Everybody knows that cactuses are prickly. However, the fact that they are also an important source of food is far less popular.
Stems, fruits and seeds of cactus have been have been traditionally used as food for centuries. They are eaten raw or precessed: baked, fried, boiled. People make jams, jellied and various sorts of beverages of cactus. The stems of certain cacti are perfect for making candied fruits. Fresh young shoots of Opuntia are often added to salads (without spines, or course). Hot dishes with cactuses taste particularly delicious.
Still many of us may think that cactus food is something that is pretty much exotic. But in fact, everyone can try cactuses, even those which we have on our windowsills. You should know that there are no poisonous cacti and all their parts (but for spines, of course) are eatable. Some cactus types contain drug substances and give you hallucinations, so you should be careful and don’t take in too much – however, in most cases it’s not possible since these cacti don’t usually taste very good. You should also bear in mind that home plants are more or less exposed to chemical treatment such as biocide and artificial fertilizers) and, therefore, you need to rinse the parts which you are going to try. Anyways, keep your small kids away from your prickly friends – they should not be treated to such meals.
So one can chew a piece of any cactus kept at home. But in most cases you will be disappointed – most of them will taste grassy. Fruits of most indoor cacti are simply too small or not fleshy. The only exception may be young large segments of prickly pear cactus with few spines. However, you can always try berries that adorn many species of mamillaria (also known as nipple-cactus): they are juicy, sour, and have no aroma. Red juice of these berries is a good food dye. Many mamillaria fruits are tied without pollination, so it’s not a problem to grow them at home. With some effort it’s not very difficult to get a more visible “crop”. Having pollinated two flowers of different nipple-cacti you will soon get pear-shaped pink ribbed fruit with the size of a small plum. They are juicy, fleshy, and edible. As for their taste, they are just tasteless, but it’s worth experimanting.
You can get even more interesting result by cross-pollination hybrid varieties of crab-cacti (Epiphyllum). Don’t worry if you have just one blooming cactus. It’s not necessary to have both plants in your house for cross-pollination – ask neighbors, friends or colleges whether them have a “partner” for your prickly friend. Just pluck its flower – be careful not to damage it, as the excreting juice will make the pollen useless. The pollen can be also collected with a dry or slightly damp sponge or soft brush, so you don’t even need to pluck a flower. The collected pollen doesn’t lose its properties for several days if kept in the fridge.
The pollen is applied by drawing the flower’s anthers or brush with the pollen across the snout of the other flower. Cactus fruit is formed in the bottom of the flower tube. If all goes well, the base of the flower begins tto grow and thicken. In about a it produces a pink fruit with the shape of a plum and shiny skin. The ripe fruit is soft and easily detached from the stem. Cut it lengthwise and eat its flesh with seeds with a spoon. There are many enthusiastic descriptions of its taste and aroma, but it is better not to read them in advance in order not to be slightly disappointed afterwords.
However, the most spectacular fruit, which you can grow in home conditions is the berry of selenicereus (aka night queen flower). The main difficulty in obtaining it is to find two simultaneously blooming plants. As a reward, you will get a heavy orange-sized fruit densely covered with spines and smal hairs. This “berry” is really tasty and flavorous. Cut it into pieces and eat its flesh with a spoon. Bon apetit!
Image source: www.flickr.com/photos/octopushat/3205154762/