Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
In Arizona, did you know you can actually eat the fruit off the top of a Barrel Cactus if you were stranded in the desert? Today we did a little mountain bike forage and found a few Barrel Cactus fruit in season along our Phoenix mountain bike trails.
While my daughter wisely used pliers to play it safe picking fruit off a cactus, I actually just plucked them off with my bare hands! The ends appear sharp, they are not. You do have to watch for the rest of the spines and glochids on the cactus. The fruit of the Barrel Cactus has no thorns and may be forgiving, but the plant as a whole is not. It has very sharp spines so watch out! Otherwise, it is as easy as plucking meatballs off an appetizer tray! So this is an easily accessible life-saving snack if ever lost in the desert.
WARNING: I poked my finger pretty badly because I was distracted from making the Instagram video I linked below. I managed to stab my finger on one of the very sharp spine hooks that rightfully protects the magical yellow-orange fruit. So please do be careful when you are doing this with your kids. Definitely don't be distracted by making educational videos on Herbal Medicine!
When the Barrel Cactus flowers are in bloom they are also edible. I love how the flowers form a beautiful yellow or orange halo effect around the head of the cactus making it look angelic despite its somewhat evil protective spikes.
In Herbal Medicine and Naturopathy we always consider the "energy" or "temperature" of the herb. Cactus fruit and leaves are generally very cooling. If you have to survive in the desert you can safely eat this fruit to survive, a few fresh cholla buds, prickly pear fruit, and prickly pear paddles. Most species of succulents and cactus are cooling to apply to sunburns.
Aloe vera is not the only plant that helps burns, prickly pear and other cactus are also very soothing. When you cut the Barrel Cactus fruit open the inside is very similar to the slippery consistency of aloe vera gel. Cactus and succulents generally have "demulcent" and "mucilaginous" properties which is why we use them in Naturopathy to heal the skin and digestive tract. One of my favorite herbs for IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is Aloe vera.
Cactus overall is a nutritive herb that is rich in flavonoids, especially quercetin which helps seasonal allergies.
Cactus fruit is cooling and hydrating which makes it a perfect treat during seasonal allergies with everyone feeling dry and burning with their allergy symptoms. If you have allergies be sure to check out my blog on how to use "Stinging Nettles for Allergies." I love Nettles because they also help with menopausal hot flashes and female hair loss!
The herb is mucilaginous and therefore healing to the skin. When I cut open the fruit it has the same slimy texture of aloe vera used to heal sunburns.
I like to mountain bike forage so I can ensure I am not gathering too many fruits off one plant. The Barrel Cactus has to have a LOT of rain in order to grow flowers and fruit which we have had this season. Every cactus does not make fruit each year. I don’t want to be greedy and take away from our animals that rely on this important desert food.
Many chipmunks, squirrels, and birds rely on this rare desert fruit for their nutrition. So we always want to be responsible and kind to our wildlife when foraging. We make sure to take just a few fruits off each plant. We like to cover more ground foraging so we don't just strip one plant of all of its fruit. Going out foraging on mountain bikes makes it easy and fun to do. Be sure to throw some plyers in your backpack just in case!
Also in nature, the seeds would be dispersed via elimination by an animal as it travels, so we are saving the seeds inside the fruit and setting them aside for when it warms up a little bit more.
Once the weather warms up, we will then sprout the seeds and deliver them back to the desert in hopes of growing some new cactus after a harsh winter killed off a lot of our Saguaro cactus. This has been extremely sad because Saguaro cactus are one of the hardiest plants in the desert and yet still the latest victims of extreme weather and climate change.
In my neighborhood, we have suddenly lost dozens of giant Saguaro that were hundreds of years old. It is very sad that the cactus can defy the harshest conditions yet still cannot persevere in such extreme conditions as of late.
The best we can do is work now to start replanting cactus in our trails for the health of our environment and furry friends. Did you know Barrel Cactus only grow about an inch per year so it will take 10 years to grow just a tiny 10-inch Barrel Cactus?
The common 2 foot and 3 foot ones we see are 20 and 30 years old!
Today I am making a Barrel Cactus Fruit Strawberry Smoothie and trying a Barrel Cactus Salsa Recipe check out my Instagram page for the video to see how just how cool the fruit looks on the inside! I think they would also be delicious grilled. The spicy fruit would be tasty if brushed with oil and a little apricot jelly and grilled on the barbeque.
Barrel Cactus fruit taste like a spicy starfruit or a cross between a pear and a mild jalapeno. Let me know what you think if you end up trying it!
Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a Female Hormone Expert in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for Menopause, Thyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, Perimenopause, Autoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology, Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema, and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 23 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones, she presents to women the best-integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 28 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan (not Medicaid) and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones, and Naturopathy!