SAGUARO CACTUS FRUIT HARVEST
I recently had the extreme pleasure of harvesting fruit from the Saguaro. It took place because I made the decision to schedule time to travel to the Sonoran desert during the early summer just before the monsoon storms.
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years, and finally got the chance to make it happen. I carved out a few days on the calendar and traveled with a friend to share the experience together with the life community of this arid country.
The temperature was around 80F at sunrise and 110F just after noon. Months go by without any rainfall. The livingness of the flora and fauna is a monument to the majesty of Earthly existence.
The fruit ripens between the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. We were there right in the middle of the window. Imagine the percentage of people in the world who get to bear witness to the flowering and fruiting of the Saguaro. (I casually estimate 1,000/7,000,000,000,000) Few will ever be so lucky to do so. And quite frankly, few have the fortitude that it takes.
The Saguaro asks a great deal from one who would taste its fruit. The reward is totally worth the effort.
I believe the important context surrounding the lifecycle of the Saguaro is what makes the foraging of its fruit so interesting as a story. In order to fully realize it and respect it, one must be immersed in the actual experience as its happening. However, I can highlight just a few aspects that stand out to me that might illustrate some perspective for you.
Carnegiea Gigantea (named after philanthropist Andrew Carnegie), family Cactaceae. Saguaro is an arborescent cactus that can grow to 66 feet (20 m) in height and whose branches are shaped like candelabra, native to Mexico and the southwestern US.
A well-pollinated fruit can contain thousands tiny seeds. They are commonly dispersed by birds and other animals through the consumption of them. The primary pollinator of the nocturnal flowers is a bat. Only a tiny fraction of these will ever germinate into new growth.
Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and are the largest cactus in the United States (Second in the world, next to Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant Cardón). These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) around the age of 50-100, although some never grow arms. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25.
Most of the Saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root, that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet. It is estimated that Saguaros can live to be as much as 150-200 years old. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. When rain is plentiful and a Saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.
0% of the fruit goes to waste. 100% goes to the tremendous benefit of some other fortunate form of life. Birds, ants, lizards, chipmunks, coyotes, and a humble human like me. That’s relatively astonishing, compared to the percentage of fruit from other trees (apples, mulberries, cherries, etc.) in civilization that fall to the ground to inevitably decompose. (which is fine, considering some of it feeds bacteria, unless it’s fated to end up trampled under shoes or tires on pavement.)
Saguaro flesh contains a number of B-phenethylamines, including carnegine, gigantine, salsolidine, and dopamine. The first three of these are closely related to alkaloids found in Peyote. The main alkaloid found in Saguaro is salsolidine, which makes up 50% of the total alkaloid content. Eating the bitter flesh can produce entheogenic experiences; that is to say, the psychoactive effects can be psychedelic. It is similar in some fashion to the effects of Peote, or San Pedro. These are powerful neurognostics, and partaking of these sacrements is best to be done with sinsere reverence.
What strikes me as especially astonishing is the hydrological situation. Saguaros suck up the majority of their water during the summer monsoon rains, while the rest of the year is extremely dry. They manage to store a lot of liquid and maintain a similar percentage ratio to us, about 80%. That water then levitates up through the flesh and saturates the fruit at the top. The wild water that once fell as a rainstorm, undergoes a transfusion from the life-blood of the self-organizing systems known as Gaia, to becoming the life-blood of the Saguaro fruit, and then it becomes the blood of the one who drinks this nectar of the gods.
The cosmically precious droplet daughter is such a mysterious resource, and when it’s funneled up through the personality of such a powerful and patient plant that requires so much strength and adaptability in such an intense region of the world, one marvels at how valuable the process is and what it means to be transformed through the act of faithfully witnessing and reverently consuming the fruits of this eternal and interconnected labor.
The wildness of the water, the character of the cactus, and the quality of the context, all synergize to create a vibrant story that makes the content of the experience animated with amazing grace.
As a metaphor, it’s like the archetypical hero’s journey. Like a warrior who endures intense struggles, integrates the lessons of the challenges, and returns to us to reveal the illuminated glory from the raptures of the deep.
What I cherish, and this writing pales in comparison to, is the immersion in the full spectrum experience. The Saguaro is something of an Elder who has infinite lessons to teach us about life. One would be wise to recognize the tapestry of this relationship and approach it with respect. I believe that a primary key is to quiet the mind, open up the heart, tune in to the feeling, listen, and let the ego aside in order to abide.
Here’s an observation of the sensorium to illustrate what it’s like. Wake up before the sun rises and arrive to the chosen location early. Seeing the vast expanse of the landscape spread out in all directions, and spotting a fox or coyote scouting at a distance as its nocturnal rounds fade into the day. Feeling the subtle energies emanating from the sun, cacti, trees, animals, and Earth. Hearing the gentle breeze blowing through the cactus needles as the delicate sound penetrates the silence in the emptiness of the space. Smelling the scent of chaparral and breathing in the sensual aroma of the Saguaro fruit; which surprisingly contains notes of dark chocolate, and goes to another level when it intermingles with the unique mustiness of ones own sweat soaked body.
The experience can be exhausting, as the elements exert a heavy pressure, and the exchange has the potential of real consequences. The resplendence of it all can be heartbreaking to behold, and one is reminded that the veil between life and death is deceptively thin. Undertaking the adventure will reinforce gratitude and humility. There is also a definite playfulness that colors the journey and can provide a playground for the imagination.
As for the processing of our fruit, some of it was dried in the sun, and some of the juice was extracted to be fermented, along with spring water, local honey and hibiscus, and turned into a mead, which is one of my favorite methods of alchemical preservation. As I write this article, the bottled brew bubbles alive right next to me. The memories will remain present in the arch of my days.
I would be blessed to be able to do it again. If you ever decide to do this, I plead that you tread carefully and pay attention. It’s all about being smart, playing it safe, and having fun.
The following books are relevent reading material in reference to this subject. I have read all of them and highly recommend that you check them out. Thank you for reading my written meditations. Your comments, questions, and constructive criticisms are welcome with me and appriciated. Feel free to aslo share with your friends and family. Please check out my videos on YouTube and my VSCO for more photos. Click through any of my social media icons at the top of this page to connect with me further.