Cacti are fleshy and appear to be suitable as vegetables. It’s crucial to understand that there are edible and deadly cacti varieties before you start eating them.
All authentic cactus fruit is safe to consume. After the spines are removed, some varieties of cactus, including cholla, dragon fruit, and prickly pear, can be used as vegetables. Other cactus species, such as peyote, Bolivian, and San Pedro, are poisonous and should not be consumed.
Cacti of many types are frequently planted as indoor and outdoor ornamental plants. Check to see if the cactus variety is poisonous or suitable for people or pets to eat before choosing it for your garden.
What species of cactus are edible?
If you have a sense of adventure, you’ll be curious about cactus uses! Only leaves from one species of cactus—the Prickly Pear Cactus, which also yields the Prickly Pear fruit—are utilized in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. Cactus pads, nopalitos, and nopales are other names for edible cacti. The flat green leaves are consumed similarly to vegetables. They are also known as stems, paddles, or pads. They resemble okra in texture and taste when cooked, but taste more like green beans. Others claim that they taste pleasant and have a faint crunch similar to bell peppers.
Early spring harvesting of small, young pads is regarded to provide the most succulent, flavorful, and spine-free plants. An older pad will be thicker. Pick 1/4-inch-thick pads that are firm, delicate, and firm. Avoid pads that are mushy, fractured, or wilted as these indicate they are aging. The cactus pads will have a variety of green hues, from light to dark. Typically, they are offered for sale without the thorns. For convenience, the pads are frequently offered whole or divided into strips or cubes and packed. Additionally, canned cactus pads are available.
It’s better to use brand-new cactus pads within a few days. If it is tightly wrapped in plastic, edible cactus can be stored in the refrigerator for more than a week.
All cactus fruits are edible, right?
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Contrary to what the majority of people believe, almost all cactus fruits are edible and packed with beneficial minerals. The pads of the plants, for example, are also tasty. This wild fruit is sweet and healthful, just like any other fruit. But if you’ve never tried the fruit, you might be wondering whether it’s actually safe to eat. We’ve got you covered, so don’t worry.
Therefore, is cactus fruit toxic? No. Cactus fruits come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but none of them are poisonous. Eaten cactus fruits are all safe. The sole distinction between the fruits of various cacti species is that some are sourer and more bitter than others. All of them, though, are edible and safe to eat. The Opuntia genus produces a sizable portion of the edible cactus fruits.
Continue reading to learn more about cacti fruits and some of the most popular varieties. So let’s get started straight away.
What determines if a cactus is edible?
Edible cacti and succulents are incredibly low-maintenance plants that taste great if your climate is right for them.
Some people want to know the distinction between succulents and cacti. A cactus is technically a succulent plant since the term refers to “one that has thick, fleshy, water-storing leaves or stems.” The term “cacti” is typically used to refer to succulent plants with spines, but all true cacti actually belong to the plant family Cactaceae.
Let’s discuss the numerous edible cacti and succulents that you can use in your landscaping:
All genuine cactus fruit is edible, but certain varieties have greater flavors than others. Some are excellent when cooked, and most must first have their spines peeled or otherwise removed before being consumed! Of course, everyone has varied tastes in stuff. In order to ensure that you enjoy them and are not allergic, it is advised to test a few of the cactus you are contemplating before purchasing.
Which edible cactus you select will depend on its intended purpose and the aesthetic of your edible landscaping. More than 200 Opuntia species, often known as Nopales, Nopalitos, the Cactus Pear, or the Paddle Cactus, contain a variety of delicious cacti.
All Opuntias have edible leaves and egg-shaped fruit (sometimes known as “tunas”). An Opuntia is recognized by its oval, flat, spine-covered leaves, or “paddles.”
Of all the edible cacti, Opuntia ficus-indica, also known as the prickly pear cactus, is the most well-known and popular. Its fruit and leaves, which are also known as the Indian Fig, are a mainstay in many recipes throughout Central America and the southwest of the United States. Australia, northern Africa, and the Galapagos Islands are just a few of the diverse areas this cactus has been introduced.
Opuntias are quite tolerant of the cold, and they can be found as far north as British Columbia. In some areas, they have also spread invasively. They can still be a gorgeous focal point in rock gardens or other drought-tolerant environments, and they have a wide range of functions in landscaping (they make great barrier hedges).
When fully grown, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), the graceful representation of the desert in the southwest of the US, has edible fruit (which can take decades). The Saguaro, however, is hard to come by and cannot be moved without a permit.
Despite being smaller and with “arms” that often develop near the base of the plant rather than higher up the main stem, the Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) resembles the Saguaro. It has red Pitahaya Dulce fruit, which is roughly the size of a golf ball, and lavender flowers.
Visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona (United States), which is home to many of these beautiful cacti, to observe them in their natural habitat.
Fruit from barrel cacti can be harvested and eaten raw, and because it lacks spines, it is simple to handle. Additionally edible are the buds and blooms. One of the American Wild West myths was that you could cut open a barrel cactus and squeeze the pulp for water to keep you alive in the harsh desert.
The Night-Blooming Cereus (Hylocereus undatus), a cactus with long fleshy leaves and bright red or yellow fruit with a white or crimson core and black, crunchy seeds with great nutritional content, is also known as the Dragon Fruit or Pitaya (and is also known as Pitahaya Dulce in some locations). The plant only blooms at night and has enormous, fragrant white flowers.
Some species, such Peniocereus greggii, are also referred to as “Night-Blooming Cereus.”
Although it appears very different from Hylocereus, the Peruvian Apple Cactus (Cereus repandus), which likewise produces sweet, vividly colored edible fruit, is another cactus that bears the name Pitaya.
The Epiphyllum species, sometimes known as the orchid cactus, are another genus of cacti that are edible. They resemble the Hylocereus species in appearance and behavior but have smaller fruits. All of these have gorgeous flowers!
Edible Succulent Plants
In northern Africa and India, vegetables made from a few of the Caralluma species—Caralluma fimbriata, Caralluma adscendens, and Caralluma edulis—are consumed.
Many Agave species can be rendered edible, but the most famous is Agave tequilana, which is used to make tequila.
All Sedum species, also known as stonecrops, can be eaten. They taste sour or spicy and are used in salads. Consume these in moderation; excessive consumption of some may result in dyspepsia.
Purslane is beneficial as a ground cover in wet locations, is simple to grow, rather attractive, and delicious when cooked.
Although purslane is regarded as a weed in the US, it tastes delicious fried and is ok in salads and works well in stews and soups.
Which cactus species are edible?
The lower 48 states of the United States are home to the eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa). In addition to being a lovely plant, it is edible, offers sustenance and safety to wildlife, and can be utilized in natural landscaping.
This cactus is simple to locate, especially in Indiana. The prickly pear features flat, fleshy pads (known as cladodes) covered in spiky spines, similar to other spiny succulents. Showy yellow blossoms are produced by the prickly pear.
How to eat a prickly pear
A red, egg-shaped fruit starts to form after flowering. After removing the skin, the fruits can be eaten raw and are edible. The fruit is frequently converted into jams, candies, and other sweets, and some people even eat the plant’s fleshy pads as a snack.
For thousands of years, the prickly pear cactus has been an essential part of Mexican and Central American cuisine. Prickly pears are becoming more popular as food in various areas of the United States.
The nopal, or cactus pad, which is frequently used as a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit, are the only two edible portions of the prickly pear plant.
What do prickly pears taste like?
Cactus pears have a sweet, rather bland flavor that is comparable to melon. The fruit is not technically a member of the pear family, despite its name. It was merely given that name because the prickly fruit looks and acts like a pear.
Where can I find prickly pears?
In Indiana, such as the Kankakee Sands and the Lake Michigan shore dunes, the prickly pear cactus can be found in open sand and arid places.
Another fantastic location to see Indiana’s sole cactus is the lovely Ober Savanna in Starke County.
Prickly pear in your yard
The fact that this native cactus is challenging to manage is unknown to many who like planting it in their backyards. A single plant can develop into a tangled, dense colony very fast.
The best approach to stop the prickly pear from spreading is to plant it in a pot. Purdue Pest & Plant Diagnostics Lab has a few options to get rid of prickly pear from your property if it is already out of control on the cactus.
When handling this lovely native cactus, be sure to use thick gloves. Their long, thorny spines, which can reach a length of several inches, are the least of your concerns. Glochids are painful and challenging to remove because of their hair-like appearance and decreased visibility.
What cactus has poison?
Due of its pointed spines, most people frequently choose to avoid cactus. Most cactus are not venomous, which may surprise you. Nevertheless, you might want to keep your kids and pets away from the following ones!
The most lethal cacti include the prickly pear, San Pedro cactus, Echinopsis Peruviana, Peyote, Barrel cactus, Saguaro cactus, Cholla cactus, and Euphorbia canariensis.
Can you eat cacti in the desert?
There are several edible portions of the prickly pear cactus. The plant’s pads, often referred to as nopales, can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable side dish or put in a salad. The prickly pear fruit’s crimson flesh is incredibly tasty and can be consumed either fresh or cooked (do not eat the skin as it is filled with tiny thorns). Prickly pear fruit syrup is frequently employed as a flavour in candies, lemonade, and margaritas.
Which cacti can’t you eat?
The majority of succulent cacti include some acidic substances that are challenging for the human liver to break down. Some kinds of this succulent contain alkaloids in its thick flesh, which can result in unpleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even paralysis.
While some cactus plants can be eaten, others are dangerous and should not be consumed. The following three varieties of cactus should not be consumed:
Scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, peyote cactus is a hazardous kind of cactus that should not be consumed. It is a cactus plant without spines that contains the hallucinogenic chemical mescaline.
When ingested, the substance mescaline induces psychotic symptoms. Peyote poisoning frequently causes hallucinations, agitation, nausea, and vomiting. Peyote cactus overdoses can be lethal in rare circumstances.
J.D. Slothower of the Encyclopedia of Toxicology (2014) states that after 34 hours, mescaline “produces an acute psychotic condition…
A dose of about 300–500 mg causes depersonalization, illusions, anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as visual and sporadically olfactory or aural hallucinations.
Its physiological effects include trembling, sweating, and nausea.
San Pedro Cactus
When consumed, the San Pedro Cactus, a native of the Andes Mountains, can have similar psychedelic effects to Peyote Cactus. This is due to the substance’s inclusion of the hazardous hallucinogenic chemical mescaline.
Palpitations, stomachaches, tremors, and hallucinations are typical adverse reactions to San Pedro Cactus use.
Bolivian Torch Cactus
The Bolivian Torch Cactus, also known as Echinopsis lageniformis, is a type of cactus that is poisonous and has psychedelic side effects. It is not edible. When consumed, this plant’s high mescaline content causes visual and auditory hallucinations.
It’s time to appreciate the nutritional benefits of this plant now that you are aware of which cactus species are edible and which precise sections you may consume. Eating cactus fruits, nopales, seeds, and flowers can improve digestion, lower cholesterol, speed up weight reduction, and reduce inflammation, among other health advantages.
All of these health advantages are made possible by the substances and minerals found in cactus. Vitamins, amino acids, and phytonutrients are a few of these.
Which nopales can you eat?
Nopal is a common name in Spanish for both the Opuntia cactus (often known in English as prickly pear) and its pads. Nopal is derived from the Nahuatl word nohpalli[nopali] for the plant’s pads.
There are 114 species that have been identified in Mexico, where it is a prevalent element in many recipes that are part of the cuisine. The nopal pads can be consumed raw or cooked, added to soups, stews, salads, marmalades, traditional medicines, or used as animal feed. Although the pads of nearly all Opuntia species are edible, nopales grown for food are most frequently of the species Opuntia ficus-indica or Opuntia matudae. The fruit, also known as the “prickly pear” in English and the “tuna” in Spanish, is the other portion of the nopal cactus that can be eaten.
In Mexico, nopales are typically sold fresh, free of thorns, and cut to the customer’s specifications right away. They can also be obtained as nopalitos in cans or bottles, and less frequently dried, particularly for export. Nopales have a crisp, mucilaginous texture and a mild, slightly acidic flavor akin to green beans when cut into slices or diced into cubes. Most recipes call for cooking with the mucilaginous liquid they contain. In the spring, they are at their most supple and luscious. 
In Mexican food, nopales are most frequently used in meals like huevos with nopales (“eggs with nopales”), carne con nopales (“meat with nopales”), tacos de nopales (“nopal tacos”), salads with tomato, onion, and queso panela (“panela cheese”), or just by themselves as a side vegetable. Nopales have developed into a crucial component of Tejano culture in Texas as well as New Mexican cuisine.