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I harvested cholla flower buds for the first time this last weekend.  I wrote about it on my blog:

Has anyone else harvested cholla buds this spring?  I'm really interested in what species others have harvested, where, and how they removed spines and cooked them.  There doesn't seem to be an abundance of information on this stuff online even though there is an abundance of cholla in the Sonoran Desert.

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I'm not sure you are legally allowed to harvest cholla buds on state land. Or on Indian land, either.

I'd assume you cook them the same way you'd cook prickly pears.

I got a few from my neighbor, just to experiment with:



I haven't gotten around to any serious de-spining yet. But it seems that putting them in a mesh strainer and stirring them with a basting brush is working.


Next, I'll boil them and allow them to dry.


Here's how the Tohono O’odham used to do it:


I believe buckhorn and staghorm are the varieties you're supposed to harvest from.

I remember reading descriptions about it in, I believe, Coming Home to Eat, by Gary Paul Nabhan. You can buy nopales in some grocery stores, but I don't think I've ever seen cholla for sale... I read that you describe it as a cross between asparagus and artichoke, how would you compare it to nopales? Maybe Diana Kennedy has a recipe in one of her books? Though it looks like you're looking more for practical how-to info rather than recipes...

@ Laura- I actually was wondering that too. Here's what I found on:

COLLECTING: Generally, collecting of rocks, harvesting plant food, etc is permitted for your personal use, and collecting for commercial use (e.g. for resale) requires a permit. Exceptions include collecting endangered, threatened or otherwise protected species, or collecting within areas of critical environmental concern or other special management areas.


I see the reference to saguaro fruit harvesting, and it was my understanding that it is definitely not legal unless you are on private land, but when I looked it up to find out for sure I couldn't find anything aside from unoffical remarks that you can pick a small amount for personal use, but it is illegal to pick very much. Weird.


Thanks Rachel!
I have collected with the Desert Botanical Garden before.  They never mentioned a permit that I remember.  I know plenty of people that collect without a permit, however I called the Forest Service to see what they had to say.  Interestingly they didn't know.  So they had me call the USDA, who didn't know either and told me to call the Forest Service.  I convinced the USDA person I talked to to do a little more research on it and she said she would get back to me.  We'll see if they get back to me on it.  In the past Forest Ranges have told me it is OK as long as it is a limited amount for personal use.

My mother and father use to harvest them in Awatukee many, many years ago before there was any businesses, houses, etc. so there was no restrictions. Very long poles with hooks were used to yank them to the ground. I buy nopales at the mexican markets when they are in season. They are much bigger than the ones that are wild harvested, my mother likes the wild ones, she says they are much sweeter but I like the big and juicy ones at the store.

P.S Native seed search might have information or links on where to buy or when or if there is way to get permission to harvest when in season!


We harvested the buds of the chain-fruit cholla last year, this year we are harvesting the buds from the buck horn and stag horn.  First, they are not at all like nopal cactus pads.  To remove the spines we used the method depicted in the photo posted by grrlscout -- it worked very well. We then steamed them as well as roasted them in a toaster oven with chili and garlic powder and a light spray of olive oil.  Both ways are great, they are very much like asparagus and/or artichoke, it seems to vary depending on how they are cooked and when they are picked.  They dry and keep well. You can buy bags of dried buds from the T-O nation.  Also--if you get them any time after the flower, they become tough and bitter--even one day after flowering. 

Harvesting the cholla, a non-endangered or protected plant for personal use is absolutely fine on state and national forest lands.

Happy harvest!

Thanks, this is as I expected with the laws.  I will be trying chain-fruit and the despised teddy bear chollas over the next few days.


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