Can you eat Cactus? A detailed Guide About Edible Cactus

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.

 Types Of Cactus That Can Be Eaten

Here, we are providing a detailed guide about edible Cactus and types of cactus that can be eaten. Let’s have a look at some edible species, their identification and preparations, and the benefits of eating cactus

Prickly Pear

Prickly pear is the most familiar of the edible cacti and both the leaves and the fruits of the prickly pear are edible. It has oval-shaped flat leaves or pads called nopales and the fruit grows from the prickly leaves or pads. People like the sweet and delicious fruit more than the pads or leaves. 

When raw, the fruit is green or red and changes into different shades of red to orange, as it ripens. The red fruits are sweet and the green ones are somewhat tard in taste.

Prickly Pear Leaves | Photo:
  1. How to harvest Prickly Pear

As the pads have spines and the fruits contain hair-like splinters called glochids, one has to be very careful while harvesting the edible parts of Prickly Pear otherwise, the sharp spines may harm if not handled cautiously. The glochids can easily enter the skin and cause serious irritation. Wear leather gloves and shoes before harvesting the fruits or pads.

  1. Making preparations and eating

Once the fruits and pads are harvested, remove the glochids and spines carefully. Roast the fruit over an open flame and peel the outer skin starting from the top to get the pulp. The prickly pear has little, hard seeds that are not chewable, and remove them before eating the fruit.

  1. Nutritional Advantages

Prickly pear is full of nutrients like essential fatty acids and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium The red fruits are rich in carotenoids and have high fiber content.

Dragon Fruit 

Dragon fruit looks more like a flower than fruit and is also known as Pitahaya or Pitaya or strawberry pear. Pitaya and Pitahaya are two different types of fruits.  Pitahaya is of the Hylocereus genus and is sweet in taste whereas Pitaya, is from the Stenocereus genus and is a little sour in taste.

  1. Making Preparations and eating

The fruit is fleshy and is pink or white in color with small black seeds. You can eat the fruit after removing the skin by cutting the fruit onto two halves and slicing it further. It can be chilled before eating as per choice.

 The dragon fruit is eaten raw or you can also make smoothies or sorbets from it. The flowers can be cooked to make vegetables.

Dragon Fruit | Photo:
  1. Nutritional Advantages

Dragon fruit is rich in vitamin A and C and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. It has high fiber content and is low in calories.


In North America, Saguaro is one of the most commonly edible cacti. Its fruits grow at the top of the cactus. The Saguaro fruits are red when ripe and as it ripens, the fruits open so that the sweet red pulp and many tiny black seeds are visible and can be eaten by human beings, birds and ants, etc.

Harvesting of the Saguaro fruit is done in June and requires a 20 to 30 feet long pole to remove the fruits from the top of the cactus.

  1. Making Preparations and eating

The fruit has to be separated from the husk after harvesting. If the fruit is not fully split, then split it yourself and keep it bare before you separate it from the husk. Remove its seeds and pulp with the help of a spoon. Soak the fruit’s pulp and seeds in hot water for about three hours and then mash thoroughly with your hands.

Now, the liquid formed is ready to be consumed. To avoid fermentation, boil it for a few more hours. Remove the seeds and the liquid will simmer into a thick syrup. Make wine or jam as per your choice. For Saguaro, the only edible part of the plant is its fruit.

  1. Nutritional Advantages

Saguaro fruit is low in calories and high in protein. It also contains vitamin C and vitamin B12.

Barrel Cactus

Only a few cacti are there whose almost every part is edible and Barrel cactus is one such cactus plant. Fruits of the barrel cactus are spineless, hence can be easily picked and you can eat them after washing them with water.

Barrel cactus fruits have a lemon-like tart flavor and the seeds give a nutty flavor to the fruits.  Initially, barrel fruits are green and become yellow as they ripen. When they are yellow, pluck them with your hands or use a knife to cut them from the base.

  1. Making Preparations and eating

You can eat Barrel cactus raw or cook it as well. Add the seeds to yogurt, granola, or bread. Separate the seeds from the fruit by cutting the fruit into two and allow it to dry for about three days. Then take out the seeds from the fruit by using a spoon and roast the seeds in a hot pan. Use the rest of the fruit in dishes like chutney or make candies from it.

  1. Nutritional Advantages

Barrel cactus fruits are high in fiber, vitamins C and A  and have analgesic properties. Also, it is low in fat and calories.

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:

  1. Antiviral

Prickly Pear or Nopal cactus has antiviral properties against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), HIV and herpes simplex virus (HSV).  

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.



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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