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Cactus. The Edible, Medicinal, and Self Sustainable Plant.

Updated on August 27, 2013


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Prickly Pear

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Rhipsalis baccifer

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Tools of Nature

Since the Cretaceous period dating back 100 to 146 million years ago, cactus have thrived and survived naturally on this beautiful Earth. Cactus were some of the earliest tools discovered and utilized by humans. Early humans used cactus for sewing, live fences or barricades, and natural first aid. 1500 to 1800 species strong, cactus thrive and survive today in people's homes and in the wild. Species that are rare and take 50+ years to develop and grow, are protected by the government. These include the Saguaro, Pariette, Uinta Basin Hookless and the Colorado Hookless. Some resemble tropical forest trees that have woody stems sometimes covered with bark and leaves. The leaves are the cacti's means of photosynthesis, the chemical process used by plants to convert carbon dioxide into sugars by using the sun's energy.

Cactus thrived on the ancient continent of Gondwana where Africa, North and South America, as well as Australia and Antarctica were one, and then split apart naturally. This split gives cactus the diverse environments they live in today. They live anywhere from coastal plains, high mountain areas to moist tropical regions. There are cactus in the Americas, Patagonia, British Columbia, Alberta and Western Canada as well as Southeastern Brazil, Bolivia, Africa and Central America.

A wide variety of uses include building materials, furniture, fences and barricades, filling for pillows ( of course these are the fine haired cactus), weaving, sewing and medicine. Medicinally some cactus are anti ulcer, anti inflammatory, anti rheumatic, and anti tumor remedies. Prickly pear for example, have significant value because they're used to treat type 2 diabetes, keep lipids in the blood balanced, fight cancer, obesity, and they help heal wounds. The San Pedro cactus juice helps treat burning of the bladder and kidneys, treats high fever and hepatitis. The Hoodia from Africa is used by African Bushmen to suppress the appetite while they go on long hunting journeys where other food may be scarce. Pharmaceutical companies use the chemical in the Hoodia for weight loss drugs. Rhipsalis baccifera native to both the Americas, tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka are harvested as food for humans and livestock.

The Huichol natives rub the juice of the crushed Peyote cactus into wounds to prevent infection and promote healing. Peyote has been used to treat influenza, arthritis, diabetes, intestinal disorders, snake and scorpion bites as well as Datura poisoning. Taria Humara natives also used small quantities of Peyote to combat hunger, thirst, and exhaustion while hunting for long periods of time. Women of the Menomini tribe used it for child birth and ear aches. Seri indians used the Saguaro now protected, to combat rheumatism. Some cactus naturally produce a chemical called hordinine that successfully combat about 18 penicillin resistant staph bacteria.

The Pitaya fruit of the hylocereus genus also known as dragon fruit is native to Central America as well as South Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The seeds and flesh can be eaten raw minus the skin of the fruit. The benefits of dragon fruit range from being low in calories to being rich in vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus. It is also high in antioxidants and is quickly absorbed and metabolized by the body.

The Vanilla cactus has a sweet scent with large flowers and is native to Mexico and the West Indies. It also grows well in Naples. It is a remedy for irritation of the kidneys and bladder, fever, difficult breathing, cough, and some heart diseases. Natives in the Americas used the hairbrush cactus as just that, a hairbrush. The Cholla was used for making furniture because of their woody consistency inside. Others such as the Yucca and the Agave were used for sewing because of the tough fibers and sharp ends. The ends were used as the needle and the fibers left attached, were the thread. These were used to sew and repair animal hides for clothing and shoes commonly known as moccasins.

Cactus are the friends of animals and humans alike because they also provide water in the wild in an emergency situation. Cactus naturally store whatever water they can get to survive in drought ridden areas. To find a good cactus filled with water look at the base of the cactus to see if it is bulbous or brown. If bulbous, there is a good chance there will be a nice amount of water in the plant. If brown, then it hasn't collected water in a while due to lack of precipitation. The water can taste bitter or sweet depending on the type of cactus. Animals use cactus as shelter and permanent homes to get away from predators and the hot sun.

With it's many uses this helping, healing plant can successfully be called a tool of nature. Versatile with it's uses as a tool, as a medicine and a food, cactus are a very significant part of our existence. Underneath a tough skin with fine, or sharp needles, many cactus contain healing, helping medicines and nutrition naturally. Others are purely ornamental. Most have beautiful, bright, sweet scented blossoms that can intoxicate the senses. Funny thing is, a lot bloom at night and we wouldn't catch the show if we didn't know what to look for. On a full moon is the best time to see the Vanilla cactus, the San Pedro, or Dragon Fruit bloom in it's natural habitat. They bloom once a year for one night only, so the moon may actually be full or not. These bloom anytime between July and September, opening around 9:00 and fully coming to bloom around midnight. When the sun rises they begin to wilt and drop from the rest of the plant. Growing these indoors will ensure you see the show. This has to be spectacular since it only happens on this rare occasion. I hope to enjoy this gift of nature in my lifetime.

Vanilla Cactus

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    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 3 years ago from California

      I'm glad you asked the me the question. It allowed me to research the Lobivia and find out that most cactus are medicinal in one way or another. Indigenous people all around the planet where cactus exist, have used it as a food and as a medicine for centuries. I'm happy to have answered your question. Take care.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for such a thorough answer.

      I recently had a dream of s small spherical cactus that fits Lodivias appearance. In the dream it was used medicinally. Hence my question.

    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 3 years ago from California

      The Lobivia cactus which is Echinopsis pachanoi, is medicinal in many ways. The word Lobivia is an anagram of Bolivia. Echinopsis pachanoi or lobivia come from the Andes Mountain area. This area includes Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. If you wanted to use it topically you could slice the cactus into small pieces and simply apply the sliced cactus to the area needing treatment. It is like using a bandage. If you wanted to use it internally it would have to be cut into small pieces, boiled, mashed and strained of its juices; then the juices would have to be boiled again in the same water the cactus was originally boiled in to create a concentrated form of liquid medicine. This process takes several hours. Echinopsis was, and most likely is still used by the native people of the South American area. It can be used to treat infections, skin lesions, cardiac disease, circulatory disorders, and neurological issues. It can also eliminate parasites, infections or fungus in cattle and goats. It has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

      This cactus was also used by the Ancient Tribes to get closer to the Gods. Apparently Echinopsis pachanoi has mescaline in it which gives it the same properties as peyote. It is illegal to use in this way in many places, but it can be grown as an ornamental cactus for a garden. There are about 270-275 different types of Lobivia cactus species and varieties. I hope this answered your question Oztinato.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 3 years ago from Australia


      Do have any info about Lodivia cactus and their use medicinally?

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      this is really interesting. never thought cactus has many uses!

    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 5 years ago from California

      Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed.

    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 5 years ago from California

      Thank you Cashmere. I found the filling for pillows interesting too. Those cactus hairs would have to be extra fine for me to consider a pillow stuffed with them. Thank you for sharing too. That's awesome. Take care.

    • profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago

      I wasn't aware of how this plant is capable of so many uses. The filling for pillows I found really interesting. Great job with this hub Amethystraven. Voted up, shared, useful, interesting, and awesome :)

    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 6 years ago from California

      Thank you once again Seeker7. It fascinated me too as far as the medicinal properties go. I like the ease of use. Cactus have been around for centuries and some people were bold enough to discover their uses and share them with the rest of the world. Cactus are one of many out of all of natures medicine cabinet.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      I should have known that these beautiful plants would have more to them than just being awesome to look at! I have had lovely cactus plants at home for many years, but never realised just how many different properties they had.

      This was a thorougly absorbing and enjoyable hub and I've learned a lot from this fascinating hub! Voted up!!

    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 6 years ago from California

      I live in the High Desert in California and there are many cactus here. They are all beautiful and equally as painful if you rub them the wrong way lol. Thank you for reading about them :-)

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I had never know this plant has many benefits. I do familiar with dragon fruits. It's very famous in my country. Thanks for writing and share with us. I learn many things from you. Voted up and useful. Take care :-)


    • Amethystraven profile image

      Amethystraven 6 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading. I really appreciate you guys. I like your hubs too. Even though we don't see each other face to face we share information and knowledge. Learning is a beautiful thing :-)

    • dmop profile image

      dmop 6 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      I found this interesting, I knew cactus were useful, but I had no idea how useful they really are. Thanks for sharing this I voted it up and interesting.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 6 years ago from West By God

      Interesting things about cactus.


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