Can you eat the inside of a cactus?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat the inside of a cactus?” and discuss Is cactus food safe to eat?

Can you eat the inside of a cactus?

Yes, you can eat the inside of a cactus. However, not all cacti are edible. Although cactus fruits are a superior option, some species of cacti are edible. 

One example is Cactus (Opuntia ficus indica), originated in Mesoamerican civilizations particularly to the Aztec culture. Tender cactus leaves, flowers and fruits can be eaten as a vegetable in many parts of the world. 

It contains highly important nutrients, such as betalains, amino compounds including taurine, minerals, vitamins, as well as antioxidants (1).

Is Cactus Safe to eat? 

Some varieties of cacti are safe to eat, while others are not. Cacti from the specie Opuntia are generally safe to eat and present health benefits.

In addition to providing much-needed moisture, the leaves may be roasted and used in a number of ways. Different parts of cacti are used as vegetables and also for salad purposes. The young tender spring vegetative growth of wild cactus (nopalitos) has been extensively consumed by Hispanics during Lent (2).

What are the benefits of eating Cactus? 

The benefits of eating cactus leaves are related to its phytosterols, which have anti-inflammatory properties.  

They have also been used as traditional medicine due to their properties, such as to reduce glucose absorption. 

It has been also reported that the administration of extracts from cactus leaves had a significant effect on reducing the levels of LDL cholesterol with no effect on HDL-cholesterol concentrations (1).

Overall, the effects of cactus are generally attributed to the high fiber content of the cladodes, although other bioactive constituents (such as beta-carotenes, vitamin E and beta-sitosterol) may be involved.

What are the risks of eating Cactus?

Eating cactus leaves has been reported to cause mild diarrhea, nausea, increased stool volume, increased stool frequency, abdominal fullness, and headache (3).

What are the nutrients in Cactus leaves?

Cactus stems, as other vegetables, have low protein and fat contents. The chemical composition changes as the plant ages. The composition of a one-year-old Opuntia stem is given below (7):

Fiber 12.0

The minerals and vitamins of 100 g of cactus leaves are given below (1):

Calcium 5.64 – 17.95
Calcium oxalate 11.5 – 14.3
Magnesium 8.80
Sodium 0.3-0.4
Potassium 2.35 – 55.20
Iron 0.09
Phosphorus 0.5 – 2.59
Zinc 0.08
Manganese 0.19 – 0.29
Vitamin C 7-22
Vitamin B1 0.14
Vitamin B2 0.60
Vitamin B3 0.46

In addition, cactus leaves contain amino acids. The major amino acid detected is glutamine, followed by leucine, lysine, valine, arginine, phenylalanine and isoleucine.

The crude fiber is higher than in most other vegetables. Fiber aids in digestion by increasing bulk stool, may help lowering the levels of cholesterol, and slows down the absorption of sugar, being therefore beneficial to control diabetes (8). 

A diet rich in fibers is related to reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases and many types of cancers.

What other cactus plant is edible? 

Besides Opuntia, Saguaro is a common cactus plant that is edible.

Saguaro belongs to the Cactaceae family. It is a columnar cactus and is still harvested for its fruits. The seeds of saguaro are a good source of protein and oil.

From jellies and syrups to ceremonial wines, tribal members of Arizona’s Tohono O’odham ethnic group have traditionally utilized the fruit. Fifty to one-hundred percent of the fruit is edible; it is usually sweet, and the sugary rich pulp contains many small seeds. 

The fruit can be consumed fresh, dried or preserved. The seeds are parched and ground into paste. According to studies, air-dried saguaro fruit contained 13.1% protein, 9.9% fat, 13.4% fiber and 6.9% ash, while the seeds contained 15.8% protein, 21.4% fat, 28.4% fiber and 2.3% ash (6).

Can you ingest the water of cactus?

Yes, according to studies, the juice extracted from the cactus leaves are nutritious and may be consumed. Cactus leaves are rich in water, carbohydrates, protein, vitamin C and b-carotene as a precursor of vitamin A. 

Cladodes contain bioactive compounds which have a considerable health benefit. Extracted compounds from cladodes show a number of pharmacological actions including antioxidant capacity, antiviral properties, antispermatogenic properties, analgesic, antiulcerogenic, hypoglycemic, antidiabetic, antihyperlipidemic, cholesterol lowering, and anti-atherogenic effects (5).


In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat the inside of a cactus?” and we discussed Is cactus food safe to eat?


  1. Kamble, S. M., et al. Nutritional importance of cactus: A review. Trends Biosci, 2017, 10, 7668-7677.
  2. Shetty, Anoop A., M. K. Rana, and S. P. Preetham. Cactus: a medicinal food. J food sci technol, 2012, 49, 530-536.
  3. Rodriguez-Fragoso, Lourdes, et al. Risks and benefits of commonly used herbal medicines in Mexico. Toxicol appl pharmacol, 2008, 227, 125-135.  
  4. Torres-Salcido, Gerardo, Alejandro Ramos-Chávez, and Álvaro Urreta-Fernández. Bio-cultural anchorage of the prickly pear cactus in Tlalnepantla (Morelos), Mexico. Cult Hist Digit J, 2016, 5, e008-e008.
  5. Boutakiout, A., et al. Effects of different harvesting seasons on antioxidant activity and phenolic content of prickly pear cladode juice. J Saudi Soc Agric Sci, 2018, 17, 471-480.
  6. Ariffin, Radziah Bt. PROXIMATE ANALYSIS OF SONORAN DESERT FOOD PLANTS. The University of Arizona, 1984.
  7. Sáenz-Hernández, Carmen, Joel Corrales-García, and Gildardo Aquino-Pérez. Nopalitos, mucilage, fiber, and cochineal. Cacti: Biology and uses. 2002.  
  8. Remley, D. Fiber Fills You Up, Fills your Wallet, and Fuels Your Health. Ohio State University Extension