Yes, you can eat cactus! Though it is not common to most people in the United States, edible cactus is a tried and true source of nutrition for people living in arid climates.
Edible cacti and succulents are low maintenance, hardy, nutritious, and packed with health benefits.
For any gardener or landscaper interested in Xeriscape, Native Landscaping, or dealing with harsh soils or other conditions, edible cacti and succulents have the double benefit of meeting environmental needs and food production.
Because cacti are specifically adapted to life in the desert, they make a valuable addition to any Mojave Desert orchard or garden. Las Vegas Gardeners can choose from a variety of tasty cacti for their landscaping.
Nopal or Prickly Pear (Opuntia)
Native to Mexico, both the pads, know as "Nopales" or "Nopelitos", and the fruit, known as "Tuna" or "Prickly Pear", are edible. This cactus is highly nutritious, full of health benefits, and has a wide range of culinary uses.
Native to the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. A close cousin to the Nopal, these cacti are differentiated by their cylindrical segments. The fruit and flesh are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
Native to the Sonora Desert of Arizona and Mexico. This cactus can live hundreds of years and grow 40ft tall! Saguaros where very important to Native Groups, who used every part of the cactus, even using their inner woody ribs for constructing homes and goods. The fruit can be eaten fresh or made into drinks or preserves. Native peoples also ground the seeds into flour and peanut butter like paste.
Sedum is a large and well distributed genus. The leaves of most species are edible, except Sedum rubrotinctum, though there is varying toxicity reported with other species. Commonly used in salads or as an herb.
Sea Beans (Salicornia)
Known regionally by many different names, such as "Picklegrass" or "Sea Asparagus" or "Glass Wort". Native to North America, South Asia, South Africa, and Europe. Can be eaten cooked or raw, it is also often pickled. High in salt, it is the source of the commercial product "vegetable salt".
Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, but is now cultivated all over the world for many uses, and has become naturalized in several regions. Aloe is commonly used for all manor of skin conditions and as a dietary supplement. The outer skin and inner gel are edible, and have many health benefits, but the middle "latex" layer is not considered safe to eat.
The famed source of Tequila and Mezcal. Native to the Mexico and the Southern United States. Agave thrives in hot and dry environments. All parts of the plant are edible and can be prepared in different ways. Agave has a long history of human use.
Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Barrel cactus is native to the deserts of Southwestern United States, and some of the largest specimens are found in the Mojave Desert. They are easy to cultivate and are a relatively fast growing cactus. The fruit looks resembles mini pineapples and have no spines, making for an easier harvest. The flesh is eaten by native people as a source of water.
Native to the Americas and Caribbean. This genus includes many commonly seen species such as the Joshua Tree. Most parts of the yucca plant are edible, but the parts (like stems) of some species will need to be prepared first. Some varieties of yucca even produce edible fruit.
This is a very common plant, usually seen as a weed by most gardeners. All parts of the plant can be eaten, raw or cooked. The leaves, stems, and buds make a great leafy green substitute, and the seeds are similar to flax seed. These plants are packed with good nutrients.
Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus)
This cactus is interesting in that it grows as a vine, or sprawling, with arial roots. Their highly fragrant flowers only bloom for one night. The fruit is not only beautiful, but delicious and packed with nutrients.
This genus contains numerous species of column or tree like cacti, native to regions in Southwest United States, Mexico, and Central America. The fruit is very similar to dragon fruit, and has been highly prized by many peoples.
Koubo (Cereus peruvianus)
Also called "Peruvian Apple", this cactus is native to the Americas, but has found recent success as a commercial crop in Israel, and is even becoming a popular import in Europe. The fruit is similar to Dragon Fruit and Pitaya.