Syn. Myrtillocactus grandiareolatus; Cereus geometrizans Mart. ex Pfeiff.; Cereus pugioniferus Lem.; Myrtillocactus pugionifer (Lem.) A.Berger.
Myrtillocactus, in Latin, literally means “blueberry cactus”. From the medieval Latin myrtillus (diminutive of Latin myrtus) which is an obsolete spelling of mirtilo (which means “blueberry”).
also called : bilberry cactus, whortleberry cactus, blue candle cactus. It gets its common name from fruits which resemble those of a bilberry (European blueberry).
A species of cactus native to central and northern Mexico, found in tropical deciduous forest, xerophyllous (1) scrub (and less frequently in grassland in some areas of the southern Chihuahuan Desert) in central Mexico at elevations from 3,000 to 7,000 feet. This plant is considered an “invasive” in South Africa. It is readily spread by birds who enjoy the fruits and the source of plants appears to have originated from a cactus collection that was established in the late 1970’s. (Dean and Milton 2019).
- also xerophilous – loving dry places
This species is reported as prevalent wild plant in the arid and semi-arid regions of the states of Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Querétaro and San Luis Potosí, and in highly restricted areas of the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala. Its cultivation is common in Hidalgo, Querétaro, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Puebla and Tamaulipas.
Lophocereus schottii (syn Pachycereus schottii; Cereus schottii) is also called garambullo (as well as Cabeza vieja, Hombre viejo, Pitaya barbona, Cinita, Senita, Cina, Mochi, Sina, Sinita, Tuna barbona, Viejo)
The fruits have a very thin skin and the flesh is rich in colour with gelatinous pulp and miniature black seeds.
The fruits appearance resembles grapes and even when dehydrated it is similar to a large raisin, the great difference between the two lies in its dehydration process, in the case of garambullo, the fruit can be dehydrated while still attached to the plant, whenever weather conditions allow it.
The fruit has a very short period of life after its harvest, a couple of days are enough for it to begin to ferment, that is why it is commonly dehydrated, although it can be found in agua frescas, liqueurs, jams, jellies, ice cream and pigments (for the food industry). Even when the fruit is dehydrated with solar or electric dryers, it preserves its nutrients
Commercialization of the fruit is rather scarce because of this extremely short shelf-life, which is approximately 2 days at room temperature and 5 days under refrigeration.
The interior of the garambullo is reminiscent of another cactus fruit, the dragon fruit (pithaya), although the dragon fruit is much larger in size.
Size difference between garambullo and pithaya fruits.
The fruits are not the only edible part of this plant.
The flower has aromatic characteristics and can be consumed as a vegetable. When cooked it can be used in tamales, tostadas and in beans. There are regions where it is candied or crystallized and in other regions it is used locally to make mole (Querétaro) or as an ingredient in atole (Hidalgo).
The preparation of the atole is quite simple. The flowers are boiled in water to release their oils. After being boiled the flowers are strained out. Blend this liquid with the (previously toasted) pumpkin seeds and return to the pot. The strained liquid that has been placed in a pot with a cinnamon stick is returned to the fire. Masa is added to the mixture to thicken the atole and it is sweetened with piloncillo (brown sugar). Bring to the boil again and allow it to cool a little before drinking.
Tortitas de flor de garambullo : Garambullo flower pancakes:
- 3 cups of fresh garambullo flowers
- 3 eggs (gently beaten)
- ½ white onion
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ cup of oil (for shallow frying)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 pinch of Pepper
- Wash the flowers well and allow to sit in clean water for a few minutes. Drain well
- Finely dice the onion.
- Peel the garlic clove and chop it in half
- add the onion to the cleaned garambullo flowers
- add the egg and mix gently with a fork
- add salt and pepper
- heat the oil in a pan, add the two halves of garlic and let them brown for 1 minute. This will flavour the oil and add to the flavour of our tortitas. Remove the garlic from the oil.
- take a large spoonful of the garambullo flower mixture and place it in the hot oil, let it brown first on one side, then turn it over and let it finish browning completely .
- repeat this step until you finish your garambullo flower mixture. Once ready, remove the tortitas from the oil and place them on absorbent paper to drain excess oil.
The following recipes have been adapted from the Dirección General de Culturas Populares, Indígenas y Urbanas (General Directorate of Popular, Indigenous and Urban Cultures) and their Hñähñu recipe book. https://www.culturaspopulareseindigenas.gob.mx/
Xoconostles rellenos de flores de garambullo
(Xoconostles stuffed with garambullo flowers)
Recipe by Miriam Pérez Hernández, El Jagüey, Santiago de Anaya
1 kilogram of xoconostle **See NOTES**
500g garambullo flowers
250g chile* See *NOTES*
½ (large) white onion
salt to taste
- Peel the xoconostles (take care, it is a cactus fruit after all), remove the seeds and simmer for 5 minutes in boiling water
- Wash the garambullo flowers, rinse and drain. Fry them in a little oil with a little diced onion (about a tablespoon or so – you’ll need to save some onion for the sauce) and salt to taste.
- Filled the hollowed out xoconostles with the guisado (stew) of the flowers and coat with flour. Shake off any excess flour. You need the flour coating so that the batter will adhere to the xoconostles more effectively. If you use too much flour you will lose some of the batter when you fry the xoconostles in the next step.
- Make a batter by beating the egg whites to a stiff peak, incorporate the egg yolks. Coat the stuffed xoconostles with the batter.
- Shallow fry the xoconostles in hot oil. Turn them over if necessary so they cook evenly on all sides
- Make a salsa by grinding together the chiles and the rest of the onion.
- In a saucepan, fry the salsa, add the xoconostles and simmer for 10 minutes (más o menos)
Xoconostles are the sour tuna fruit of the opuntia species of cactus (typically O.matudae). In Nahuatl the prefix “xococ” (xoco, xoxo) denotes “sourness”. Another name for this fruit is Tuna agria (sour tuna). These fruits have a central seed cavity which can be hollowed out, this is not like the typical tuna fruit which has the seeds dispersed throughout the whole fruit. Externally the two look identical though.
No specific chile was given for this recipe. Neither was fresh or dried indicated. You could use a large fresh green chile (such as a poblano or Hatch perhaps) or you could use a dried chile such as a morita, chipotle, Oaxacan pasilla, arbol, cascabel or guajillo. If using dried chiles they will need to be toasted and rehydrated before grinding. In a pinch you can use canned chipotles in adobo I guess.
Nopales stew with garambullo flower and escamoles*
*escamoles – Nahuatl: azcamolli (azcatl ‘ant’ and molli ‘puree’), known colloquially as Mexican caviar, are the edible larvae and pupae of ants of the species Liometopum apiculatum and L. occidentale var. luctuosum. This is a very regional foodstuff. They are native to some semi-arid areas of Mexico and the southern United States. They are found around the central plateau of Mexico, primarily in the states of Hidalgo, Puebla, Queretaro, Tlaxcala, Mexico, Guanajuato, Michoacan and San Luis Potosi. Their use as food is an ancient tradition in Mexico. https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/escamoles-2/
Recipe by Hermelinda Vázquez Pérez, El Xitzo, Santiago de Anaya
- 150g of escamoles
- 1kg of nopales
- 1kg of garambullo flower
- 10 xoconostle fruits (typically just called xoconostles)
- ½ white onion
- 250 grams of guajillo chili
- 10 chiles de arbol
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 sprigs of mint
- 250ml of oil
- 1 pinch of oregano
- 1 pinch of salt
- Clean and prepare the nopal pads (See Post The Nopal as Food for more info on this).
- Separately roast the chilies and xoconostles on a comal.
- peel the xoconostles and remove the central seed “core” (taking care – as with the nopal – these ingredients are after all from types of cactus) Remove the veins and seeds from the chiles and grind them with the onion in a molcajete.
- Fry the onion/chile mix with a little oil and the mint and oregano. Add a little water to make a sauce and season to taste with salt.
- Add the nopales, the garambullo flowers and the escamoles to the sauce and let it simmer for approximately 30 minutes.
Frijoles quebrados con flores de garambullo
Broken Beans (See NOTES*) with garambullo flowers
- 500g dried beans
- 250g guajillo chili
- 250g garambullo flower
- 1 ball of masa (about the size of a golfball)
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- Break the beans in your molcajete (or mortar and pestle). Do not grind them to flour. This is a textured dish so you want the beans to be in various sized chunks. Cook the beans with garlic, onion and salt, in a clay pot (olla) for about an hour and a half.
- Prepare the chiles by roasting them, removing the seeds and veins and rehydrating in hot water. Grind them to a paste.
- To the pot of beans, add the masa, little by little, mixing in well then add the ground chile and the garambullo flowers; simmer until done (perhaps for about an hour more)
*NOTES* frijoles quebrados often refers to a type of soup made from frijoles martajados (from martajar – the action of breaking or grinding a food – in this case beans – traditionally using a metate or molcajete). The beans are then seasoned with dried chile, onion , garlic , avocado leaves and cumin. The beans are broken into chunks and not ground into a powder.
*from Nahuatl ātōlli : a traditional hot corn/masa based beverage of Mesoamerican origin.
Recipe from: Peña Sánchez and Hernández Albarrán.
1kg of garambullo (fruit)
250ml of honey
500g of corn masa
- Finely chop or grind the garambullo fruit into a mush and set aside
- Place the water in an olla (clay pot) and bring to the boil
- In a separate jug or pot dissolve the masa in some water and strain to remove any lumps.
- Slowly add the dissolved masa to the boiling water, stirring constantly and boil until it begins to thickens (about 15 minutes). Lower the heat.
- Add the garambullo and the honey, little by little, into the simmering atole until it is well mixed in. Stir constantly to prevent it from sticking, let it simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes over low heat until it takes on a thick consistency. You can vary the thickness of your atole from a watery liquid to a thick smooth porridge. Experiment with this. Cook it to your preference.
Nutritional Profiles of Garambullo Flowers and fruits
Garambullo fruits are a deep blue/purple colour. These fruits, much like blueberries, could easily be termed a superfood. Although there is no specific definition of a superfood (it is more of a clever marketing term) there a certainly foods which are more dense in specific nutrients and provide health benefits as a result. Superfoods don’t really have targeted effects such as a herb might they can be beneficial for specific organs, as blueberries are for the eyes. The very colour of the garambullo fruit indicates that it is rich in anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid, a class of compounds with antioxidant effects. Found naturally in a number of foods, anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, purple, and blue plants their colouring. Anthocyanins may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits.
In herbal medicine, anthocyanin-rich substances have long been used to treat a number of conditions involving blood vessel health, including chronic venous insufficiency, high blood pressure, and diabetic retinopathy. They have also been used to treat a number of other conditions, including colds and urinary tract infections. Recent research also suggests that anthocyanins may help fend off major health problems, including heart disease and cancer. (Khoo etal 2017)
Nutritional content of garambullo (fruits) from different regions in México.
The flowers seem more nutritionally dense than the fruits (although the figures shown are for dried flowers and fresh fruits so there will be some discrepancy when comparing the two)
I have read that if you find yourself hungry in the semi-desert of central Mexico and stumble across one of these cacti it is generally believed that its fruit should not be eaten raw as they ferment in the stomach causing painful indigestion. Not sure how much stock I can place in this though when you can buy the fresh fruit in the mercado for instant consumption.
The hypoglycemic and antioxidant effects of this fruit were evaluated in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats by replacing the drinking water with berry cactus juice (2 or 4 g/kg). After 4 weeks of treatment, the diabetic animals showed an improvement in their conditions, as reflected by diminished circulating glucose levels (up to 50%), diminished triglycerides (up to 67%), and diminished total cholesterol (up to 35%) compared with diabetic nontreated controls, and these effects were dose dependent. The dose of 4 g/kg produced the best results. The administration of the juice improved renal function and helped to restore normal levels of glutathione and glutathione S-transferase in the kidney. The results of this study highlight the importance of the compounds that are present in berrycactus fruit as adjuvants in the treatment of diabetes and its renal complications. (Reynoso-Camacho etal 2015)
Consumption of garambullo fruits could contribute to reduce the risk of degenerative chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes because of the presence of secondary metabolites such as phenolic compounds, carotenoids and betalains. (Montiel-Sánchez etal 2020)
Peel and pulp extracts of garambullo fruits showed a desirable balance to confirm its anti-hyperglycaemic activity due to their moderate α-amylase and higher α-glucosidase inhibiting activity that could potentially decrease starch and sucrose digestion which could result in a reduction in glucose and fructose absorption helping the dietary management of hyperglycaemia linked to type II diabetes. (Bolaños-Carrillo etal 2015)
One study (Salazar etal 2011) has demonstrated that a triterpene and two sterols isolated from M. geometrizans possess in vivo and in vitro activities such as suppressing inﬂammation and the viability of cancer cell lines. Results have shown that triterpenes and sterols found in M.geometrizans have anti-inﬂammatory properties and cytotoxicity against several human cancer cell lines. These properties make these compounds attractive to develop new antitumour drugs.
Another study (Bolaños-Carrillo etal 2015) has shown extracts of M.geometrizans may have efficacy against colon and breast cancer cells and may be a promising source of potential anticancer medications. Secondary metabolites within the plant can block subcellular signalling pathways important in cancer cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in colon and cancer cells.
Garambullos colourful relatives.
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