Cholla Cactus Buds
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The Cholla cactus can reach heights of 3 meters with branching cylindrical segments covered with spines. Unlike other plants in its family, the Cholla’s spines are covered in an outer papery sheath that give the cactus its characteristic fuzzy appearance. The tender thumb-sized buds of the Cholla cactus are the fresh growth of the plant that bloom each spring. They are ready for harvest just as the blossoms begin to unfurl, revealing a reddish-purple hint on the tips. The interior soft flesh of Cholla buds have a green vegetal flavor similar to asparagus or artichoke with a distinct lemony tang.
Cholla buds develop in early spring.
There are nearly twenty species of genus Opuntia, or common Cholla, in the Cactaceae family, which often hybridize making the identification of this diverse plant complicated. The edible buds of all the species of Cholla cactus may be foraged and prepared in a similar manner. These species include; Snake, Coast, Buckthorn, Staghorn and Pencil Cholla.
Cholla buds are an excellent source of calcium, offering more than a glass of milk in just two tablespoons. Commonly consumed by nursing mothers and those at risk for osteoperosis, their soluble fiber and pectin also help to regulate blood-sugar levels in those affected with diabetes.
Cholla buds may be eaten fresh but are typically dried for long-term storage and then later reconstituted. The buds must first be de-spined either manually or by charring them off in smoldering fire pit. Marinated Cholla buds compliment antipasto platters and add richness to vegetarian dishes and stews. Their tangy juice make piquant drinks, syrups, and jellies. They also take very well to pickling.
The O’odham people of the Sonoran Desert still harvest the wild Cholla buds each spring. Their predecessors the Hohokam also had a diet sustained by the Cholla buds. Dead Cholla cactus leave behind beautifully patterned “skeletons” that are often made into canes, souvenirs and other pieces of art.
Cholla cactus are found in well drained rocky soils of the American Southwest. While some species have adapted to colder high desert temperatures, the best edible Cholla buds grow in the hotter climates of low plant desert communities.
Recipes that include Cholla Cactus Buds. One is easiest, three is harder.
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