By Sandra Nomoto
Cactus: The Precious, Parched Plant
Known as desert plants that grow in dry, sandy, and rocky soil, one-third of cactus (cactaceae) species and their desert ecosystems are threatened by climate change. Cacti are now considered more endangered than birds and mammals.
In addition to hot U.S. states and Mexico, cacti also grow in the prairies, on hillsides and mountains, in rainforests, and in cold areas like Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica. There are over 2000 species of cacti ranging in shapes and size, from small cushions to plants upwards of 19m (63 ft).
Cacti may grow in rows and patterns, and bloom flowers of varying colours, but only for a few days. Birds are known to live in the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), while animals call others home. Cacti are eaten by animals, insects, and birds alike.
While many people grow and sell cacti, it is illegal in some places to dig them up. In Arizona, poachers roam the desert looking to steal the most rare and endangered species to sell on the black market.
Benefits of Nopal Cactus
The young, flat pads of the Nopal cactus (Opuntia) or prickly pear, are edible, but the fruit that grows on top of the leaves is most commonly eaten raw or cooked, so long as the skin is peeled completely to remove the spine.
Nopal is known to be high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, protects nerve cells, regulates blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, improves digestion, boosts the immune system, strengthens bones and teeth, and eliminates hangovers.
Traditional medicine practitioners have used it to treat enlarged prostates, glaucoma, fatigue, liver conditions, ulcers, diabetes, and other wounds. It may also have anti-cancer properties.
While the nopal is generally safe to eat as a food or supplement, potential side effects include headaches, nausea, bloating, or diarrhea.
Most cactus fruit is safe to eat, but not all have a pleasant taste. Although there may be water in cacti, it is very acidic and contains toxic alkaloids that will induce illness and dehydration.
Other applications of cacti
Cacti experienced a trend surge a few years ago, with images seen on candles, in fashion, and furniture.
They grow slowly (50 to 200 years), require little water, produce oxygen at night, and adapt easily to adversity or change, which makes them very easy to care for at home.
Cacti containing the psychedelic compound mescaline include peyote (Lophophora williamsii), grafted peyote (peyote grafted onto Eriocereus), San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi), Lophophora decipiens peyote, and Bolivian torch (Echinopsis lageniformis). Legality of possession and use varies according to country.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.