Cooking San Pedro
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From: steveb@surfcity (Steve Barton)
Subject: cooking san pedro (long)
Date: 21 Jan 94 19:59:25 GMT
various nopale recipes from dianna kennedy's "the art of mexican
cooking" are adapted to trichocereus pachanoi. implications of using
this cactus as a foodstuff are examined. the primary challenge to the
cook is seen to be mucilage and bitterness, rather than emesis or
traditional preparations of trichocereus pachanoi involve boiling the
sliced whole cactus for long periods of time with various admixtures.
drawbacks to this are 1) emesis: the curandero actually seeks to make
the patient vomit and if the pachanoi preparation fails to induce this
a supplemental emetic draught is administered, and 2) pharmaceutical
complications: a datura species is usually added to the broth.
reliable dosage information for tropane alkaloids from natural sources
is very hard to come by, the margin of error is vastly smaller than
with, say, blotter acid, and the special contributions of tropane
alkaloids to an entheogenic experience may not be sought-after. :-)
most contemporary practice either mimics a simplified form of the
traditional broth (abandoning both the datura, the emetics, and every
shred of the set-and-setting of traditional use) or follows
well-established chemical methods of alkaloid extraction (which is
time-consuming and equipment-costly, and usually involves toxic
one neglected approach is to treat the cactus as a vegetable foodstuff,
and draw upon mexican culinary experience with nopales (opuntia cactii)
as prior art. the results of some initial explorations of this
approach are reported here.
- preparing the cactus
t. pachanoi is a slightly tapering cylinder with a small number of ribs
(typically 6 or 7), and clusters of 1-2mm spines running along the
ridge of the rib and spaced about 1" apart. cactus cuttings in the
market range in diameter from about 2.5"-3.5". cuttings of these
diameters range in weight from < 1.5 oz/linear inch to 3.5 oz/in.
the outermost layer is a tough, plastic-like membrane a significant
fraction of a mm thick. directly underneath this is a zone of green
tissue less than 1/4" thick. this shades rapidly into a zone of white
tissue. at the core is a hollow cylinder of tough fibers, from 0.5"-
1.5" dia, with a heart of more white tissue. in younger tip-cuts the
fibers are like a loofa-sponge, or softer. in more mature base cuts
they are very woody, almost like bamboo bbq skewers.
there are conflicting statements in the popular literature about which
of these tissues contain the entheogenic virtues. the outermost
membrane is almost certainly devoid of them (unfortunately ott's
pharacotheon asserts that this is where they reside). the green tissue
is most widely identified as the seat of these virtues, and i believe
this to be the case. it is a logical location for a barrier of
cactophagic repellents, it proves to be sharply more bitter than the
white tissue (certainly indicating that it is very basic, and
*probably* indicating that it therefore has the highest concentration
of alkaloids), and the obvious informal qualitative bio-assay suggests
that the white tissue is either very weak, compared to the green, or
else entirely inactive. one experienced respondent opined that the
white tissue none-the-less contains enough non-entheogenic
psychoactives (such as the mescaline precursor dopamine?) to positively
"color" the experience.
there are many ways to approach peeling off the skin, but this gave me
the best results:
nick or notch out the spine clusters. split the cactus by cutting from
the "valleys" between the ridges inward to the center of the core.
this yields a "stick" of cactus with a diamond-shaped cross section
which gives the most support to the green tissue during the peeling.
starting from the corners and working along the length of the ridge,
carefully peel off the skin. take multiple passes to do this. it is
possible to detach the skin in a single piece, if you are patient.
avoid leaving any of the green tissue clinging to the skin. the skin
is likely to tear when lifting it away from scars and blemishes. the
peel can be re-started by picking at it with a thumbnail if this
this is rather time-consuming. kennedy suggests listening to music
while peeling nopale paddles, so there may be no way to speed this up.
blanching the unsplit cactus for a minute in rapidly boiling water only
makes things worse: it causes the soft tissues to begin to exude
mucilage, a whitish waxy scum boils off of the skin (which is
nauseating to even look at), and the skin still adheres.
once the cactus is peeled it should be further broken down. i split
the green layer off, then cut the fibrous tissue off of the white
the peeled cactus can be used fresh, refrigerated for a week or so, or
dried in a home food-dryer. "cactus jerky" can be further processed in
a blender or food processor to yield "cactus granules".
*crudites st. pierre*
slice raw, peeled cactus into sticks. eat like "bitter cucumber
spears". add salt, lime-juice and chopped cilantro to taste. this is,
so far, my method of choice, partly because it is so minimalist.
*ensalada de nopalitos*
to each 4 oz of peeled, chopped raw cactus add 2 Tbs good-quality cider
vinegar, and let stand in the refrigerator for at least an hour. add
chopped parsely to taste. this is the second-best tasting recipe.
fry raw, peeled cactus strips in extra-virgin olive oil over medium-
high heat, until the sharp edges brown, and small golden-brown blisters
rise up on the faces. this ties for second best-tasting. the white
tissue, in particular, has an underlying quality of sweetness that is
brought out by frying, and the contrast of the crispness with the
now-gelatinous interior is rather nice. serve lightly salted.
*nopales al vapor*
to 1 2/3 C peeled, trimmed, and chopped fresh cactus add 1 Tbs chopped
scallions, a minced clove of garlic and salt to taste. fry in 1 Tbs
olive oil, covered, over low-medium heat for 10 min. shake the pan
from time to keep the cactus from sticking. when the juice has started
to flow, uncover the pan and cook for an additional 15 minutes, until
the juice has evaporated some, the residue has begun to resorb, and the
cactus is lightly browned. scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to
prevent sticking. yield 1/2 C.
this is the best-tasting recipe. my concern is that some of the
mescaline might stick to the pan rather than being entirely resorbed,
although perhaps it is not carried out of the tissues in the mucilage,
but remains behind in the cells. it *does* significantly reduce the
volume of the cactus material.
*chunky snot tea*
add 1 - 2 Tbs cactus granules to 1 C hot water, and let stand for a
bit. insignificant-looking granules swell to rice-grain size, and even
finely chopped and ground fibrous tissue become noticeable
"chunky-bits". the mucilage becomes quite pronounced, dripping in
strings from the stirring spoon. adding the juice of 1/2 lime, or so,
decreases the bitterness.
i wish that i could say that the mucilage reconstitutes as a silky
unction, reminiscent of some beloved child-hood comfort food, but what
it really reminded me of was a bad head-cold. tossing the
reconstituted tea back into the blender smoothes out the texture some.
i can't help thinking that this treatment has potential, but i'm darned
if i can make it manifest.
the peeled, sliced, and dried cactus sticks can be eaten out-of-hand.
this is my second-favorite recipe. it is more work than "cactus
sticks", but can be made ahead, and is quite handy. since the mucilage
begins to reconstitute during chewing this has the unnerving property
of "the more you chew, the more there is to chew".
- conversions and yields
a widely-quoted figure says that t. pachanoi (wet) is 0.12% mescaline.
freeze-dried unpeeled t. pachanoi is quoted at 2%. it is my impression
that fresh cactus varies significantly in entheogenic activity, but
this might be due primarily to water content, rather than environmental
or cultural considerations. home-drying is probably not as complete as
8 oz (226 gms) whole, unpeeled, fresh cactus == 270 mg mescaline.
12 oz (340 gms) whole, unpeeled, fresh cactus == 400 mg mescaline.
2-2.5" dia fresh unpeeled ~= 1.5 oz/in
3.5-4" dia fresh unpeeled ~= 3.5 oz/in
16 oz. fresh cactus ~= 3 oz. fibrous pith
+ 6 oz. white tissue
+ 6 oz. green tissue
+ 1 oz. skin and spines.
12 oz. fresh cactus == 1 oz. dried (+ 7/8 oz. peel).
1 oz. dried cactus == 2 slightly heaping Tbs cactus granules
4 oz. fresh cactus == 5/8 C chopped.
the discarding of the skin is probably an essential step to reducing
the nausea induced by any cactus preparation (with the exception of a
proper chemical extraction.) just looking at the waxy scum that boils
off of it in just a minute of blanching is enough to turn my stomach.
this stuff was not evolved to be digested, it was evolved to be
abrasion-resistant and water-proof. it makes cucumber peel look
generally, the addition of lime-juice or vinegar improves palatability
by neutralizing the bitterness, which is particularly intense in the
green tissue (see "chemical considerations" below). mature tissue from
the base of a column seems to have a sandy, crunchy texture, although
storage in a dark closet for some weeks may reduce this, as well as
possibly intensifying the alkaloidal content (one cactacean informs me
that t. pachanoi moved into the shade increases its alkaloidal content,
although it grows fastest in direct sun.) the bitterness compares to a
bitter espresso, but in volume can become daunting.
i've only had one mild episode of stomach cramping. as noted an
authority as shulgin says that that can almost be counted upon even
with pure synthesized mescaline. i don't know if the mucilage actually
soothes stomach tissues, or if an inveterate espresso-drinker such as
myself has such a cast-iron stomach that mescaline can't get its
attention, or if i just haven't yet eaten enough, often enough. nor
have i yet suffered emesis, although sometimes those last few mouthfuls of
bitter green tissue or the last gulps of mucus tea will start my gorge
any kind of heating, as well as exposure to food acids, starts the flow
of mucilage. some cacti species have such pronounced mucilage that
they are used to repair pottery. dry-heat treatments such as
pan-frying act against this trend, but diced t. pachanoi salad stored
in the refrigerator can become quite slimy (although after an hour or
so, the volume of drawn juice reaches equilibrium). reconstituted
dried cactus (as in "tea", above) can become quite unpleasantly slimy.
i would discard the fibrous tissues, unless i was doing an extraction.
it's just too hard to make it seem like food.
the best-tasting recipes *do* taste better than simple raw cactus, and
also shrink the volume of cactus to be consumed, but they don't taste a
- chemical considerations
presumably the addition of lime juice or vinegar converts various
free-base alkaloids into their respective citrate or acetate. i don't
know if this has any implications for absorption. i would expect
stomach acid to convert free-base to the chloride, so except for any
alkaloids absorbed sub-lingually the body won't ever be dealing with
eaten cactus alkaloids as their free-base.
according to mcgee "on food and cooking", heat-induced browning
reactions in food occur from about 130C - 210C, so i'd expect the
surface of frying (not scorching) cactus would not exceed that, nor the
moist interior to exceed 100C. a kind respondent assures me that
mescaline has a boiling-point of 320C @ 1 atm, and that offhand he sees
no reason to think that it will decompose before it boils (although he
suggests that i ask a Real Chemist (tm) to be sure. can any of you
speak to this?).
it is not clear to me whether the break-down of cell walls and other
plant structures (and possibly break-down of mucilage) in the process
of cooking contribute to speed and efficiency of mescaline absorption.
i am assuming, but do not know for a fact, that mescaline from
well-chewed raw cactus tissue in healthy stomach acid is subject to an
absorption practically as as complete and fast as that from a
boiled-down sludge or hot-water extract.
- future work
two approaches for further exploration suggest themselves. the first
is to see if 30-60 minutes of pressure-cooking will reduce raw cactus
(perhaps with a bit of lime-juice) to a porridge with a more-uniform
texture, possibly with reduced slime. chilled, this might work as a
gazpacho, or hot, as a vegetable consume' or chowder.
the second is to see if the mucilaginous quality can be capitalized
upon and exploited as a virtue. i look forward to corresponding with
any gumbo-cooks who might have thoughts along these lines.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Alan L. Bostick)
Subject: Re: San Pedro
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 1994 18:33:32 GMT
email@example.com () writes:
>Anyone know anyting about the San Pedro cactus? Does it really contain Mecaline
>or is this just a big joke? Also does it go by any other name?
Yes, San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) does contain mescaline. It
can be found at many nurseries that specialize in cacti and succulents,
and you can raise it at home. It is a not-uncommon ornamental cactus.
(There is a house between my home and the Ashby BART station in Berkeley
that has a whole row of them, six feet tall, in the front yard. I wonder
if the owner has any clue . . . ?)
Here is a way to prepare the stuff that I have found effective:
(1) Take a length of cactus, six inches per person, and carefully cut away
the spine areoles.
(2) Freeze the de-spined cactus. This helps break down cell walls to make
extraction of the good stuff easier.
(3) Thaw it in a bowl or watertight container. Don't lose the goo that
(4) Using a carrot peeler or a small knife, peel the green skin off. Try
to remove as little of the flesh as possible.
(5) Cut the peeled cactus into small chunks
(6) Using a blender or a food processor, chop the chunks into mush
(7) Squeeze the mush through cheesecloth, to get the liquid out,
and discard the contents of the cheesecloth.
(8) Mix the goo from step 3 with the liquid from step 7.
(9) Add milk (about a pint per person) to the mixture. Blend.
(11) Fasten your seatbelts, extinguish all smoking materials, put your
seat backs and tray tables in their full upright and locked position, and
enjoy your flight.
San Pedro cactus tastes like the bitterest cucumber on God's good green
earth. It's difficult to get down -- but once it's down, it stays down.
One helpful variation is to use storebought eggnog rather than straight
milk. Another variation is to add a scoop or two of icecream per person
to the milk to make a mescaline milkshake.
-- Alan Bostick