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A new fruit for SPring!
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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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March 16, 2015 - 8:29 pm

Yesterday I harvested two prickly pear cactus fruit. In SPanish, they are called tunas, but they dont' taste like tuna.  We had such a mild winter that they stayed on the plant all winter. They are full of chewy seeds.  The plant is highly valued medicinally to fight diabetes.  I don't have it yet, but I dont' want it either.

John S
PDX OR

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Marsha H
2 Posts
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2
March 16, 2015 - 8:38 pm

I'm guessing, if the fruit is sweet enough to taste good, that it is not going to be helpful for someone approaching 50 years of being a Type 1 (previously "juvenile") diabetic. 

What does it taste like?

mh

 

(this is Jafar editing Marsha's post, is this a superpower because I'm a moderator?)

 

Yup. I believe any of us can edit anything, with the probable exception of our better(s), aka Jesse.

mh

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jafar
549 Posts
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March 16, 2015 - 9:23 pm

John S said
Yesterday I harvested two prickly pear cactus fruit. In SPanish, they are called tunas, but they dont' taste like tuna.  We had such a mild winter that they stayed on the plant all winter. They are full of chewy seeds.  The plant is highly valued medicinally to fight diabetes.  I don't have it yet, but I dont' want it either.

John S
PDX OR

I'm leery when somebody brings up a new food and tells you it is good for you but doesn't mention the flavor.

That's the, "she has a great personality" of fruit growing.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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March 24, 2015 - 3:57 pm

It has a mild, pleasant sweet taste. It is so vibrantly red that it has to have antioxidants a la beets, pie cherries, pomegranate, etc.  Almost everybody likes the flavor. They are not extremely sweet.

The main aesthetic gripe that people have is that there are many seeds. They are about the size of a peppercorn, but not as peppery of course.  They have little flavor. I like to chew them.  Many people would not enjoy this.  In my studies of different cultures, it seems that healthier cultures often had foods that were smaller, required chewing, maybe didn't taste like pure sugary candy like this.  

Of the indigenous group in Mexico that still eats this, no one has ever gotten diabetes.  On the other side of the Grand Canyon, there is a highway near their tribe.  They no longer eat the cactus.  They have epidemic rates of diabesity along with their white flour and sugary snacks.

The main medicinal benefit that has been discovered so far is as an anti-diabetes medicine.  

It is also a highly productive vegetable with large beautiful flowers that can biologically diversify the botany of your yard.

It also looks cool.

John S
PDX OR

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Quill
1 Posts
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March 24, 2015 - 6:47 pm

John that is amazing that you can grow the cactus outside.  How exotic is that!  I remember getting a pear in Mexico years ago but it had a nice sweet taste.  I don't remember seeds, maybe another variety of PP?

Your description of a vibrant red fruit with seeds reminds me of a fruit I had in China called Pitaya - or Dragon fruit.  They had red (more like magenta) and white fruits both with black edible seeds.  I loved the taste which reminded me of kiwi, strawberry and honeydew melons.  I found them delightful and I wish it would grow easily here.

Carole

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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March 24, 2015 - 7:10 pm

Our climate is hotter now and it also took people awhile to figure out how to grow them. They don't die from cold here, because it's not that cold, and they thrive in other places that are colder.  What kills them is diseases they get when they have poor drainage in winter.  To make good drainage, I made a large, raised pile of gravel and planted them directly in that, and they've done quite well.  I also set up a patch at my mother in laws in suburban Seattle, and she gets more fruit because their lows are warmer than our lows for the year.  It's also worthwhile to grow for the vegetable pads and the flowers.

John S
PDX OR

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Marsha H
2 Posts
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March 24, 2015 - 7:11 pm

John S said

Of the indigenous group in Mexico that still eats this, no one has ever gotten diabetes.  On the other side of the Grand Canyon, there is a highway near their tribe.  They no longer eat the cactus.  They have epidemic rates of diabesity along with their white flour and sugary snacks.

The main medicinal benefit that has been discovered so far is as an anti-diabetes medicine.  

It also looks cool.

John S
PDX OR

Effectively a different disease than what hit me when I was a skinny little kid. And don't ask why I have a yard full of apple trees whose fruits I can only nibble. That would be a reasonable question for which I have no good answer.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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April 18, 2015 - 9:56 pm

Pitaya/dragon fruit is a different species. I'm pretty sure it won't grow outside here.

In Mexico, people laugh at Americans because "we only have one word for all the varieties of cactus."  Most kinds of cactus, palms, and citrus won't grow easily here, but some will.

I guess it's like Inuits having 43 words for kinds of snow.

I'm not a doctor, but what I hear is that there are some foods that help us with the gut microbiome, like we need diversity in our soil.  My sense is that cactus helps us with processing sugar less quickly.

John S
PDX OR

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
518 Posts
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August 28, 2015 - 10:06 am

Browsing topics, this interesting one caught my eye. 

I had Opuntias for a few years, then there was a big freeze and they died completely.  This was in Vancouver, which might be a little colder in winter than Portland.

I'm tempted to try again, both for the fruit and for the nopales.  I like nopales a lot as a vegetable, but I don't like the process of de-thorning them.

I know opuntias are very diverse, and there are native varieties for the PNW high desert.  I do not know if their fruits are edible.  I keep thinking, with climate change and desertification of more regions, someone could benefit the world by hybridizing them to create thornless, larger, juicier, sweeter fruits.  If apples and plums and persimmons went from being nearly inedible to delicious with domestication, a modern Luther Burbank or Niels Hansen could do the world a favor by developing opuntias into a more usable fruit.

Actually, with a little web searching, Burbank developed 60 varieties of opuntia.  "Between 1907 and 1925, Luther Burbank introduced more that 60 varieties of spineless cacti. These were developed mostly from hybrids of varieties of the Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) and the Mexican prickly pear (Opuntia tuna), and were offered in two main types: the fruiting varieties, grown for their variously colored and flavored prickly pears, and the forage varieties, grown for their edible pads (properly called thalli), which could be fed raw to livestock or cooked for human consumption. "

Now to work on seeing if any are available and potentially useful here in the PNW.  This summer would have been ideal to try them, hot and dry.Smile

A little info on Burbank's program, via University of Arkansas - "Burbank first collected seeds or cuttings of all the spineless types he could acquire and then, with the energy of a deranged bumble bee, crossed and re-crossed various sorts until he achieved complete spinelessness. He released a dozen or more thornless cacti with names such as "Gravity," "Royal," "Prolific," "Hemet" and "Melrose."  I have been for whether these are commercially available.  If I do find more info, I will post it here.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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August 29, 2015 - 5:34 pm

Hi Daniel,

My types are different. Some have huge thorns, some have small thorns. I grew them on a pile of straight gravel, which I recommend.  They are very easy to grow in full sun.  If you want me to give you a pad at the AAFS, I would be happy to do that. 

John S
PDX OR

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Delvi83
24 Posts
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11
September 1, 2015 - 2:06 pm

Dragon fruit can thrive in many part of Spain....I think all the mediterranean coast...but if it's not this fruit what can it be? Post a Photo 🙂

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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12
September 2, 2015 - 6:05 pm

In English, they are called prickly pear. Latin name Opuntia. In Mexican Spanish, nopales, with the fruit called "tunas".

nopal-cactus.JPG

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Delvi83
24 Posts
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13
September 4, 2015 - 3:00 am

Opuntia is a genre it's formed by many specie....each one has different hardiness and fruit...not all are edible, not all are resistant to frost.

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
518 Posts
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14
October 22, 2015 - 7:05 pm

Since it's my nature to obsess over things, and also look beyond what's widely accepted, I have been researching a little about Opuntia (prickly pear cactus) and their fruits (tunas).  This reminds me that there is always something new that's older than the hills, and always something common that no one knows about.

In the book, "A history of fruit varieties" edited by David Ferree there is a discussion of The 'Reyna' ('Aldajayucan') Cactus pear.  This book was a bonus for me from Raintree, I don't know if it is available electonically. Reyna is a white-fleshed fruit, grown where conditions are dry or drought affected.  It was selected from wild varieties in the 1950s for thin peel, reduced # of seeds, juiciness, and sweetness.  Now, there are about 37,000 acres planted with Reyna in different states in Mexico.  In those areas, the soil is poor and the annual rainfall only 400-700mm.  The plants reach 2.5 meters in height with a canpy 4-5 meters in diameter.  Yield is 10 tons per hectare but can be up to 40 tons per hectare with irrigation and addition of organic matter.  I doubt they would grow here, but are an example of the productivity.  "Fruits are oval flat with green yellow peel and bright green sweet flesh."

Article about Prickly Pear Jam.  High in pectin.  These are a red-flesh variety.

"Opuntia, a Fall Fruit" - There are nearly 300 species.  A few are native to Northern American climates, including East Coast, Midwest, and Northwest.  Opuntia humifusa "Bright yellow flowers occur in late spring or early summer.  The pollen is highly desirable to bee populations.  If fertilized, green fruits begin to form, ultimately maturing in late summer, turning reddish green.  The pulp is ruby red and tastes similar to watermelon."

Some diversity of Opuntia fruits - flavors compared to kiwi, peach, persimmon, banana.

Edible Landscaping - "Opuntia tuna" - is that really the correct species name? - tolerant to many bad conditions, but not surprisingly, not to wet soil or shade. 

I grew this one in my front yard.  It grew big enough to bloom, but I don't remember what I did with the fruits.  I have a vague memory that I skinned and ate them, but my memory is often flawed.   It reached about 3 feet tall, but died during a cold wet winter.

It needed 5 years to reach this size, and I had not tried to raise the bed or improve drainage, which may be why it died.  I think this was Opuntia englemani.  It grew a new level of pads each year, which makes it possible to estimate the plant's age.

opuntia

With a changing climate, it should be worthwhile to pioneer different plant types to see what will survive, thrive, and produce.

In Chile, about 9000 tons of opuntia fruit are produced annually.  Some nice photos on that blog link.  "Once the thick and potentially spiny skin is removed, the fruit is refreshing, juicy, sweet and a little acid, with a taste slightly reminiscent of a honeydew melon."  Some people burn off the spines on a grill or with a propane torch.

Apparently, cacti were domesticated over 8,000 years ago.  That would make them a truly ancient food.   Opuntia fruits were in the diet of the Aztecs.  More information about Opuntia fruits / tunas here.  That last article claims 12,000 year historical record.

I can't personally vouch for Opuntia, how well they grow, produce, or the quality of their fruits.  I recently bought a cactus sections to root and start new plants.  I'm aiming for some diversity, between larger varieties, that seem more productive, and some of the wet / cold tolerant ones that seem much smaller.  For starters, I have one from Raintree nursery that claims to have flavorful fruits.  I also bought some pads via Amazon of a Texas varietiy - possibly O. Englemanii, and have a couple more, from Northern North America sources, from a Colorado collector that claims cold hardiness.  They all have such beautiful flowers, and deer wont eat them, so they have a place as ornamentals.  I have a semi-burgundy colored hybrid, Baby Rita, but no claims are made about the fruit. This is all an experiment, since few people are interested in cactus fruits and there has been minimal development as far as garden friendly varieties, cold hardy varieties, that produce worthwhile fruit.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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15
November 5, 2015 - 10:44 pm

I work with a lot of Latin American immigrants, and they are central to their diet. They think of them like we think of green beans, and the fruit to them are like cherries, neither of which they grow much in their homelands.

John S
PDX OR

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juliataylor
Houston
1 Posts
(Offline)
16
December 6, 2015 - 11:39 pm

In my area the Hispanics eat them all the time and mix them with all kinds of food raw. Eggs, Beans etc but I never try this fruit.

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Delvi83
24 Posts
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17
December 12, 2015 - 12:45 am

Normally, at least here in Italy, they are ready to be eaten from late summer to early winter !! Very tasty but full of seeds...

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
518 Posts
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18
December 15, 2015 - 7:42 am

This winter I bought some opuntia starts.  They were just the pads, no roots.  I read they root easily.  Now they are in cactus soil in a sunroom.  Hopefully they will root and can go outside in the Spring.

They are quite spiney.  Something tells me that deer won't be a problem.  I might be wrong.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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19
December 19, 2015 - 9:42 pm

I think you're right.  There are many states in Mexico where you see miles an miles of them in the North.  I think you're right about the deer.  If you want to experiment later with ones with tiny spines in the middle of your patch, let me know. I can give you a couple.  Always let them dry out if you get new ones. You can leave them out to dry for months, even for a year and they will grow. But if you plant them in a day or two from taking the pad from a plant, it will rot and die.

John S
PDX OR

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
518 Posts
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20
December 20, 2015 - 1:32 pm

John, thanks for the advice.  I'm happy to share mine too, once they start growing.  I looked at the Texas opuntias today, and there are roots coming out of the bottoms of the pots.  If they make it through the winter, they should start growing in 2016.  The "Baby Rita" hybrid could bloom next year, since it's bigger, so maybe some fruit?  With red-ish pads, I wonder if the fruit will be red.

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John S
PDX OR
2514 Posts
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21
December 21, 2015 - 6:36 pm

The first time I got the pads to grow into a new plant, I did it as an experiment and a reading exercise (I printed up a page) for the kids in school. I was running the school's gardening club.  When I saw the roots coming out, I started shouting and jumping up and down in the classroom. The kids were looking at me like, is that the adult in the room? I realized that I was, in fact the only adult in the room and eventually settled down.  They all thought it was pretty funny.  I guess adults can get excited sometimes.

John S
PDX OR

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
518 Posts
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22
December 21, 2015 - 7:59 pm

John, Im still that way.  When a cutting grows roots, Im still amazed.  A stick shouldn't grow roots.  But they do.  Even more so for grafting.  What an incredible thing, that you can cut off pieces from one plant, attach them to another, and they grow as if they were always one plant.  It doesnt feel possible!  I take photos of my grafts and look at them over and over again.

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