Saguaro Cactus Fruit Harvesting!

by Courtney on June 28, 2010

Saguaro Cactus Fruit! The gems of the desert, the rubies of the sands, the gifts of the dunes. How can I illustrate your majesty and deliciousness in words, saguaro cactus fruit?

Nothing like a little poetic and dramatic intro to start off a post about one incredible food. The Saguaro Cactus is seen in most classical Arizona pictures – tall and skinny, with a couple ‘arms’. What most people don’t know is that on the very top of those arms, for about 2 weeks every year, one of the most amazing fruits in existence is in season. Harvested throughout history by indigenous tribes, the saguaro cactus fruit is an incredibly potent, medicinal, and surprisingly very sweet fruit.

Yesterday, I harvested them :) A crew of us from Patagonia went down to Tucson yesterday to join a long-time saguaro harvester, Dan Desmond. First, Dan gave us a tutorial on the harvesting process, as well as shared about the traditional ceremonies and protocols that indigenouspeople would do for a cactus they were receiving fruit from, which were highly revered in their cultures. Dan is actually holding on to the ‘skeleton’ of a deceased saguaro.After getting the history and a feeling for the reverence with which it is best to harvest the fruit, we embarked on the 5-acre private property to harvest ourselves.

A close-up of the top of a cacti limb. See the red fruit bursting out of the opening pods? That’s it!
Below: Michelle showing how harvesting is done: ripe pods are ‘pushed’ or knocked off the top of the cacti, and the other person catches the falling fruit in a bucket so it doesn’t splatter all over!

The outer skin with the fruit inside. The pink tint signifies that it is ripe.

The saguaro cactus fruit, a jelly-like fruit

Ria squeezing some fruit out of a pod we just knocked off a cactus.

After harvesting, we all went back to the house and Dan made us saguaro fruit coconut smoothies. 3 ingredients: saguaro fruit, coconut meat, coconut water

Below: A crew of us eagerly awaiting our smoothies.

Below: Michelle separating her fruit

My fruit in my bag after I’d pulled it all out of the pods. Ohhh yum.

Below: The pods after we removed their fruit
After riding around in 105 degree Tucson for a few hours afterwards to run errands, my saguaro fruit was practicallyliquid by the time I returned home. I thought, is it still technically raw? (I’d eat it even if it weren’t!!) Then, I remembered that it hangs out on the top of cacti in much hotter weather in Tucson, as hot as 115 degrees. It’s probably fine ;) Check out that JUICE!!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gregor June 29, 2012 at 2:17 am

Looks delicious!! I have not tried fruit of the saguaro yet, but I would really like to! I don’t live near a desert, I live in Southern Oregon. I just got some cuttings from a neighbor who has a huge prickly pear cactus, so I am hoping these pads will grow so I can have some nopal fruit and pads to dig in to. Are there any smaller cacti that you know of that have as delicious & nutritious fruit as these? Thanks for the pictures and all the information!


Taylor June 13, 2014 at 7:02 pm

My sister and i go out into the desert and pick them off of the saguaro. But instead of smoothies we usually make pancake syrup and jelly’s. Its a shame their only here for a little while. Ive always loved it!!


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