Night-Blooming Cereus Cactus for health
Our departure for Florida is still a day away, and it’s snowing! Before we head south, I want to tell you more about the medicinal benefits of Selenicereus grandiflorus, the night-blooming cereus cactus.
Although it is also called large-flowered cactus, sweet-scented cactus, queen of the night, and vanilla cactus, it is most commonly known as night-blooming cereus. The Latin name also speaks to this: ‘seleni‘ means moon, ‘cereus’ means waxy, and “grandiflorus” means large-flowered. As I said, this is a very common cactus. It likes to sprawl and branch and climb across rocks and around trees and fences. The green succulent stems are jointed, fleshy, columnar, a half to one inch or so across, scant to mildly covered in spines, each joint of the stem being up to several inches in length. The flowers are large, waxy, splendorously showy. They do not flower often, and when they do, there may be as few as one. The flowers develop, unfurled, for quite a long time, and they too, are quite impressive in appearance. Like the name says, the flowers bloom at night, and it is a spectacular, one-night-only event. The flower may open with a loud pop, and it emits a sublime, hypnotic aroma that can bowl over a human, and which will hopefully attract a single pollinator during that night, because by the next day the flower will have already wilted.
The fleshy stems of night-blooming cereus cactus are the medicine, and if the cactus happens to be in the immature flowering stage, even better, as the unfurled flower is also medicinal. The taste of the fresh fleshy stem is sweet (sweet by an herbalist’s standards, not by a sugarholic’s standards) and bitter; its texture is mucilaginous; and its energetics are cooling and moistening to the organ tissues and systems that it influences. The tissues and systems that night-blooming cereus cactus most and best influence are the heart-cardiovascular system and the nervous system. It also exerts good influence on the lungs-respiratory system and the female reproductive cycle, especially during menopausal and premenstrual times.
It is most renowned for its ability to strengthen heart muscle and action, and to alleviate heart pain. In my practice it is an essential and central ingredient – along with hawthorn and reishi — in formulas to strengthen a heart weakened by a cardiovascular event (MI, stroke), blockage of arteries, or from the strain from cardiac fever, over exertion, or chronic debilitation like tobacco heart. Its effects are noticeable and enduring. It is a superior antispasmodic, and has the ability to alleviate what people describe as the feeling of constricting bands of pain across their chests and hearts. I also use it with motherwort to help address arrhythmias and tachycardia, and in formulas to strengthen hearts weakened by Lyme Disease.
Its action on the nervous system is as powerful and positive as it is on the heart, and in fact, it is the very place where nervous system and heart action meet that cactus medicine seems to have its greatest affinity. Its tonifying and restorative effect on the nerves and central nervous system can be profound and enduring. I use it in formulas to treat a wide array of concerns, including nervousness, anxiety, panic, and especially gloom-and-doom depression. And I use it just as often as a strengthening nerve tonic to treat nerve weakness and nervous system fragility (neurasthenia), and also in protocols to help stroke victims recover neurological function.
I also use cactus frequently in formulas to address nervous system concerns that are connected to the menstrual cycle. It is observably beneficial in addressing menopausal anxiety-nervousness, panic attacks with hyperventilation, melancholy and black-cloud depression, thoughts plagued by doom and a fear of death; and also to address hot flashes, numbness and weakness of the limbs, or feelings of heavy tightness in the chest.
And I will use cactus in lung-respiratory formulas when the symptomatic picture bears resemblance to symptoms mentioned in the cardiovascular and nervous system section: respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis where symptoms might include a tight-banded feeling in the chest and labored breathing; respiratory symptoms that accompany cardiovascular deficiency diseases like congestive heart failure and cardiac edema; or the rapid, shallow, panic-inducing breathing that might accompany a nervous condition.
As a preparation, cactus is best used as a fresh tincture. If you happen to be lucky enough to live where it grows, you could juice it, although I am not sure what that dosage would be. My experience is with the fresh tincture. I blend a one-to-two ratio (by volume) of cactus to fluid. Because cactus is so succulent – approximately 90-95% water content – it is safest and best (I would say essential) to use the highest-test alcohol available. That would be 95% alcohol concentration, or 190 proof. Cactus is fairly strong medicine, so the dosage does not need to be high. It is never the largest ratio amount in a formula even though it may sometimes be the most important herb in the mix. In formulas alongside hawthorn and reishi for instance, cactus would be one quarter to one third the ratio amount of these other herbs (example: for every 30 drops of hawthorn I would add 7-10 drops of cactus). In small, tonic doses, cactus can be taken safely and without side effects for long periods. If consumed in large quantities or at too high and frequent a dose, it will produce the very symptoms it alleviates when taken at the correct dose, inducing shallow breathing, nervous anxiety and a tight feeling in the chest. So, if you are a general interest reader, don’t do that. And if you are a discerning herbalist, then remember that when using cactus, and you will enjoy it as an important medicine in your repertoire.
If you are interested in night-blooming cereus cactus medicine, contact me. I’m shipping fresh cactus back to my apothecary staff and can include some cactus for you. Also, if you like to grow cacti indoors or have a greenhouse or sun room, a segment of fresh cactus easily roots and grows.