Forage Barrel Cactus Fruit

Barrel cactus offer ripe fruits at various times of year but it’s not the fruit itself you want, rather the seeds inside. We discuss this in the post.

Barrel 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 wizlizeni). This species of 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 forager, with ample fruits, often several times a year.

Once you harvest a few fruit, the rest may resist your tugging. Look near the bases and you can see that these are still green and unripe – although the top portion is yellow.

Forge Barrel Cactus Fruit

You can eat the lemony flavored fruit, but only in moderation. Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems. Our kidneys are not created like those of desert animals that can consume massive quantities of these oxalic acid rich fruits. We will do a future post on using the fruit safely.

Forage the fruits anyway! Because the seeds are just fine to consume in quantity. They are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds. They can also be cooked in with quinnoa or amaranth, or even eaten alone. You can return any fruit “rinds” to harvesting area after you have harvested the seeds.

Barrels flower – and the fruit ripens – in a sprial in towards the central growing tip. The more rain, the more water for growing, the more flowers, and more fruit. Love to see natural manifestation of the Fibonachi sequence!


Reach in and grasp the spent flower heads – the flower petals are brown and leatery and well attached to the fruits. Since they stick out above the hooks – it’s an easy process. Ripe fruits with ripe seeds inside will release into your had with a gentle tug. Green fruits have unripe seeds will lower protien values and often bitter taste. Avoid these.

Barrel Cactus Yield is Copious

The average barrel cactus has 12 to 24 fruits ripe at once (unless the animals have been busy). 24 fruits yield roughly 1/4 cup of seed. It takes me about 10 minutes to process 24 fruit once they are harvested.

In this case I am saving some of the cut up fruit rinds for drying. I use 3 or 4 pieces in summer iced tea for a lemony flavor.

Processing Barrel Fruit

Barrel cactus seed are very simple to harvest in quantity because the seeds are easily removed from the fruit. That said it is a very messy business to do in quantity and is best done at home or back in camp.

Kinja, the homestead cat, wants to know why i am spending all my time paying attention to fruit when I should be paying attention to him.

Step 1

Rinse the fruits. This does two things. First, this removes dust and contaminants (bird droppings etc.). Second, the water softens the former flower petals on the top of the fruit, rendering them gentler on tender fingers as you process them.


Step 2

Cut tops off the fruits. The seed filled chamber is surprisingly far down away from the flower petals.

Step 3
Cut fruits in half. This makes it easy for scooping. I cut all fruits before I start removing seeds.

Some fruits did not get well pollinated and have few flowers. After a while you will get used to the “feel” of these and simply leave them in the desert for the critters to enjoy.

Step 4
Scoop seeds into a terra cotta saucer. Leave them 24 hours to dry. This will help dry any bits of flesh clinging to them before you store them. I keep a jar of un-toasted barrel seed to use when I cook grains like rice, quinnoa, or amaranth. Also good in stews.


Step 5
If you wish, place seeds on a baking sheet to toast them. About 10 minutes at 350F will do. They are black so hard to see a color difference when toasted! I do a test crunch and if they crunch easily they are done.

I use these toasted seeds in baking cakes and muffins, like this Mesquite One Minute Muffin.


Processing Tip

I like to make an assembly line and cut all tops off first, then cut all fruits open, then scoop all the seed. Why? because the seeds inside the fruit may be gummed together and you want to leave the seed scooping to last, else you get sticky seeds everywhere and lose a portion of your crop all over everything.

Thanks for Reading

The Savor Team

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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 on this site 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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