View Full Version : Cacti

06-18-2010, 02:08 PM
This came up over in the cooking thread. So I thought I'd crosspost the info here.

Prickly pear cactus pads (nopales) are traditional eats in Mexican cuisine. Usually you'll see them served as part of en egg dish, or in a burrito.

They are best picked young and small, no more than 3/8" thick. Springtime is the best season.

After picking, I washed the pad, and de-spined it. I use tongs to hold it, and the run the blade of a knife along the surface to cut them off. I use a vegetable brush to get the glochids (the tiny hair-like spines) off. I've heard you can also burn them off on a stove burner or grill.

Then I cut it up. At this point you can blanch the pieces or let them sit in salt and then rinse, to reduce the slime. If you like okra, you can skip this step.

Then you can sautee them, boil them, include them in a stew, fry them, what have you.

Supposedly they are very good for you too, with blood sugar and cholesterol lowering properties.

More detailed info here:

Here are some cactus fries I made last night:


I cut it into pieces, and blanched them, hoping to reduce the slime. Then I dredged them in Zatarain's fish fry, and fried them:


The fruits (also called tunas) are also edible, and quite tasty! Last year I gathered many:


After de-spining, peeling, blending them (you can also break them down by cooking), and straining them:


I got quite a bit of juice:


Which which, I made:

Syrup (some intentionally, some was meant to be jelly, but failed)


You can use the syrup for pancakes, or mix with club soda or tonic water for a soda, or my fave, a margarita:


06-18-2010, 02:44 PM
AWESOME, awesome post!!!!
Thanks so much grrlscout, can't wait to track down some cacti/fruits to try it.
BTW, the fruit (color is beautiful) has so much range of what all you can do with it. I had NO idea.

06-18-2010, 04:05 PM
Great post. Rep on the way.

06-18-2010, 04:31 PM
I should also include some warning that I'm talking about prickly pear cactus here (Opuntia). Some other kinds of cacti (barrel cactus for instance) have high levels of oxalic acid, which is bad news. Read up on the details here:


06-18-2010, 05:13 PM
That was a great post. Those things over winter here in the Midwest just fine. I had them for seven or eight years and never knew they were edible. I found out AFTER I got rid of them. If anyone in the Midwest wants to grow them, they will shrivel up after the first frost and you'll swear they are dead but they aren't. Just leave them outside and when the weather warms in the spring they pop right out again. It's kind of amazing to see how bad they look, all shriveled and brown then how plump and green they get again.

Thanks for that post. By the way, the hairs are a pain, literally.

06-18-2010, 07:34 PM
Excellent post! My wife and I make prickly pear jelly every year, and want to make wine soon!!

06-19-2010, 11:30 AM
Tried to give you some rep grrlscout, but I gotta spread the love. Excellent post!! Thanks for sharing! our cacti are blooming now and I am eager to make some fruit treats and beverages from them. Bookmarked the thread for future reference!! Thanks a bunch!!

06-21-2010, 01:22 PM
Here are some other cactus things that I found this weekend, that we can munch on.

For one, yucca (I think this one is soaptree yucca [yucca elata]):


The blossoms are edible fresh, boiled or blanches, and I harvested some to try out:


Also, according to the ethnobotany database: "Stems [can be] baked overnight, dried, broken into pieces, softened and eaten" and "Trunks [can be] pit cooked, pounded and made into flour."

The pods of some varieties are also edible. I've been looking for banana yucca (yucca baccata), because supposedly it's the tastiest (especially when roasted). But haven't had any luck yet. The fruits aren't in season yet anyway.

When they are, they look like this (not my pic):

Though the season is done, I did manage to find just a few remaining ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens Engelm.) blossoms, already dried:


I plan on making a nice tea with these.

The plant looks like this (the multi-limbed one in the center)*:


There are many other uses listed in the ethnobotany database, including: "Parched seeds ground into a flour and used to make mush or cakes" and "Fresh blossoms used for food."

That's all for now! :)

* Also in the pic are saguaro (the tall guy), whose fruit are edible, cholla (branched cactus at the base of the ocotillo), which has edible flower buds, jojoba (leafy thing in the foreground), which has edible nuts, and mormon tea (brushy low bush, on the right), a mild stimulant.

06-21-2010, 02:25 PM
excellent thread. thanks for posting.

the tuna wine looks great.

Old GI
06-22-2010, 09:24 AM
Mt daughter-in-law on the farm in NM makes a delicious Prickly Pear jelly. She won't let the recipe out, but I'm working on it.

06-23-2010, 09:29 AM
Yucca flower petals are delicious. I do believe that is the soapbush yucca you have there. I'm also waiting for the fruits (all sp. of which are edible) to mature. I want to try them stuffed with potato and cheese (like a bell pepper).

06-29-2011, 11:32 PM
I have to say great thred, not sure how I missed this. Going from the Pacific NW to El Paso, I am trying to learn about all this desert stuff. We do have lots of yucca, prickly pear, and such around; just some more things to add to "the list." Thanks for the info!!

07-05-2011, 05:54 PM
Hey y'all! Just thought I'd add a few updates. Some of these things I posted in other threads. But I suppose they belong here too.

First off, I made some ocotillo blossom sun tea



It was OK. It kind of reminded me of cucumber water. Very mild, and refreshing.

Also, I think above, I mentioned barrel cactus fruit not being edible. Well, it is -- just not very tasty. Very tart and sour, like an underripe bell pepper. :p


It probably didn't help that they were out of season. They were about 7 months too old, and probably concentrated. Early Fall is the time to harvest.

Another find has been cholla buds. They show up in the Spring, so they are long gone now. All are edible, but buckhorn and staghorn are preferred.


I removed the spines


Then blanched them and dried them. To use, rehydrate first.

I haven't given them a taste yet, but supposedly they taste a bit like asparagus.

BTW saguaro fruit are ripening up right now. But they are protected on state lands, and very hard to get to!

If you're so inclined, and have access, you can do as the indians do, and use some old saguaro ribs to knock them down.


Too much effort for me. :yawn: But if you're interested, more on harvesting saguaro fruit:

07-05-2011, 07:59 PM
the yucca flowers i tryed left a foul taste in my mouth, could really heavy clay cause that?

07-05-2011, 09:15 PM
I think a lot of yuccas grow in heavy clay. Could be the variety. I hear soaptree yucca is well.. soapy.

08-02-2011, 10:56 AM
Prickly pears are in season again.


You know what I'm going to make with them, right? :stuart:


08-02-2011, 03:36 PM
You've definitely got to come to the Jamboree in October. I promise we won't make you cook.:innocent:

08-03-2011, 06:50 AM
OH MAN.. If those popsicles taste anything like the jelly, we'll have a new favorite summer treat. I've been keeping an eye out for ripe tunas. Haven't seen many that were purple yet, but I know where at least 30 stands are nearby, so when they get ripe, we're gonna make a few gallons of juice and just jelly it as we run out. Got half a jar of jelly left. DEELISH!

@ravenscar, the yucca petals are a bit.. pungent??.. soapy?? Definately a different taste, but it reminds me of some candy my grandmother used to give us that was supposedly "vitamins" (she used herbs a lot). The yucca that bloomed in my yard this year tasted just like the yuccas that grow in the woods down by the lake. I don't think it matters much what soil they grow in, they kinda taste like soap. Not entirely disagreeable, but would take some getting used to as a regular food.

08-03-2011, 11:19 AM
You've definitely got to come to the Jamboree in October. I promise we won't make you cook.:innocent:

Yeah, right! :)

OH MAN.. If those popsicles taste anything like the jelly, we'll have a new favorite summer treat. I've been keeping an eye out for ripe tunas. Haven't seen many that were purple yet, but I know where at least 30 stands are nearby, so when they get ripe, we're gonna make a few gallons of juice and just jelly it as we run out. Got half a jar of jelly left. DEELISH!

They do taste like the jelly! Dang tasty and quite refreshing.

I was a bit disappointed to find the batch I picked yesterday weren't quite as ripe as I like 'em. But we'll see how they turn out.

They won't be morada (deep burgundy) ripe til the end of the month, probably.

09-24-2011, 09:41 PM
Does anyoone have a recipe on making prickly pear cactus jelly from the fruit(tuna)? I thought there was something posted but I cannot find anything!

Thanks, Willie

09-25-2011, 02:36 AM
How do you unspine the tunas?

09-25-2011, 07:26 AM
How do you unspine the tunas?

Propane torch.

09-25-2011, 07:28 AM
Does anyoone have a recipe on making prickly pear cactus jelly from the fruit(tuna)? I thought there was something posted but I cannot find anything!

Thanks, Willie

I couldn't find it either. Here's one though (I have not tried it). http://recipes.epicurean.com/recipe/22980/prickly-pear-cactus-jelly.html

09-25-2011, 07:17 PM
Thanks crash.


09-26-2011, 05:52 AM
Sarky, an open flame will singe the needles off. I used a bernzomatic torch, but you could just as easily "roast" them off over a campfire. Grrlscout had a recipe posted, but the link came down a while back.

09-26-2011, 01:58 PM
How do you unspine the tunas?

First I fill the bucket of tunas with lots of water, and vigorously swish them around with some tongs.

Then, I drain them in a colander, and spray them with more water.

That will knock off the majority of them.

Then, still using tongs, I slice them all in half, and freeze them. That breaks down the cell walls, rendering more juice. It also weakens the glochids (the little hair-like spines)



When I'm ready to use them, I take them straight from the freezer and toss them in a pot. I'll add just a little bit of water.

Take them up to a strong simmer, but not a boil. This pretty much dissolves the glochids.

As they simmer, I'll squish them with a potato masher. Then I'll hit them with the stick blender.

Once I think I have gotten all the juice from them, I pour them through a colander, and discard the pulp, skin, and seeds.

Then I will sieve the juice. That catches just about anything that might remain. If I'm feeling extra cautious and patient, I'll run it through a muslin cloth after that. But it's usually not necessary.

09-26-2011, 02:04 PM
Oh and the recipe on this page looks like the one I used:


09-26-2011, 06:38 PM
Thank you very much grrlscout!


10-27-2011, 11:48 AM
More on the traditional harvesting of saguaro fruit, including video showing how it's actually done:


10-29-2011, 07:31 AM
I shared this thread with a beekeeping friend of mine who made some of the jelly. Great stuff! Thanks grrlscout!

12-19-2011, 09:25 PM
great post, pictures look delicious. Prickly Pair also has probably one of the funnest scientific names to say (opuntia stricta)

12-21-2011, 08:33 AM
Fruits are ripe in my area now. Will be making more of this jelly soon since we ate all ours a long time ago. Delicious !

01-25-2012, 06:35 PM
Friend of mine wanted to get rid of the prickly pears in his yard. Don't know if this is a good time to move them but it was a case of now or never. Anyway I ended up with a pickup load when we got done. Hope that at least some of them root in their new spaces.


01-25-2012, 07:18 PM
You just throw them on the ground and they will root just fine. I have grown it in Illinois and Indiana. It would shrivel up in the winter and you would swear it was dead but came out again in the spring. If a piece got broken off and landed on the ground the spines would turn into roots where it touched the ground and start growing. That is one tough plant.

01-25-2012, 07:30 PM
If it's that tough and that easy to get started I'm going to have alot of prickly pear in the yard by this time next year I guess. TY Rick for letting me know.


01-26-2012, 11:14 AM
This is true. Around here, you'll see where someone dug a hole, and stuck a pad in it, and buried it halfway.

Here's one that is sprouting new growth on the old pad, after two months:


No surprise, but they like sandy soil.

01-26-2012, 11:31 AM
That one shriveled up piece in the center is what all of our cactus looked like in the winter. You would swear they were dead. But the next spring they turned lush green again.

05-03-2012, 03:09 PM
Nice post! What a broad range of edibles. Western Nebraska was filled with prickly pear and yucca so I keyed in on the post from memories of spending my teen years there. My mom tried out a skinned and breaded prickly pear patty one time and I thought it was pretty tasty.. with some salt and pepper of course. I especially like the prickly margarita you've shown.

09-04-2013, 02:40 PM
Guess what I finally found? A banana yucca!


That sucker was way bigger than I expected it to be. I'm going to let it ripen up a bit, then I'm going to collect its seeds, and roast the flesh.

Also, I found a great site that described various ways to prepare barrel cactus - very handy!

And it is prickly pear season yet again. This time, I am experimenting with kefir grains to make a fermented prickly pear beverage called "colonche". I'm not sure if I've nailed it yet, but testing the samples has been fun.


09-26-2014, 03:08 PM
man these pics are making me jealous! I have yet to harvest my prickly pears.