Cacti are a symbol of perseverance, strength, and abundance in what is often growing and thriving in a dry, desolate, and barren landscape. Cacti are distinct from the Americas, being the only continent that has over 2,000 indigenous species of cacti in the world. Most cacti are edible and rich in nutrients and medicinal properties, as a result, sustaining civilizations, and local hotspots of biodiversity for thousands of years. Some are poisonous, and others have an impressive defense mechanism built in allowing them to be ready to attack at any sudden movement. We’ve gathered up four different species of cacti that have sparked our interest and that tell our history.
- Nopal (Opuntia)
The Nopal Cactus is a nostalgic, and significant variety of cacti that is primarily grown in the southwestern part of the United States and throughout Mexico. They can grow up to 15 feet in length and have been revered for their high nutritional properties, edible leaves and fruit, cultural symbolism, and versatility in bath and body products and consumer goods.
There are over 100 varieties of Nopales native to Mexico, most of them being edible. The name Nopal comes from the Nahuatl Indigenous Uto-Aztecan language, presently spoken by over 1.5 million native speakers across Central America. The word means nopalli, and identifies the cacti by their round padded shape leaves.
Given its high medicinal value, nourishing properties, and versatile nature, Nopalera uses different parts of the Nopal to enhance the specific purpose of each product. Nopales have antibacterial properties, antiviral properties, and the ability to heal severe wounds and damage caused by the after-effects of sun exposure, reducing the appearance of scars.
Nopalera’s Cactus Soaps and Cactus Flower Exfoliants, contain the part of the Nopal called la penca, known as the cactus pad. This feature is versatile in its ability to cleanse, hydrate, and delicately exfoliate to renew, and soothe the skin. Nopalera's Original Moisturizing Botanical Bar and Nopalera’s Flor de Mayo Moisturizing Botanical Bar, contain Nopal oil. Coming from the cactus fruit, it’s rich in antioxidants, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and vitamins including Vitamin E and K, bringing the needed nourishment your skin deserves.
2. Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
Saguaro is a famous cactus often depicted in old western movies, a grainy, and yellow-tinted scene, all that can be seen is a green narrow cactus, with its hands held up high. The Saguaro cactus is a symbol of abundance, in a setting that can convince us of the opposite. The Saguaro cactus is known to live up to 200 years, it has been a staple in the local indigenous cuisine of the Southwestern region of the United States, including the Southeastern Yavapai, the Tohono O’odham, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa. The name Saguaro is derived from the Indigenous Ópata language, meaning “arms.” It’s since been civilianized into Spanish, spelling it Saguaro.
Its fruit is rich in Vitamin C, B12, and antioxidants, strengthening the immune system. For centuries, it has been used to treat Rheumatism, a condition that causes pain and inflammation in between joints and muscles. The Saguaro fruit is also rich in H2O and sweet in flavor, making it perfect to have on a hot summer’s day.
3. Night Blooming Cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorus) & Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)
Derived from the Ancient Greek language referring to the mystical moon goddess, Selene. It's native to Central America, the northern part of South America, and the Caribbean. Previously thought to have grown the largest flowers out of all species of cacti, it is recognized for blooming as a large white flower. This mystic cactus has been revered for its medicinal properties, especially as a heart remedy including aiding symptoms of depression and lethargy. For centuries it has been used as a restorative tonic and regulator of blood pressure, it can also aid in managing congestive heart failure, and angina. This condition causes restrictive blood flow to the chest, followed by a tightening sensation.
While it's often referred to as the Queen of the Night, it’s not to be confused with the Dutchman’s pipe cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum). It also produces a large white flower that blooms only once a year during the evening, called the Queen of the Night. Used in traditional East Asian medicine, it is known to treat urinary tract infections and reduce inflammation and pain, as well as respiratory conditions.
4. Cholla (Cylindropuntia)
Known to be a jumping, and poisonous cactus, Cholla, meaning “head” in Spanish, is native to the Americas and found growing throughout the continent with a concentration in the southwestern part of the United States and Mexico. The name, “Jumping Cholla” is due to the fact that if slightly provoked by any touching or external force, this cactus will launch its needles at the moving subject. While coming close to the cholla can be intimidating, and slightly dangerous, its buds are a popular snack choice similar to the taste of artichoke or asparagus. It's incredibly rich in calcium and pectin, a soluble fiber often found in various fruits and vegetables.
This cactus snack has been found to eliminate colon cancer cells, improve cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, as well as aid in gastrointestinal issues. You can eat the Cholla buds straight after picking them from the cactus. It has small spines, but they are soft to the touch. Traditionally, they are boiled with salt and recommended to be sautéed in olive oil, added to salads, pasta dishes, or even pickled.
Cactuses are extremely versatile plants. From medicine to home decor, traditional and delicious meals, to consumer goods like alternative leather products, and even beauty and wellness products. It's a native plant that is distinct from the Americas and is grown throughout the Mediterranean, Africa, and Oceania. Used for their endless ways of giving, Cacti are known for their iconic image, history, and culture that is here to stay.
Written by Angelique Hechavarria