A couple of weeks ago, a PWN reader told me that she had gone on a guided tour of Sedona, Arizona, and learned a little about the flat prickly pear cactus. Apparently there is quite a bit of nutrition packed into this particular cactus, and she asked if I could provide some more insight into this.
Let me begin by saying I have never learned about or eaten a prickly pear cactus (let’s call this a PPC from this point on). But, I love learning about new health foods so I was excited to do some research! PPCs are native to Mexico but can be found throughout most of the Americas and parts of Europe. They typically are large, flat, rounded plants with big and small spines covering the surface. They can be a very dense plant, especially when they begin to get their fruit.
The edible part of the PPC is the fruit, or cactus fig. This is found attached to the skin of the plant. All of the skin and small spines must be removed from the fig before eating. They come in shades of red, orange and yellow, and are apparently very juicy and sweet when eaten fresh. Cactus figs are also used for candies, jellies, and in special drinks.
The young stem of the PPC, called nopales, is also edible, but is used more as a plant than a fruit. It is common to see nopales used in Mexican cuisine. There are even certain parts of the PPC that can be used to make alcohol.
However, some of the most interesting things I discovered were the many medicinal uses of the PPC. Certain parts of the plant can be used to help regulate blood sugar; as an antioxidant; for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties; in weight regulation; and in the treatment of asthma, fatigue, livery injury from too much alcohol, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, snakebites, sore throat, and other disorders. The pulp of the plant is also used by many cultures on burns, cuts, wounds and fractures because it eases pain and promotes healing.
If you’re anything like me, right now you’re wondering, “where can I get this stuff?!”
I found one place in Arizona where you can mail order prickly pear nectar and jams. Go here to learn more. And if anyone tries it or has experience with the PPC, please share. Next time I see one of these plants outside, I may try to get to the fruit myself!