Here in the Southwest, there are so many native plants that provide food for the table. One that has a hidden bounty at this time of year is the 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 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.

ferocactus IMG_2720


After the blooms, the barrel cactus 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 top of the fruit and pull. The fruit comes right off when ripe. If you have to apply great force, Mama barrel cactus is telling you this fruit is still green and she is not ready to cut the apron strings.

You can eat the lemony flavored barrel fruit, but only in moderation. Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems. I do dry 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. But the point of the post today is the barrel seeds.

Barrel fruit has mucilage so some seed stick to them as you slice. Here they are placed in terra cotta saucers for drying.


As I cut open the barrel cactus fruits, I do harvest the seeds – which are safe to consume in quantity. They are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds. Like poppy seeds, they are best when toasted for 30 to 45 minutes at 300 degrees F. Toasting them makes them a easier to crunch open so you can digest them more fully.

One week later the fruit and seed are dry.


You can shake the dried fruit in a colander and collect additional seed that previously clung to the moist fruit.

Lemon Barrel Cactus-Seed Cake – Gluten Free

This is a microwave recipe.

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 ones and blend well.

Pour into a greased glass loaf pan.

Microwave for at least 3 minutes, and perhaps up to 4 minutes.

It takes 3 minutes 15 seconds in our microwave.

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

Optionally you can frost this cake once it cools or drizzle it with a light icing. Makes a quite 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.


Barrel cactus 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 share your ideas! 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.

If you prefer, you can keep only the seed and compost the fruit, or return it to the desert for the critters to eat.

If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on my Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.

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

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