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Does anyone know if there are poisonous cactii that if I tried to harvest water from their insides I would get sick? Can you eat prickley pear ones?
 

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performing monkey
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No, you generally can NOT drink directly from a cactus in the wild as they are filled with an alkaloid slime that will burn your guts & throat out.

Edible cactus is also known as nopales (no-PAH-les), nopalitos or cactus pads. This vegetable is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia. Its popularity is increasing in the United States where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets and farmer's markets.

Edible cactus is characterized by its fleshy oval leaves (typically called pads or paddles) of the nopal (prickly pear) cactus.

With a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit sticky (not unlike okra) when cooked, edible cactus tastes similar to a very tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper.

What is the difference between cactus leaves (edible cactus or nopales) and the prickly pear? As part of the cactus plant, the prickly pear (or cactus fig) is a fruit that is 2 to 4 inches long and shaped like an avocado. Its skin is coarse and thick, not unlike an avocados and it ranges in color from yellow or orange to magenta or red. Tubercles with small prickly spines can be found on the prickly pear's skin. This fruit's flesh, which ranges in color also from yellow to dark red, is sweet and juicy with crunchy seeds throughout.

The prickly pear can be de-skinned & diced like pineapple and used as a topping on yogurt or cereal or blended into a smoothie.

When buying edible cactus, choose small, firm, pale green cacti with no wrinkling. Be sure to pick cacti that are not limp or dry. Very small paddles may require more cleaning because their larger proportion of prickers and eyes. Edible cactus can be refrigerated for more than a week if wrapped tightly in plastic.

Edible cactus is also sold as:
Canned - pickled or packed in water
Acitrones - candied nopales, packed in sugar syrup and available in cans or jars.

The edible cactus you buy should be de-spined though you will need to trim the "eyes," to remove any remaining prickers, and outside edges of the pads with a vegetable peeler. Trim off any dry or fibrous areas and always rinse thoroughly to remove any stray prickers and sticky fluid.

Edible cactus can be eaten raw or cooked. To cook, steam over boiling water for just a few minutes (if cooked too long they will lose their crunchy texture). Then slice and eat! Cactus can also be cut and sautéed in butter or oil for a few minutes. Steamed cactus can be added to scrambled eggs and omelets, or diced fresh and added to tortillas. They can also be substituted for any cooked green in most dishes. The pads can be served as a side dish or cooled and used in salads. They taste especially good with Mexican recipes that include tomatoes, hot peppers and fresh corn.
 

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The fruit of the prickly pear cactus, if I remember is the red flowers that grow on them... they have many many many spines on them so picking them with heavy gloves is a must. If I remember correctly also, you should burn the spines off of them... that way you can eat them. Like I said if I remember correctly...
As well, somewhere I remember back when I use to live in the desert southwest some one telling me that you can open the top of a barrel cactus and take out the meat of it and eat it... I never tried it so I honestly dont remember... I havent been there in over 35 yrs. I just got into edible wild plants in the last 14 yrs and have been learning about them. They relate to what is edible around here in my general area.

http://www.wikihow.com/How-to-Eat-Prickly-Pear-Cactus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_Cactus
 

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The edible cacti are all flat-leaved Opuntia species (Platoputia). Their "leaves" (actually stems, the spines are modified leaves) can be eaten like vegetables. Do not lop off the top of any barrel-type cactus and expect anything edible. Like Blob wrote, it will make you so sick you'll wish you were dead. And you've killed a cactus that took decades if not centuries to grow, for nothing. Opuntia species are much faster growing, and don't accumulate the alkaloids that the barrel-type do. If you cut off a few pads to eat, the plant can grow them back within a few years. If you take a pad off and bury it cut side down about 2/3rds and water it a little, it will grow into a new plant. All Opuntia pads can be eaten, but some are more palatable than others. Nopales are specifically grown as food, and generally have fewer spines than "wild" Opuntia species, like Beavertails.

Do not handle any of the cacti with tiny spines (glochids) with gloves. You will not notice at first, but those tiny bastards will work their way through even the best leather gloves and ruin them. Either handle them with tongs, or roll a newspaper page into a rope and loop around the pad to handle it. In a pinch, poke the pad with a stick and singe the spines off the pad over an open flame. Boiling the pad also swells the spines and makes them disintegrate. Always stand upwind when you handle these spined pads, as the spines will break off with handling and blow in the wind. If you get them in your face you will once again, wish you were dead.

If you do get the spines in your skin, wash with very hot soapy water, as hot as you can stand it. The spines will swell and eventually wash out. The affected area will be irritated for a few days. If you get them in your face, eyes, or mouth, get professional medical attention as soon as you can. Alternatively, you can take a piece of duct tape (love that stuff) and apply to the spines and pull them off, but this is fairly painful to do. But still better than the damn spines. If you get them in your clothing, change and wash in hot water as soon as possible. Everything that touches your clothing before washing, like the clothes basket, must be washed to be clear of the spines. They get everywhere and are hard to get rid of.

Now you may eat the fruit of almost any cacti, but they vary greatly in their palatability. The most tasty are those of prickly pear and saguaro, but they are an acquired taste. They are generally stewed and made into jam or then dried like fruit leather. They can also be fermented and made into an alcoholic beverage!

Nopales taste like tart green beans. I love them best fried with onions and a little meat and eaten with tortillas. Good ones are hard to find in ****** restaurants, but worth the search.
 

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The wanderer
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dirtgrrl is exactly right. We ate prickly pear and beavertail cactuses last winter when we were camping in the wilderness outside Vegas. They taste like tasteless pineapple, with the texture of mangoes. Sort of bland, I guess you'd say. We ate the cactus itself, not the flowers or fruits.

The glochids (fine spines) are terrible if you even so much as brush the pad of the cactus. It's hard to track them all down and remove them from your hand, they're so fine.

There is a lot of edible food in the desert, but I wouldn't count on drinking water from the cactus. Water from the big ones (Saguaro) will give you diahrea if you drink too much of the liquid from it, and you don't want that problem when dehdration is already a likelihood. You're better off learning how to find water in the desert by knowing where to look, such as recognizing signs of where water is near the surface. There's a lot more water in deserts like the mojave than you realize. The 'dryness' has more to do with soil structure and drainage than the amount of rainfall. Yes, they get a lot less than 'back east', but the sandy soil creates what appears to be a waterless environment.
 

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Texan
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Anyone know how they taste?
IMO, nopales, when fried taste similar to Okra, slimy and all. They are good cooked in pinto beans, cooked in scrambled eggs and even pickled.

It is important to pick when they are young, as they age they get fiberous and unless you have teeth and a stomach like a cow, they become non edible. As far as the Prickly Pear Fruit, I dont much care for it, but it is being labeled a "Miracle Fruit" for its nutritional and medicinal qualities. My mother raves about the juice:scratch.
 

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Texan
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dirtgrrl is exactly right. We ate prickly pear and beavertail cactuses last winter when we were camping in the wilderness outside Vegas. They taste like tasteless pineapple, with the texture of mangoes. Sort of bland, I guess you'd say. We ate the cactus itself, not the flowers or fruits.

The glochids (fine spines) are terrible if you even so much as brush the pad of the cactus. It's hard to track them all down and remove them from your hand, they're so fine.

There is a lot of edible food in the desert, but I wouldn't count on drinking water from the cactus. Water from the big ones (Saguaro) will give you diahrea if you drink too much of the liquid from it, and you don't want that problem when dehdration is already a likelihood. You're better off learning how to find water in the desert by knowing where to look, such as recognizing signs of where water is near the surface. There's a lot more water in deserts like the mojave than you realize. The 'dryness' has more to do with soil structure and drainage than the amount of rainfall. Yes, they get a lot less than 'back east', but the sandy soil creates what appears to be a waterless environment.
We must have a different verity here, Sue. Nopales are quite a popular grocery store item in some of the local stores where hispanics shop and they have a quite distincive taste. I guess their may be a big difference in the farm raised and wild verities.

I'm going to have to check this out and will get back to you on it.

Oh, by the way, Hows the weather this week?
 

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IMO, nopales, when fried taste similar to Okra, slimy and all. They are good cooked in pinto beans, cooked in scrambled eggs and even pickled.

It is important to pick when they are young, as they age they get fiberous and unless you have teeth and a stomach like a cow, they become non edible. As far as the Prickly Pear Fruit, I dont much care for it, but it is being labeled a "Miracle Fruit" for its nutritional and medicinal qualities. My mother raves about the juice:scratch.
I bought 2 at the local Mexican market last Friday night just because I was curious. I asked the lady how to prepare them and she said cut in small peices, cook in just a little water and mix with tomatoes, chopped onion and cilantro. I washed, cut and cooked. I ate a piece. It was kind of bland, needed salt and a minute or so later I got a blinding headache. I think if I had drained them, rolled them in meal and fried them it would have been better, but because of the strange headache, I threw them out.
 
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