Opuntias and Desert Survival?

Tortoise Eating Opuntia
Tortoise Eating Opuntia

Eating Prickly Pears

Opuntia species are ubiquitous in The West, occurring with great frequency in some areas. Prickly pears were used as food, medicines, and perhaps as awls by Native Americans and can still serve as food, either the pads or the fruits. These videos show how wild prickly pears can be prepared for consumption. One of the major challenges is to remove the spines, this is generally done with fire. (Note: the safety of Opuntias is untested by the authors of this webpage).  

Campers ready for a bit of the Old West can pick Opuntia pads or fruit and prepare them around a campfire, adding authenticity to a trip away from home. It is less clear how prickly pears can serve as survival food, but a video is included here to illustrate such an idea. Certainly, nopales are consumed throughout Mexico and Central America as a vegetable, but those plants are completely different from the wild opuntia species of the Southwest. For one thing, the nopales cladodes are nearly spineless at a young age, and whatever spines there are may be removed by expert scraping with a knife. Also, the young pads are flexible and not woody or hard. 

Nonetheless, the fruits of native prickly pears are valued by some people for their exotic nature and sweetness. Opuntia syrups and jams make excellent additions to other dishes. But, it is important to know which prickly pear to consume. For instance, the fruits of O. lindheimeri are sometimes noxious, whereas the fruits of O. engelmannii are sweet. Also, old fruits from the past season may be hard and lack juice even while they are plump and red and look delicious. 


How To Campfire Cook Cactus Pads

(embedded from TouTube)


How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Fruit

(embedded from YouTube)


Desert Survival with Opuntias (?)

(embeddled from YouTube)