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Author Topic: Cacti thread  (Read 1039 times)

LivingParadise

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Cacti thread
« on: April 10, 2017, 03:31:18 PM »
People may not think of cactus as a tropical plant exactly, but it frequently grows in tropical areas. And what many don't realize is that you can eat both the pads, and any fruit that grow. The Florida Keys actually have 3 native species of cacti. I bought a few others to add to my collection. I don't really care for the look of cactus personally, but they are certainly drought tolerant, interesting looking, and a good choice for survival needs.

So for the moment here are the species I have that I know to be edible:

*Opuntia Cochenillifera, Slim Jim Cactus - slim, mostly spineless pads, with abundant red flowers
*Consolea Moniliformis (a.k.a. opuntia ferox), Hawaiian Lights  - thicker pads, frequent bloomer, yellow and orange/red flowers, flowers from a small size
*Opuntia Splendens, Giant Wavy Blue - large relatively thornless bluish pads, large yellow flowers
*Opuntia humifusa - native Florida prickly pear
*Acanthocereus tetragonus, Barbed wire cactus - native Florida species
*Consolea corallicola, Semaphore cactus - native Keys species
*Opuntia triacanthos, Keys Jumping cactus - native Keys species
*2 thus far unidentified Opuntias just labeled as "prickly pear"

If the unnamed Opuntias don't turn out to include them, I will probably add Opuntia ficus-indica (indian fig) and Nopalea Karwinskiana.

Generally speaking, Opuntias are considered to be edible, and here is a huge list of them with some common and alternate scientific names: http://www.desert-tropicals.com/Plants/Cactaceae/Opuntia.html
Not all of them though are going to be tolerant of the humid conditions of the tropics, and of the excessive rain we get, particularly in a rainy season. So be mindful of whatever your local conditions are if you're looking to bring outside species in.

I want to see what does, and does not, do well in my local conditions. And also what does, and does not, taste good. I haven't eaten much in the way of cacti pads, or fruit. Maybe 10 years ago was the last time I tried any, and that was pickled pads, which I remember as being slimy and edible but not great, and prickly pear fruit being again edible but not as sweet or tasty as I was hoping for.

The problem with any of these is glochids, the tiny nearly-invisible hairs that latch onto skin and are quite painful - more of a concern to me than cacti spines which are easily seen and thus fairly easily avoided. So handling and preparation are to be thought about. Generally speaking, you need to peel them - maybe with gloves. I think they need to be cooked - I'm not sure if you can eat any pads in a raw state. From what I understand, usually you want to eat pads when they are young and don't have many spines on them yet.

I hope you'll share your recipes and methods of preparation here. As a vegetable, the pads apparently can be thrown on the grill, and I've heard of people eating them in place of burgers. Never tried it yet, but I'd like to.

Opuntia are noted for multiple strong health benefits, both from the fruit, and the pads. So aside from being easy in drought-prone areas, it certainly has other things to recommend it.

My plants are all still very young, but I will say that the Hawaiian Lights already had its first flowers, which was exciting. Would be cool if it made fruit. All of my plants are still too young for me to want to cut off pads to try them as a vegetable yet. But it's a nice dry season option for harvest, when all the fruits and many of the vegetables are still waiting for their rainy season prime.

Of course, keep in mind that dragonfruit and pitaya are great to grow too, although I'm unsure about their edibility as a vegetable.


Please share what edible cacti you have growing, and your experiences so far with them as a vegetable!

ericalynne

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2017, 06:26:49 AM »
I have a variety of pad cacti on my property in south/central Florida. It grows wild in the pastures. I have tried preparing them myself and haven't been impressed, but here are my experiences:

1. There are utensils for holding the pads and removing glochids and spines. Look in a hispanic grocery store. Inexpensive.
2. You can also char the outside of the pad, holding the pads one at a time with tongs and holding over a fire such as a grill or even over a gas or propane flame.
3. When I get prepared and chopped nopales from friends who grew up on these, they are good, not slimy, not highly flavorful, but nice in stir fries. I had a friend whose favorite meal as nopales and shrimp stir fried with mexican seasonings.

Erica

LivingParadise

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2017, 10:34:22 AM »
I have a variety of pad cacti on my property in south/central Florida. It grows wild in the pastures. I have tried preparing them myself and haven't been impressed, but here are my experiences:

1. There are utensils for holding the pads and removing glochids and spines. Look in a hispanic grocery store. Inexpensive.
2. You can also char the outside of the pad, holding the pads one at a time with tongs and holding over a fire such as a grill or even over a gas or propane flame.
3. When I get prepared and chopped nopales from friends who grew up on these, they are good, not slimy, not highly flavorful, but nice in stir fries. I had a friend whose favorite meal as nopales and shrimp stir fried with mexican seasonings.

Erica

Great tips - thanks!

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2017, 12:44:12 PM »
Can't I'm much of an expert on them but prickly pear/opuntia/nopal seems to be quite a large family of cactus. Many grow wild around here but edibility varies. I think usually "prickly pear" refers to the ones that provide the edible fruits but may not have palatable "pads". There are several different varieties and colors that you can even buy in bags, pealed and prepared to eat right out of the bag. Nopal is used for the ones with edible pads which may not have good fruit.
Nopales are abundant in grocery stores here and our journeys sometimes take us past sizeable fields of cultivated nopal. The stores bulk buy the nopal pads and have someone use a sharp knife to shave off the glochid-loaded areoles. You can dice them, blanch them and use them in salads, use them as a vegetable, juice them or grill them in the barbecue. They taste a little bland to me but the barbecue really seems to bring out a delicious flavour although it also turns the juice into a clear slimy goo that doesn't look too appetizing. Just oil and salt them then sear. The best nopal for eating seem to be the younger, thinner pads and cultivating the store bought pads (grabbed before the areoles were removed) produces plants with thinner pads than other varieties. The few types of nopal I have tried grow really fast if they are watered. A single rootless pad poked in the ground will multiply to 10 pads within a year in my sunny, hot climate with winters that rival summers in more northern climes.
I've never tried dragon fruit (hylocereus) but there are several varieties and colors (https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Edible-Hylocereus-Undatus-Fragrant/dp/B00TQDJVH0). Pitayas (stenocereus) grow wild here too. The ones I've tasted were quite juicy with a texture and flavor like cucumber. They weren't overly sweet and also had a hint of lemon. They contain a lot of rock-hard seeds. I always felt the name was inspired by the sound of spitting out the pits. Native Indians dried these pits and ground them into a flour. There are different wild varieties. One sweet one (pitaya dulce) is s. thurberi, commonly known as the organ pipe cactus. The fruit is red. A sour edible one (pitaya agria) is s. gummosus. I haven't tried it but it was a staple to natives in the region and is said to taste quite pleasant.
Pachycereus, such as the giant cardon (p. Pringles) also have edible "pitayas" which are reputed to be sour and perhaps more of a "survival" food although the pits were used to make flour.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2017, 12:56:02 PM by BajaJohn »

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2017, 01:14:47 PM »
In addition to their potential for food, many of the same cactus (e.g., opuntia, pachycereus) improve soil with poorly understood nitrogen fixing mechanisms and mechanisms to break down rock particles. Google "nitrogen fixing cactus" for a wealth of information. Not sure how long it would take to. Convert your rocks into soil but here is one article http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8209000/8209687.stm. There are others that suggest an enhanced effect with a mix of cactus and trees. Mesquite is one tree mentioned but I believe Mesquite is considered a problematic invasive species in many parts of the world so be careful with it. Mesquite is also leguminous. It is native to arid climates so not sure how it would fare in Florida.

nullzero

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2017, 01:19:05 PM »
I am growing many different cacti in PSL. Cereus sp. perform great and require no irrigation and little care. Stenocereus gummosus does well in a container, grows quite slow though.

I also have Echinopsis sp. selections for fruit that seem to do well. Opuntia sp. can be hit or miss depending on the selections.

I have lost several types of cacti to humidity and excess moisture.
Grow mainly fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

LivingParadise

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2017, 12:48:17 PM »
Thanks BajaJohn! What a wealth of interesting information! I had considered growing mesquite, but do not know whether it is invasive here, or if it is too humid/wet to do well. Who knew cacti could potentially rid me of both rocks and terrible soil in time? That would be a great benefit indeed if it turned out to be the case...  I know there are pitayas that are indigenous to this area too, but I don't know too much about them yet. Development here has nearly wiped out the native plants and natural areas, so there is not a lot of ready info on such things. It's not like you see them everywhere when walking and have any stores that sell the fruit. You have to really research. But it's something I plan to find out more about. All the better if some have edible seeds!

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2017, 01:11:23 AM »
It's cactus flowering season here in Baja. The Cardon (pachycereus pringlei) seem to be the first to flower and fruit. Thought you might like to see. They're big!....


Tried a fruit but it needs to ripen up. They are one of many varieties of pitahayas.

The flesh at this stage is almost tasteless but was an important food source for the Seri Indians. They also ground the mature seeds to make a flour. The seeds contain bacteria which fix nitrogen and break down rock.

« Last Edit: May 14, 2017, 01:17:53 AM by BajaJohn »

LivingParadise

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2017, 04:53:10 PM »
Amazing pics of the local landscape - so glad you shared!

I have never seen anything like that pitaya in my life!

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2017, 06:25:07 PM »
I'll try again when they are ripe. They may look different then. This is a learning experience for me too!
Here is a wider view of the landscape. The Sea of Cortez and islands are in the background. The "development" is the start of a community garden and classroom I'm helping to set up for the local community. Most of the cactus are Cardon (pachycereus pringlei) but the one front left is a sweet pitahaya known as pitaya/pitayo dulce locally. The flowers are just appearing on them now. It is, or is related to the organ pipe cactus of National Monument fame. There are 2 subspecies - stenocereus thurberi - the true organ pipe and stenocereus littoralis or dwarf organ pipe which, not surprisingly, is a little smaller and is a bit more common in Baja Sur.


Here is a really cool picture of a "deformed" stenocereus thurberi which is copyrighed so I didn't display the picture here.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2017, 06:32:44 PM by BajaJohn »

LivingParadise

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2017, 09:58:35 AM »
Wow, that's amazing. Sounds like some very rewarding projects you're working on. Thanks for sharing - you have in a pretty fascinating place!

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #11 on: July 04, 2017, 12:19:10 PM »
Just following up on the pitaya post now the fruit is ripe. Sorry it's a bit fuzzy - and big. It took me two tries to figure out the new posting feature.

Still not very tasty and not much to eat. The fuzzy pea-sized bits around the fruit originally covered the fruit and contain nothing.
The pitaya dulces are just starting to form. This is a baby plant in my garden with a single flower bud.

spaugh

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2017, 09:41:46 PM »
My front yard, it beats mowing a lawn.  They don't fruit but they are still nice to look at.









« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 09:43:52 PM by spaugh »

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #13 on: July 15, 2017, 04:02:01 PM »
Great garden spaugh. Are those white flowers Stenocereus thurberi - Organ Pipe Cactus? If so, the ripe fruits are edible and reasonably tasty. They are called pitaya dulce or sweet pitaya in Mexico where you can buy them in the stores.

spaugh

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2017, 01:20:09 AM »
Its called Trichocereus spachianus.  Here is the place I got a lot of my cactus and succulents from.  Very nice nursery.

https://www.waterwisebotanicals.com/section/cactus/

nullzero

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #15 on: July 17, 2017, 10:56:57 AM »
There is a lot of trichocereus that have good fruit as well. I am growing quite a few different types of fruiting cacti.  I have about 10 different types of Ceres sp. Also started eulychnia acida from seed about 2 years ago.  A few of the seedlings are finally starting to size up.
Grow mainly fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #16 on: August 28, 2017, 10:40:10 PM »
It's prickly pear season in Baja now. Not the tastiest fruit but quite refreshing. Like a sweet cucumber with slightly softer flesh and loads of seed that are as hard as rocks.



Future

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2017, 01:02:25 AM »
Edible opuntias are among the most under appreciated food crops.  Their medicinal qualities are tremendous.  As anti inflammatories go, you would be hard pressed to find anything more powerful.  It is even theorized as a potential cure for Ebola.  But it doesn't stop there.  Blood sugar regulation - check.  Blood pressure - check.  Growth hormone /testosterone check.  Arthritis, muscle injury, joint pain, post-tooth extraction, tarantula bite (seriously) ...the stuff is awesome.

I use hhe pads daily, eating half of one pad, raw blended with my protein shake.  Chopped and added to food they tatse fine when season.  I have no issue with slimy food like okra so this is a none issue.  My mother in law bit into one off the counter once and it never occurred to me to try that,  it wasn't bad.  Not great but I could eat it.

Fruits are ok but pads more readily available.

Oh, and if you work out - and you should be - look up "heat shock protein".

Opuntias manufacture them and they dramatically speed recovery.  Your body manufactures HSPs under duress too.  (Think sauna, exercise benefits).  HSPs mean less inflammation, more muscle for same effort.  Oh and low inflammation is the single common factor found among various long lived groups.

One more thing: they dramatically improve tolerance to summer heat.

I could go on but bottom line:

Don't sleep on opuntias.

 
« Last Edit: August 29, 2017, 01:04:06 AM by Future »

spaugh

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #18 on: August 29, 2017, 12:04:56 PM »
Nice post on the prickly pears.  We have them growing wild here but the deer eat them before they get fully red.  Im going to plant a few pads inside my garden fence based on your post.

spaugh

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #19 on: August 29, 2017, 12:08:56 PM »
Heres another type of opuntia I have growing.  I think its a margarita opuntia or something.  It has little fruits.  Lots of stickers and the fuzzy stickers.  Planted it because of the purple pads are nice to look at.  No idea if anything on it is edible.


spaugh

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2017, 03:44:10 PM »
My cactus blooms on this cactus made some fruits.  They don't have a lot of flavor.  Basically like a super bland dragon fruit.




Bush2Beach

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #21 on: September 05, 2017, 11:27:21 AM »
Thanks for the info Future!

Spaugh, I believe Joe simcox said all cactus fruit are edible though he's a being that is known to try tasting some things others would not touch with a 10 ft pole.

BajaJohn

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Re: Cacti thread
« Reply #22 on: September 09, 2017, 08:33:27 PM »
With the storms assaulting us at the moment I thought I would mention the challenge posed to water sensitive plants. My opuntias stood up well to flooding in storms but other cactus and succulents didn't do so well. After the last storm a year ago I used large fork pushed down near each plant as deep as it would go and slightly lifted up the plant with the idea of getting some air deep in the soil and helping it to dry out. It seemed to work as I didn't lose anything.
Good luck to all of you in Florida. I hope you have gardens to return to.

 

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