If someone asks you, can you eat cactus? You may shun the idea as most people do. Many species of cactus plants are edible like Barrel cactus, Prickly Pear, Saguaro, Cereus peruvianus, and Dragon fruit. Generally eaten parts of cacti are fruits, pads, and leaves.
Can You Eat Cactus?
You can eat cactus as many of them are not only edible but are delicious and nutritious as well. Some of the edible cactus plants can be consumed raw whereas others require cooking. But the majority of the people, when inquired, can you eat cactus? won’t have an idea that cactus is edible.
You just have to gain an understanding of which cactus fruits are edible and how to make preparations from them. Since the cactus plants have spines and bristles, these are rejected and taken as inedible by many of us.
Although various species of cacti grow wildly, many of them are harvested. The Opuntia family has about 200 species of which many are edible. One of the edible Opuntia species is known as the Paddle cactus, Nopales, Nopalitos, or the Cactus Pear. The fruits of Nopales are egg-shaped and are called tunas and leaves of all Opuntia are edible. Prickly pear is grown and used in local dishes in Mexico. All cactus fruits are safe to eat.
Can You Eat Cactus Raw
Do you also wonder can you eat cactus or can you eat cactus raw?
There are many species of cactus that you can eat raw and Prickly Pear is one such species that can be eaten raw. The Prickly Pear fruit is also named tuna or nostle, and the prickly pads are also known as nopal.
When diced, Prickly Pear looks like green pepper. Remove the skin and slice the nopal to eat. The Prickly Pear fruit has small, hard seeds that are not chewable but will not harm if swallowed. Or eat the pulp of the fruit and spit the seeds out. Use a juicer or strainer to remove the seeds.
Prickly Pear fruit tastes like a strawberry and is green in colour when raw and changes to red or yellow colour when ripe and is very sweet.
Dragon fruit and Barrel cactus fruits can also be eaten raw. Barrel cactus fruits are easy to pick as they are spineless. They have a lemon-like or tart flavor with the seeds having a nutty flavor.
Mexicans have included Cactus and their fruits in their cuisines. Many Mexican dishes like eggs, salads and some other dishes are prepared using the flat and wide cactus pads.
Can You Eat Cactus Leaves
If you are thinking, can you eat cactus leaves?
Yes, You can eat cactus leaves of some species like Prickly Pear that are popular as nopales, nopalitos, or cactus pads. The stem or flat green leaves, also known as paddles or pads, can be eaten like a vegetable. They taste like green beans and have a texture similar to okra after cooking.
Can You Eat Cactus Leaves Raw
Leaves of Prickly Pear called Nopales can be eaten raw. When diced, they are similar to green pepper. You can make jam, juice or tea from nopales.
When young, the flat cactus pads can be eaten raw or cooked but as the cactus grows older, it can’t be eaten.
Be careful while picking nopales as you have to remove the thorns and the thick green skin. Wash nopales thoroughly in water to remove the slime from it before cooking them. Then saute diced nopal with olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeno to make salad.
Nopales can be used as a filling for vegan tacos. Sliced nopales can be grilled like peppers for fajitas. They can be used to add flavor in scrambled eggs. Nopales are high in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins.
Nopal cactus leaves and extracts are used as an herbal remedy for various problems and are beneficial when used with standard treatments.
Can You Eat Cactus In The Desert
People in the desert areas make use of different types of cacti to supplement their diets. Since water is stored in the leaves in cacti plants, in deserts, cacti have been used not only by human beings but by animals too as an important source of water since ages.
Benefits Of Eating Cactus
Nopal cactus or the prickly pear cactus is a native of southwestern part of the United States and Mexico. Here are some benefits of eating cactus like Prickly Pear or Nopal cactus or Opuntia as follows:
Prickly Pear or Nopal cactus has antiviral properties against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), HIV and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Nopal Cactus guards the nerve cells
Nerve cells, when damaged, can induce sensory loss or pain. Nopal cactus can protect nerve cells from this damage. It has neuroprotective properties and protects nerve cells from harm or loss of function.
It is rich in Antioxidants
Nopal cactus is full of antioxidants, thus saving our cells from the harm caused by free radicals. It is found that the cactus can lower oxidative stress.
It can regulate blood sugar.
People with diabetes struggle to control blood sugar and nopal cactus can help in lowering the blood sugar. It is recommended that the Nopal cactus along with the diabetes medications can help in regulating blood sugar especially in people with type 2 diabetes.
It can decrease cholesterol level
Nopal cactus can decrease cholesterol especially LDL cholesterol
or bad cholesterol. Nopal cactus may lower cholesterol with less side effects than medications.
In treatment of enlarged prostate
An enlarged prostate gland can be a trouble for men, as they have to urinate more frequently. Nopal cactus may assist in treating enlarged prostates and can be effective in treatment of prostate cancer. The side effects will also be lesser than the prescribed medications.
It can help in reducing hangovers
Nopal cactus can help in reducing the symptoms of hangovers due to its anti-inflammatory properties. However, it works more efficiently if the extract of the cactus is taken before drinking.
Include cactus fruits into your diet to lower the risk of diseases like stroke, peripheral vascular diseases and coronary heart disease.
Amount or Quantity
Nopal cactus is more effective when the cactus is consumed directly. It can be taken as supplements in liquid form, capsule, and powder extract and it is recommended to take 500mg to 650mg dose on a daily basis.
Further research should be done to decide safe and effective doses of various types of cactus. Some people may have a few side effects like abdominal fullness, nausea, mild diarrhea, increase in stool volume and frequently passing the stool.