Barrel Cactus Fruits – So Easy to Use

Barrel cactus? Yes! It is one of the easiest Southwest plants to use. Mind you, the flesh of the fruits is full of the potentially problematic oxalic acid – so just start with the seeds. Barrel cactus fruits offer us a plethora of seeds that can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds.

Perfect Plant for the Beginner

Barrel cactus is the perfect plant for the beginning forager.  It’s easy to ID.  There are no toxic species to get confused with.  It’s easy to harvest.  No spines on the fruit.  No glochids like prickly pear.  Barrel fruit are easy to process.  Tasty as can be too.  Seeds are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds – thus very easy to find recipes.   Full of protein too if you are doing the paleo diet.

easy to see that these are still green and not ready to harvest.

Which Cactus?

Barrel cactus is the generic term for a number of species of large barrel-shaped cacti.    The one with the most edible of fruit is the fish hook or compass barrel (Ferocactus wizlizenii).    This barrel cactus is unlike many other species of cacti in that it often blooms two or even three times per year, thus providing you, the harvester, with ample fruits, often several times a year. The straight spine barrel (Ferocactus rectispinus) also has edible fruits but is not so common in Southwestern urban landscapes. You could harvest seeds of golden barrel (Echinocereus grusonii) but there are very few seeds in each fruit.


Forage Barrel Fruit

After the blooms, the fruit slowly develop, turning from green to yellow when ripe.    They are easy to harvest, simply grasp the stiff spent flower that remains on the fruit and pull.    The fruit comes right off very easily when ripe.    If you have to use great force, then Mama barrel cactus is telling you this fruit is still green and she is not ready to cut the apron strings.

Here is my YouTube video of the barrel fruit harvest and barrel seed extraction process.



You can eat the lemony flavored fruit, but only in moderation.    Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems.   More about oxalates under our Savor Safely Menu.

I do dry slices of the fruit and use them as I brew iced tea – in place of lemon.    You can also mix the dried fruit with dried hibiscus blooms to make a delightfully tart and refreshing summer drink.

If you are concerned about the oxalic acid in the fruit, you could pluck the fruit, scoop out the seeds and return the fruit to the desert for the native wildlife to enjoy, much the way you harvest saguaro fruit.    Just be certain that the fruit lands open side up to help encourage the rains.

Yes he climbs on the counters. We wash them before we start projects. Sometimes during the projects as well.


Cut open the fruits, and scoop out the seeds.
If you wish to store the seeds, be sure to dry them or even toast them first.

Like poppy seeds, they are best when toasted for 30 to 45 minutes at 250 degrees F, stir every 15 minutes.    Toasting them makes them easier to crunch open so you can digest them more fully.

For a gluten-free treat, try this:


Lemon Barrel-Seed Cake

1 cup flax seed meal
2 teaspoons alum-free baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons barrel-fruit seed, toasted
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring
2 tablespoons sweetening – to taste (honey, brown sugar, agave syrup – your choice)
1 tablespoon oil (olive oil, butter, coconut oil – your choice)
4 eggs


Mix the dry ingredients
Add the wet ingredients.
Stir to blend well
Pour into a greased glass loaf pan.
Microwave for at least 3 minutes, and perhaps 3.5 minutes. At 4 minutes my cake burned on the edges. It takes 3 minutes 15 seconds in our new microwave.

Run a knife around the edges of the cake and tip it out of the pan right away.



You can frost this cake once it cools. I often drizzle it with a light icing to create a very elegant coffee cake.


You can also cut this recipe down to one quarter (one egg) and cook it for one minute in a microwave safe mug to make a single serving muffin. Here’s our OMM – One Minute Muffin – recipe where I use mesquite flour.

So Much Wealth

Here in the Southwest, there are more than enough native plants to grow that will also provide food for the table – at least partially.  Barrel fruit are an often overlooked fruit by desert harvesters, but hopefully this article will give you some ideas for their use.

Please feel free to ask questions and share your ideas!  Questions below in the comments or on our Facebook group page.

About 100 NEW copies left!

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $22!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!


Legal Notes

© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

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