grass with this fungus can make you very ill and, in some cases, kill you.

Garden Guides