Cactus can be divided into two groups: cholla cactus (inedible, or at least unpalatable) and edible prickly pears. Both the fruit (known as Indian figs or prickly pears) and the pads of the cactus can be consumed. This website suggests Indian figs, nopales, prickly pears, or beaver tail cacti. The link also has instructions about how to prepare each part of the cactus, including several recipes.
People can eat Indian figs, nopales, prickly pears, or beaver tail cacti. They’re members of the genus Opuntia, which has more than 200 species. These can be divided into two broad groups – the inedible (cholla cacti) and the edible prickly pears (have flat pads that look like beavers’ tails). Prickly pear can grow as far east as Massachusetts, but the best are in the Southwest and you can see them growing along the highways.
The fruit – called Indian figs or prickly pears, is the lemon-or plum-shaped fruit of the Opuntia cacti and it ripens in late September. When they are mature, the outside is a bright red and the inside is a fiery orange. These make good syrups, perserves and jellies.
The most popular way to enjoy the fruit is fresh off the vine (after de-bristling) and chilled as a refreshing treat on a hot day. You can cut off the ends and split the pear lengthwise. Next scoop out the jelly insides with a spoon, or peel the fig and eat it whole (you can throw away the small seeds or eat them).
The green pads of the cactus (the stems) can be harvested year around. It’s best to choose small tender pads. Once they have been de-bristled, they can be used in a number of recipes. You can also eat them raw on their own or in salads. They can be fried, boiled or used in soups or sauces. When cooked, they have a very unique flavor.
Edible types of cacti include prickly pear and cacti of the Hylocereus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, and Harrisia genuses. The Hylocereus cactus, found in southeast Asia, produces dragonfruit. The Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus, known as the Bilberry Cactus, grows in Mexico and produces edible dark-purple berries. The Harrisia cactus produces fruits, called “prickly apples”, in Florida.
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