It is cholla time in the desert. They are a little late this year. Perhaps because of changing weather patterns and lack of rainfall but nonetheless, the plants are sprouting an abundance of buds. If you are so inclined, there are videos and articles available online explaining the process for harvesting. The traditional wooden tong may not be available but a simple salad tong can take it's place. Mine is made of steel so it is very strong and can harvest the buds easily. Be careful to use a bag for gathering that you might not mind getting filled with glochid spines. I made the mistake of using one of my favorite burlap bags and now the spines are poking out all over it. Remember to wait until just before the bud opens up into a flower. If you see one flower then you will know it is time to harvest and the buds will be at their maximum size. If you harvest after flowering the energy is going to be concentrated in the flower and the flavor is effected.
After harvesting the process of removing the spines is rather laborious. I simply moved the buds around for several minutes in a colander then poured them into alternating colanders and shook them around as the spines fell off. But my method was lacking. I was still left with several spines lodged in the buds so I had to go over my harvest meticulously and remove by hand any left over spines. Try a few different methods to see which suits you best. The buds must be boiled for 15 minutes to remove the oxylate crystals leaving behind calcium. The buds can then be eaten or dehydrated for future use.
Those weird bumpy buds provide amazing complex carbs that balance blood sugar, provide sustained energy, and help remove cholesterol and are loaded with calcium. My favorite dish to make using cholla buds is in mole sauce then eaten with mesquite tortillas. The complex, carbohydrates, low glycemic index, high protein and high calcium meal is a gourmet delight.