Cow's Tongue Cactus

Scientific Name(s): Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis
Abundance: uncommon
What: pads, flowers, fruit
How: peeled pads can be pickled, fried, made into jerky; fruit can be raw or blended into a smoothy/icee drink; juice from strained fruit can be drunk, made into ice cream, mixed drinks, preserves.
Where: sunny fields, landscaping
When: fruit in fall, pads-all year though younger pads taste better.
Nutritional Value: vitamin C, some minerals
Dangers: burn or scrap off the tiny needles (glochids) before eating, 1% of population is allergic to cactus-based foods.

Leaf Arrangement: The plant features small, ephemeral leaves that quickly transform into spines, with the primary structure being the stem pads.

Leaf Shape: Initially small and cylindrical, the leaves quickly modify into spines and are not a lasting feature.

Leaf Venation: Not applicable, as the leaves transition into spines and lack typical venation patterns.

Leaf Margin: Undefined in the modified spiny leaves.

Leaf Color: Initially green but quickly replaced by spines and therefore not a prominent feature.

Flower Structure: Flowers are solitary and grow from the edges of the stem pads.

Flower Color: The flowers are typically yellow, sometimes with red or orange hues.

Fruit: Produces a fleshy, elongated fruit, which can be red or purple when ripe.

Seed: The seeds are small, contained within the fruit.

Stem: Characterized by flat, broad stem segments, commonly referred to as pads, that are linguiform (tongue-shaped).

Hairs: No true hairs are present, but there are spines and glochids (tiny barbed bristles) on the stem segments.

Height: The plant typically forms a low, spreading shrub, generally reaching 2 to 4 feet in height.

Cow's tongue cactus used in landscaping.

Cow's tongue cactus fruit (picture taken in mid September in Houston).

Another closeup of cow's tongue fruit (also taken in mid-September in Houston).

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Closely related to prickly pears, cow's tongue cacti pads and fruit can be used in the same manner as other Opuntia species. The pads can be peeled then sliced and cooked like green beans though much slimier. The peeled pads can also be sprinkled with your favorite beef/venison jerky spices and then dehydrated into "vegan jerky".

The fruits are usually mashed, boiled, and then strained through a fine mesh such as cheesecloth to release their delicious juice. This juice can be drank straight, made into jelly or wine, or slightly sweetened (it's already quite sweet) then boiled down to make a syrup.

Before doing anything with the pads or fruit you must remove their tiny, almost invisible needles called glochids. Use a barbecue tongs to harvest the pads/fruit and then burn off the glochids with a torch or gas stovetop.

Burning glochids.

Peel the fruit then mash it up in a saucepan. Add just enough water so as to cover the pulp then boil for about ten minutes. Let the resulting juice cool a little then filter out the pulp and seeds through cheesecloth or other fine filter.

Peeled fruit before mashing and boiling.

Straining the juice.

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