Fear the Walking Dead‘s midseason premiere followed Nick’s travels in Mexico and a series of close calls and frightening encounters. One moment that many viewers are talking about is when he tried to drink from a cactus and eat cactus meat but became violently ill. Is that realistic?
Here’s what you need to know.
According to one survivalist blog, water-bearing plants should be a last-resort when you’re trying to avoid dehydration. The unconventional nutrients in these plants can bring severe risks. The blog Wry Heat, written by an economic geologist, explores the question of cactus in more detail. In general, the moisture found in cactus pulp is very acidic and can even have toxic alkaloids, although the fruit is fine to eat.
The cactus that Nick was eating looked similar to a prickly pear pad. According to Wry Heat, young prickly pads have less oxalic acid and cooking it leaches the acid out (which is why it is sometimes sold in Mexican restaurants.) But that is clearly not the case with the cactus Nick ate.
The Arizona Daily Independent also discusses the question. Seri Indians sometimes use Fishhook barrel cactus for emergency water, but drinking that on an empty stomach can cause diarrhea and even worse dehydration. Seri Indians even said they felt pain in their bones after drinking the cactus jice. Meanwhile, the Coville barrel cactus can cause nausea, diarrhea, and even temporary paralysis.
Cactus’ photosynthesis is what causes the moisture inside to be so acidic. It’s even worse with desert plants, because they use a modified type of photosynthesis at night, which results in storing carbon dioxide as an organic acid that is gradually released the next day.
So in other words, Fear the Walking Dead portrayed Nick’s reaction correctly. Cactus typically isn’t a good source of potable water.