You’ve probably heard the myth of drinking cactus water in the desert as a survival tip. We wanted to find out if you can drink cactus water in a survival situation, so went away and looked at the research on the topic.
In this article, we discuss the effects of drinking cactus water to determine if it’s a good idea in a survival situation.
So, can you drink Cactus water?
We don’t recommend drinking Cactus water. Due to the chemicals present, cactus water is extremely acidic. Drinking cactus water will cause diarrhoea or make you sick, therefore dehydrating you even more. So it’s not a good idea to drink a cactus in a survival situation.
Let’s dive into the details on why drinking Cactus water is a bad idea!
How Much Water Does A Cactus Hold?
A cactus is one of the only plants able to survive and grow in a dry, harsh desert environment.
Cacti are able to survive in the desert due to a number of adaptations.
- Its roots are shallow and spread out over a large surface area to collect and store water when it rains
- Catus spines provide shade and help direct mist and fog as droplets to the soil around the plant
- Cactus leaves are in the form of spines. This prevents water loss through transpiration
- Its stem is covered with a thick waxy layer enabling it to retain water
All of the above means that cacti are experts at absorbing and storing water. They are able to survive for years in-between rainfalls in the harshest of desert environments.
A large fully frown cactus can absorb and store up to 250 gallons of water when it rains!
Can You Drink Cactus Water?
If you’re unlucky enough to find yourself stuck in the desert with no water, you might look at a cactus as a source of hydration.
But remember! cactus water is not safe to drink.
This is due to the chemical properties of cactus water. The water within the pulp of a cactus is very acidic and contains toxic alkaloids.
Cacti are more acidic than most plants due to their mechanism of photosynthesis. Cacti undergo CAM photosynthesis. This is an adaptation for increased efficiency in the use of water, so is often found in plants growing in dry conditions, such as cacti!
Due to the acid and toxins present in cactus water, drinking it causes diarrhoea, makes you sick or can cause kidney problems.
Negative Effects Of Drinking Cactus Water
Due to the chemicals present, cactus water is extremely acidic and contains toxic alkaloids. Drinking cactus water will make you sick or cause diarrhoea, causing dehydration.
Drinking cactus water has a number of negative effects on the human body.
- Sickness – causing dehydration
- Diarrhoea – causing dehydration
- Temporary paralysis
Whilst it might seem like a good idea to take advantage of the water stored in cacti, it can make you more dehydrated than before you drank it.
Cactus Water Causes Dehydration
Being dehydrated in the desert is life-threatening. People need to drink up to 3 litres of water per day when in a desert environment to avoid dehydration.
The effects of dehydration will wreak havoc on the human body, leaving you unable to do the simplest of facts.
The effects of dehydration include:
- Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion or irritability
- Rapid heart-rate and breathing
- Fainting and dizziness
- A dry mouth, lips and eyes
Suffering from dehydration in the desert can be life-threatening. But remember, drinking water from a cactus will probably make things worse!
Can I Drink Prickly Pear Cactus Water?
In general, you shouldn’t drink cactus water, but there are a few exceptions.
Both the barrel cactus and prickly pear are exceptions to the rule. They are both unpleasant to eat raw but are fairly safe to eat/drink in small quantities. This is due to less-concentrated levels of harmful chemicals and toxins present.
Whilst we certainly won’t be swapping our water bottles for a prickly pear anytime soon, although they could offer a small amount of hydration in an emergency situation.
Can You Eat Cactus Fruit To Survive?
So we have established that you can’t drink cactus water! But can you eat cactus fruit to survive?
Cactus fruits are better for human consumption, although many are also unpalatable if eaten raw. They also taste absolutely vile!
Many plants also contain malic acid, but usually in lesser quantities than found in cacti. Cactus will taste better when cooked. It also destroys the harmful acid when you cook a cactus.
Prickly Pear pads and other cacti have been a popular food in Latin America for centuries.
Just remember to cook it to get rid of the acid!
Are Any Cacti Are Safe To Drink From?
TLDR: Not really, Fishhook Barrel cacti are your safest bet.
With over 2000 different types of cacti in the world, the identification of different species can be challenging at best.
The only species of cactus that is safe (in small quantities) to drink is the Fishhook Barrel cactus. This is due to a lower concentration of acid and toxic alkaloids.
Fishhook Barrel cactus water can be drunk in small quantities. We would only recommend this in life-threatening circumstances.
Can You Drink Cactus Water Supplements?
In recent years, a number of cactus water drinks have hit the supplement market.
These drinks are made with the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. They are typically low in calories and contain minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants.
Cactus water supplements offer loads of health benefits and are safe to drink.
We recommend that you check out this cactus water supplement.
Summary – Can You Drink Cactus Water?
So can you drink Cactus water?
Overall we strongly suggest that you don’t drink cactus water.
Drinking cactus water will cause negative side effects on the human body. This includes diarrhoea, sickness and even temporary paralysis.
In recent years, a number of cactus water supplement drinks have been produced. These drinks extract the benefits of cactus water without the acid and toxic alkaloids.
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