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In the desert, the sandy landscape may seem like it contains few of the resources needed for survival, but that’s not necessarily the case. Keep in mind that many Native American tribes thrived in this environment for centuries — with the right knowledge and skills, you can do the same. Most of it comes down to making the most of all the resources you can get your hands on.
Cacti are one valuable item you’ll find throughout the desert. These plants can be a bit tricky to deal with as a result of their spines, but many contain useful moisture and edible pulp. In the video below, Texas-based survival instructor Bob Hansler shows how he safely prepares a small barrel cactus.
Before we proceed, an important note: while many species of cacti are edible, you’ll need to be cautious how you prepare them and how much you consume. The flesh and juice of many succulent plants contains acids and alkaloids that can make you sick. Some species of cactus are relatively low in these substances and can be eaten raw in limited quantities, while others have higher concentrations that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Cooking can break down these substances to increase edibility, and distillation can be used to isolate potable water from the cactus juice.
You should always check guides on local wild edibles and/or consult experts before consuming any cactus, especially raw. In an emergency, sampling tiny amounts via the Universal Edibility Test can also help you avoid adverse effects.
That said, the small barrel cactus Bob picks is easy to process using nothing but some gloves and a sharp knife. He says the pulp is similar to a cucumber or underripe melon, but with a slightly gritty texture. That may not sound particularly tasty, but as we said before, you need to make the most of what you’ve got. Watch the full video below: