Have you ever eaten a cactus?
Maybe you have and you just don’t know it. A pineapple, for example, is considered a succulent. How’s that for food for thought?
Comment below if you knew that fact already!
Not only are edible succulents interesting to look at but they come with an amazing array of health benefits for your body.
This is not the point where you go out and start chewing on the first succulent you see though. Like most living organisms, they have an inherent defense mechanism. If it’s not sharp thorns on the outside to keep off predators like cacti, they could produce poisonous alkaloids that can completely mess up your insides.
We don’t want that either…
We have made it easier to sort out the good from the ugly with a list of 6 edible succulents that you can find at your local farmers’ market, or even order online!
Opuntia Ficus-Indica—Prickly Pear
If you are a true connoisseur of authentic Mexican cuisine, at one point you should have had the Prickly Pear in a breakfast burrito or Sopa de Nopal (Nopale Soup). Nopales happen to be the Spanish vegetable name for the flat, oval leaves or pads of the Prickly Pear cactus. This Native American succulent also produces an edible fruit called Tunas that can be found in local Mexican markets.
Having been a staple food for hundreds of years, Nopales are star attractions when they are included raw in salads or salsa’s, cooked with black pepper in casseroles or grilled with garlic butter for tacos. It has a mild, neutral flavor and the taste is similar to that of green beans or asparagus. Like Okra, they also produce a sticky substance when cooked, which should be rinsed off before eating.
Tunas, the edible fruit, grows on the tips of the leaves and it is ripe when the fruit is deep red in color and soft to touch. Tunas can be peeled, sliced and juiced or mixed in a fruit salad.
The Prickly Pear has been a delicacy for ages, not only for its versatility but also for its health benefits. The leaves are packed with fiber while the fruit is high in calcium and low in calories.
Can’t find spinach in the market? Why not go for a succulent substitute such as Purslane?
Portulaca Oleracea, or Purslane, is a fast growing, weed-like succulent that has been found to inhabit Northern Africa, Middle East, Southern Europe, India and Australasia. It therefore has a lot of different names depending on which country you are in.
What makes this succulent exotic is that the whole plant, (that is the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds), are all edible and have been used in recipes since the Middle Ages!
Purslane has smooth, red stems that sprout out small, oval shaped green leaves and bright yellow flowers. Young stems and leaves make a healthy addition to salads when eaten raw, but should be picked before flowers start to bloom. The leaves are crunchy and have a tangy, lemon-pepper flavor, creating an appetizing Greek Salad when combined with spring onion, garlic, feta cheese, tomato, oregano and olive oil.
A great alternative to kale or spinach, the stems and leaves can be steamed or sautéed, topped with cream, and served accompanying a fish or duck dish. The seeds have been known to feature in a variety of seed cakes.
Purslane has been considered in the culinary and medical world to be a nutritional powerhouse that helps in weight management, organ detoxification and boosts the overall health of your immune system. A vegan’s dream, Purslane is known to have more Omega-3 Fatty Acids than most green vegetables and some fish. It is also a great source of Vitamins A and C, promoting the growth and rejuvenation of healthy skin and nails.
A word of caution though, just like too much of something is poisonous, eating Purslane frequently can be harmful because of the Oxalic acid found in the plant. Although steaming and cooking the succulent reduces the acidity by half, it’s advisable not to eat it too often.
For any recipe, do not forget to garnish your plate with the bright yellow edible flower.
Indigenous to the Americas, the Hylocereus is an exceptional delicacy growing from a cactus that is now cultivated throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions including Southeast Asia, Australia and the Caribbean.
The cactus is colloquially known as Queen of the Night because the flowers only bloom at night and give off a fruity fragrance. Growing on vine-like stems, this succulent produces bright pink fruits with a leathery cover and scaly spikes, resembling a dragon’s head. It acquired the official name Dragon Fruit in 1993 and also goes by Pitaya and Strawberry Pear.
The fruit has a white edible pulp with tiny black seeds and has a mild flavor that can be compared to a bland, slightly sweet, kiwi or melon. The pulp can be scooped up and eaten raw, blended to enhance juices and cocktails like the ‘Dragotini’.
The Dragon Fruit is rich in antioxidants that help prevent inflammatory conditions like gout and other forms of arthritis. It also boosts low iron levels, is low in calories and aids in weight management.
Creeping up next on the list of succulents on a plate is Sedum, also known as Stonecrop. This ever-forgiving succulent has water storing, edible leaves and grows rampantly on walls, as ground cover and in-between rocks.
Sedum has its origins in the Northern Hemisphere, but has also appeared in Africa and South America. There are about 600 species, most of which are safe to eat.
The leaves of the Stonecrop have a mild, slightly bitter, peppery taste and crispy texture, making them popular in soups, tossed in a salad or with your favorite stir-fry. The leaves can be eaten raw, steamed or fried. Cooking the leaves helps reduce the tartness in the taste.
Just like too much of something is poisonous, Sedum should be consumed in moderation as heavy consumption has been reported to cause stomach upsets.
The health benefits of munching a Sedum salad include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It has been identified to reduce coughing and it is recommended as a laxative.
Carnegiea Gigantean—Saguaro Cactus
Standing tall like a security guard against the harsh Sonoran Desert is the Saguaro cactus. Famous for its appearance in Mexican and Western cowboy movies, this tree-like succulent produces white blossoms only at night. These blossoms are the official state wildflower of Arizona, and tend to release a scent like over-ripe melons.
Having the ability to grow to over 40 feet (12.2 meters) tall, the Saguaro cactus lives past 150 years old and develops branches that look like arms waving from the main stalk. Once a year at around June, the Saguaro cactus produces a ruby-colored edible fruit on the crown of the arms and stem. The fruits are packed full of pulp and seeds and require a special stick, (Saguaro arm) to knock them off the succulent.
Saguaro fruits have a faint taste of sweet strawberries and can be eaten fresh or baked into cakes. The fruit pulp is commonly used to create juices, jams, syrups and fermented wine. There are about 2000 seeds inside each fruit that have a nutty taste and are crushed to create baking flour or a peanut butter-like paste used in cooking.
The Saguaro fruit is high in vitamin B12 which helps in the growth of probiotic bacteria. It is also rich in fiber which helps with digestion.
Salicornia Europaea—Sea Beans
Have you seen ‘Sea Beans’ or ‘Sea Asparagus’ on a fancy menu? My friend, that is not a vegetable but a succulent! Salicornia europaea is a salt tolerant succulent that grows wildly among mangroves, in salt marshes and on certain beaches.
Notoriously legendary on current culinary trends, this succulent has been plated up under the names Sea Beans, Sea Asparagus, Samphire Greens, Beach Asparagus, Glasswort, Pickle Weed and Sea Pickle. This edible plant has small, chubby, finger-like stems that look like green asparagus and is best harvested between June and August.
Crunchy, yet extremely salty! Sea Beans taste their best when they are boiled in water for about 90 seconds and immediately shocked in a bowl of ice water to reduce the salt and retain their color and crispness. It is a great accompaniment to fish dishes and have also found their way in potato salads and Chinese stir-fry’s.
Sea Beans are a great protein supplement and contain almost the same amount of protein as spinach! Being rich in iron and vitamin C, this succulent helps increase your iron uptake while the high iodine levels help guard against thyroid disorders.
The next time you are having a dinner party, why not introduce your guests to some succulents on a plate?
Test out different taste buds with a Purslane salad or Prickly Pear soup as an appetizer. Go into the main course with sautéed Stonecrop or Sea Beans and finish off with a Saguaro and Dragon fruit salad.
Not only do these exotic plants have health benefits, but you will be the culinary genius serving up succulent succulents!
Have any recipes you’ve tried with these delicious edible succulents? Share your story in our exclusive Facebook group, Succulent City Plant Lounge, today!
Happy planting… and eating! 🌵