Can Humans Drink the Water Out of a Cactus?

by Donni Jones
The prickly pear cactus.

The prickly pear cactus.

Long-held lore says that that if dying of thirst in the desert, one need only cut open the nearest cactus to find a refreshing supply of water. True? The answer is yes and no.

Fact and Fiction

While cacti do not contain clear, drinkable water, they do store fluid as a gluey juice in their pulp. But this liquid is not generally fit for drinking.

The Types

The most widely-recognized cactus, the large saguaro with its arm-like branches, can store as much as 200 gallons of water; however, this water can be toxic to humans. It is the prickly pear cactus and the barrel cactus which store drinkable liquid in their moist, spongy pulp.

Retrieval Method

Scooping out and squeezing this pulp is one way of obtaining the fluid. The easiest way to get nutrition and water from cactus is to simply peel the fruits of the prickly pear and barrel cactus, or the young leaf-like pads of the prickly pear cactus and eat them raw.

In History

Native Americans have long used liquid from cacti as a water source, but only in emergencies. It has a bitter taste and contains chemicals such as oxalic acid, which can cause diarrhea.

Cactus Cocktail

While the pulp liquid is not fit for making drinks, prickly pear juice, made by pressing peeled prickly pear fruit through a colander then adding water, is a sweet, popular beverage.

About the Author

Donni Jones has been an editor and writer since 1996. She has edited articles for and contributed content to numerous publications, magazines and online businesses such as FootSmart.com and KateAspen.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of West Florida.

Photo Credits