Can You Drink Water From A Cactus? {Safe or Not?}

We are really not acquainted with a dire survival situation until we have come face-to-face with one. Several people out there get severely injured and lost while they are out on desert hikes. As survival in a stranded desert is quite difficult, some of them make it alive, and some of them don’t. For surviving, water is undoubtedly a very valuable resource. So if you have run out of the water and are stranded in a desert, you might be wondering about, hoping to find a source of water. Haplessly looking for an oasis, the next thought that may cross your mind is, “Can I drink water from a cactus?” 

Drinking water from cactus
Photo: YouTube

As you all are aware that cactus can be found abundantly all around the desert; therefore, being stranded and confused, you might want to try having the juice of cactus in order to quench your thirst. But is it safe? Can you drink water from a cactus? Here in this article, we will be talking about it in depth.

What Does Cactus Water Taste Like?

If you are out there somewhere in the desert, stranded and alone, water is undoubtedly such a valuable resource. And it is very likely that being there without food and water; you would be willing to devour cactuses as well. But you need to know, if you don’t already, that most cactus species protect their spongy tissue with acids and strong alkaloids in addition to their threatening spines. 

These compounds are typically too acrid for most humans to take in, and ingesting them puts a strain on the kidneys. So if you are there with an empty stomach and are savoring the meat of a cactus, it won’t end well for you. 

Consuming the meat of some cactuses can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other serious complications like temporary paralysis, none of which should happen to you when you are in such a dire state. Because let’s face it- you are already in a panicky state of mind and are physically exhausted. So if you throw up after having the meat of a cactus, you might pass out from the exhaustion too.

Also, you must keep in mind that Cacti come in approximately 2,000 different varieties around the world. In circumstances where the types are similar, proper identification can be challenging. So you might not even know which one would be seriously poisoning and life-threatening for you. Cactus-like plants found in southern Africa and Madagascar deserts are poisonous and belong to the Euphorbiaceae family. 

If the milky sap of these plants gets into your eyes, it can burn your skin and mucous membranes and cause irreversible blindness, so you can imagine what would happen to you if you actually devour them. But if you are lucky enough to come across an edible cactus, you must be having the question in your mind that –

What does Cactus taste like?

Well, the answer to that would fairly disappoint you if you had high hopes. Most of the people who have had the opportunity to taste cactuses have reported that the meat or the internal portion of a cactus has a sticky and slimy texture. Also, when you dissect a piece of its stem, removing its thorns, the water or the flesh tastes like a melon or a cucumber without the sweetness or any other taste for that matter. 

As you chew it, you will notice that it has a distinct grittiness added to it, as if somebody has sprinkled sand on it. You can have it raw or can roast it with the flesh on fire. To have it raw, you can cut the top of the cactus off and skin down the sides, removing the cactus spines. The cactus meat will have the consistency of a sticky cucumber. 

The stringy central core should be avoided, but the cactus flesh can be eaten. To extract the water from the cactus, wrap the meat in a cloth, smash it, and wring it out.

How To Handle A Cactus Plant For Consumption Purposes?

Normally, if you think about touching or going anywhere near a cactus, its thorns are the first thing that alerts you. But if you are in a dire situation, you would not have much choice left with yourself as you must quench your thirst and provide your body with the bare minimum nutrition required to survive. So if you are about to handle a cactus, you can follow these steps to consume any part of it.

  • First, you will have to find pieces of cloth to cover your hands. As you would be touching a cactus, your hand needs to be covered.
  • Then you have to choose the plant you feel is safe for you and puck it out.
  •  After that, you have to find a sharp object to cut away the thorns and the hard outer jacket. If you have a knife or a blade, you can obviously use that.
  • Next, you have to slice up the plant meat into pieces and then consume it the way you want.

Which Cactus Can You Drink Water From?

After discussing the method you can extract from cactuses, you might be curious and want to know about the cactus from which you can drink water. So let us talk about that. 

The Fishhook Barrel Cactus is the only cactus from which you can sip cactus water straight from the plant. However, this should only be consumed in limited amounts and in emergency conditions. When used as a water supply, the fishhook barrel cactus is regarded to be the least problematic of the cacti family. In either case, your health would be jeopardized. 

Cactus water is acidic and contains harmful alkaloids of some types. If you’re severely dehydrated, you could think about drinking this to quench your thirst, but you might end up with other complications. Your body would exhaust more energy than you would otherwise receive any nourishment as you have ingested a chemical substance.  It will most likely result in bodily aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s up to you to determine whether risking dehydration or becoming sick is a preferable situation you are fine with. But in dire situations, we fail to think logically and are willing to try absolutely anything that we can lay our hands-on.

What Are The Cactuses That You Can Eat From?

If you are hungry and without food, you might want to eat cactuses at some point in time, because, to state the obvious- If I could drink cactus water, I can eat the meat too. So let us talk about the Cactuses that you can eat from.

  • Fishhook Barrel Cactus: As discussed above, the meat from fishhook barrel cactus is safe to consume; you can make pieces out of the meat and consume it raw. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a source of fire, you can roast the cactus and then consume it.
  • Hedgehog Cactus: It is safe to consume prickly Hedgehog Cactus. All you have to do is cut off a thin part of the outer covering of the cactus and make pieces out of the meat. You can also roast the cactus stem and devour it if you have a provision of igniting a fire. 
  • Prickly Pear Cactus: It is safe to consume Prickly Pear Cactus. You can consume both the cactus pad as well as the central plant meat.

Can You Drink Water From A Saguaro Cactus?

If you’ve ever visited Arizona in the United States, you’ve probably seen long cactus plants growing beside roadways. With an average height of 40 feet and a width of 2 feet, these renowned Saguaro Cactus plants are the largest of their species in the country. Saguaro fruits are a well-known delicacy among American and Mexican cultures. 

They’re recognized for their sweet edible pulp, which makes jams, wines, and preserves. Primitively, The Hohokam people of Tucson used to knock down the ripe fruit from the tops of the plants. Then it would be gathered to eat. Presently, the fruits produced from Saguaro have multiple utilities. Saguaro seeds, which have high protein content, are frequently used as poultry feed. The edible fruits and seeds of the saguaro cactus are very popular. The saguaro fruit can be consumed in a variety of ways. 

You can eat the fresh fruit or make juice out of it. Alternatively, you can dry it and store it as dried fruit for later use. Wine, jam, and syrup are all made from saguaro fruit. However, the stems and the central plant meat of Saguaro cannot be consumed. So, you can’t have the water from the cactus stems directly; you would have to make a juice out of the fruit it produces.

Does Cactus Water Make You Hallucinate?

Cactus is not a safe alternative to drinking water. As discussed earlier, drinking cactus water on an empty stomach will cause diarrhea or vomiting, dehydrating you even more. When stranded in the scorching heat, your body will anyway give out. On top of that, if you are vomiting, you are bound to fall seriously ill. However, if you are helpless and have to consume it, you could have water or the sap of the fishhook barrel cactus in an emergency. Seri Indians also used this cactus as emergency water, but when they drank it on an empty stomach, it caused agony in their bones and vomiting.

Also, are you aware that consuming water from certain cacti could even make you hallucinate? 

Devouring the cactus water of Peyote, which is a tiny cactus indigenous to southern Texas and Mexico’s deserts, can actually cause you to hallucinate. It’s one of the numerous cactus species with a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid mimics LSD’s hallucinatory properties. So if you happen to consume any parts of these cactuses, you will end up in a state of hallucination while being stranded in a desert.

How Long Can Cactus Store Water?

Some cactuses, on the other hand, have roots that have been adapted to store water. Cactuses are known to store water in collapsible water storage cells. The collapsible water-storage cells appear in the stem as holes or crevices and can hold water for a long time. Furthermore, there are ribs/flutes, which allow the water to be retained. When the cactus is fully swollen, the ribs or flutes are hidden, becoming visible as the stem decreases. 

Cactus, like all living things, requires water to exist. Water is often sparse in the locations where it grows, though. This plant has developed a wide range of specific abilities to compensate for this and adapt to the scorching temperatures well, allowing it to store the little water it receives for a long time. Cacti have needle-like spines that protect them from predators and help prevent water loss by blocking air passage around the cactus. Some cactuses can store water for up to four months, especially in the winter, and they don’t need a lot of water during that period. Larger cactuses, such as the barrel cactus, can go months without holding the water it has absorbed. Some cactus species have the ability to hold water for up to two years. 

If you are hiking, you should carry twice the amount of water you usually require to avoid being stuck in a situation where you are left with no water. Also, you can carry canned food and other packaged food products that will help you through this period of struggle for survival. However, if you are unluckily stuck in a dire situation where you have no water, chances are you will be opting to drink water from a cactus. In that case, you would have to choose the cactus wisely in order to avoid facing some dire consequences.


Nikita is a Succulent lover. She really enjoys planting and nourishing them. She loves to share information about various Succulents on this blog to aware people more about these awesome plants.

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