The prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus is synonymous with the American West, and what a present she is to abandon dwellers. The title prickly pear refers to a bunch of round one dozen species within the Opuntia genus (Desert USA, n.d.). Each a part of this plant is helpful, and prickly pear serves a variety of use from first support to meals. Don’t let the prickly exterior of this cactus idiot you—this plant reminds us that there’s all the time greater than meets the attention.

Plant Description

The scale of prickly pear can range drastically. Some species can develop as much as six ft tall, whereas others stick nearer to the bottom (Desert USA, n.d.). The stacking pads begin in clusters low to the bottom. Then, as every year passes and new pads spring forth from the tops of the older ones, the prickly pear climbs. 

Beginning out smooth and succulent, the pads (additionally known as nopales) develop woody over time to assist the burden of recent progress through the years. The pink or yellow flowers of this cactus bloom within the early summer time (Hartung, 2011). The fruit (additionally known as a tuna) units because the flowers wilt, and is ripe when deep crimson or purple. Each the pads and the fruit of this cactus are edible.

Prickly pear is nicely tailored to reside within the arid local weather of its pure habitat. Like different cacti, this plant makes use of its pores and skin to photosynthesize. This adaptation means the cactus can develop spines, reasonably than leaves, to guard its treasured water shops from thirsty desert dwellers. The vertical orientation of the modified stem, known as pads, additionally helps to protect water by preserving many of the plant’s floor out of the direct solar for many of the day.

The floor of the prickly pear is, nicely, prickly. Tiny nodes, known as areoles, cowl the floor of the plant. From these nodes, the cactus grows giant spines which are clearly sharp and painful-looking. The plant may even produce glochids from the areoles. Glochids are brief, prickly barbs that look much less threatening than giant thorns, however are literally far simpler at sticking to and worsening the pores and skin of animal predators (Forest Service, 2014). 


Prickly pear is at residence in a heat atmosphere, so it’s best to maintain this plant in a pot indoors if the winter in your space is far colder than in its pure habitat. Saved potted, this plant may be moved indoors to overwinter and might stay open air throughout hotter months. The excessive water content material of the pads signifies that freezing situations might trigger the cell partitions of the plant to burst because the water in them expands. The harm ensuing from a tough freeze may cause pads to fall off of the plant. 

In case you are able to strive rising prickly pear, buy a starter for comfort, and plant in sandy well-draining soil both straight within the floor or in a big pot. Planting in a big pot signifies that you received’t must repot this prickly pal too usually. Water the plant regularly, and permit time in between watering for the roots to dry out. Whether or not you retain this plant inside or out, ensure it will get loads of gentle.

Fairly than watering from a backside tray, or doing a deep watering, prickly pear does greatest with prime watering. The roots of the prickly pear cactus are fibrous, shallow, and spreading. Stretching slightly below the floor of the soil permits them to entry no matter precipitation falls rapidly. The cactus transports water to the fleshy pads, and shops it for drier days (Forest Service, 2014). 

There are greater than a handful of species within the Opuntia genus. The completely different species range in elevation desire, potential peak, fruit, and pad traits (Desert USA, n.d.). 

Figuring out which species will greatest suit your wants is value some research. Desert USA has article that incorporates a listing of 15 completely different species with habitat preferences, and plant traits; yow will discover that article here.

Harvest Prickly Pear Cactus

Because of the spiny nature of this plant, it is very important use the right gear and a wholesome respect when working with the prickly pear. All the time put on thick puncture-proof gloves when dealing with the fruits or the pads. Tongs may be useful to understand pads. Use clippers or a knife to chop pads or fruit from the plant. All the time minimize on the backside, the place the seam between the 2 plant components is seen.

To take away the thorns and glochids, you might have a few choices. One is to make use of tongs to regular the pad on a flat floor whereas utilizing a knife to scrape the thorns and glochids from the pads. All the time scrape the thorns and glochids away from you—and from anybody else for that matter! You don’t need to fling these tiny barbs round.

In case you reside in an area the place you’ll be able to safely construct a fireplace in a grill or a fireplace pit then it’s possible you’ll choose to course of your prickly pear over an open flame. To do that, place a grate over the hearth, and place the harvested prickly pear fruits or pad over the open flame for just a few moments to burn the spines from the plant. Use tongs to position and take away plant components from the hearth, and use security measures obligatory when working with an open flame. Plunge the pad or fruits into an ice water tub to carry the temperature down, and make them secure to deal with instantly.

After the prickly components of the prickly pear are eliminated, wash the pads. Use kitchen gloves to keep away from coming into contact with any stray remaining glochids. It’s best to devour the prickly pear instantly, or retailer it within the fridge for as much as per week. Pads and fruits could also be frozen for future use. 

Working with a plant is commonly simply pretty much as good a salve for the soul because the constituents housed within the fibers of the plant are for the physique. Although you wouldn’t essentially guess it simply by wanting, prickly pear has a wealth of presents to supply us. These presents can solely be obtained with using tenderness and attentiveness. This plant reminds us that thoughtfulness and care are vital components of getting access to the presents of {our relationships} with different dwelling beings. 

Utilizing the Cactus Pads

The younger pads of the prickly pear are tender and succulent. Buds of the brand new pads seem within the spring and stretch and flatten themselves out as they develop. As soon as the pad reaches the scale of your hand, or about 4-6 inches, they’re prepared to reap. 

The mucilaginous inside flesh of the pads is demulcent and soothing to the interior tissues of the digestive system. Consuming the pads of the prickly pear will help decrease LDL ldl cholesterol by limiting the liver’s manufacturing of it, whereas having no impact on the liver’s skill to provide HDL (Sánchez, 2014). 

Additionally, the inside flesh of the prickly pear pads can scale back blood glucose ranges in folks with kind 2 diabetes. One research discovered that the addition of nopales has the potential to cut back the glycemic load of a meal by 20-48% (Bacardi-Gason et al., 2007). The addition of nopales to a meal has the potential to help in bettering metabolic management for diabetic folks. Whereas it won’t decrease the blood sugar of a wholesome individual, prickly pear is contraindicated for folks on insulin (Sanchez, 2014).

The advantages of prickly pear don’t cease there. Peter Bigfoot, desert survivalist and bioregional herbalist, teaches contributors of his survival courses concerning the first support makes use of of prickly pear cactus. The pads serve nicely as a type of emergency bandage for scrapes and abrasions. To make use of as a bandage, clear the skin of the pad of thorns and glochids as talked about above. Then slice the pad, alongside the sting, into two halves. Place the inside portion of the pad in opposition to the wound. 

The inside flesh of the pad has each a soothing and drawing impact that’s glorious for wound care. These actions make prickly pear the right poultice for burns (Sànchez, 2014). Clear and put together the pads as above. Both place the pad on the burned space and bandage, or scrape the pulp from the middle, and unfold over bigger burned areas (akin to in circumstances of sunburn). 

Utilizing the Fruit

Prickly pear fruits are supply of nutritional vitamins C, E, and Okay in addition to minerals and amino acids. The flavonoid and antioxidant profile for this fruit are additionally spectacular and contribute to the advantages we achieve from ingesting the delightfully fuschia coloured fruit. Not overly candy, the fruit is just about 15% sugar, which is akin to an apple (Cota-Sánchez, 2016).

The fruit juice is added to lemonades and iced teas. You too can use the prickly pear tunas to make Jellies, candies, syrups, popsicles, and salsas. Even the seeds are edible. With jellies, popsicles, salsas, and in different meals purposes, the seeds could also be left in based mostly on the chef’s desire. For candies, syrups, or drinks, it would be best to use a cheesecloth to separate the juice from the pulp and seeds (that are plentiful).

The place to Discover Prickly Pear

Whereas nopales and cactus tunas are usually not precisely mainstream market staples, they’re at the very least seasonally frequent in Mexican items markets. Discover one in your space, and scope out the produce part. You may additionally discover some enjoyable cactus gadgets within the ready meals, like cactus pickles, that are value a strive.

Beneath, you’ll discover easy recipe recommendations for a way you should utilize each the tuna and the nopales of the cactus. 

Nopales and Black Beans


1 can of black beans
1 medium onion
1 prickly pear pad
Four giant cloves of garlic
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon rooster or vegetable broth
½ tablespoon floor cumin
Salt to style


  • Get all your substances prepared earlier than you start cooking. 
  • Clear the prickly pear pad, take away the outer fringe of the pad, and cube into ½ inch cubes. 
  • Thinly slice the onion. 
  • Mince the garlic. 
  • Open, drain, and rinse the canned beans. 
  • As soon as all your substances are able to go, warmth the olive oil in a pan over medium warmth. Add the onions to the pan, with a sprinkle of salt, and saute till they turn out to be translucent. 
  • As soon as the onions are translucent add the nopales to the pan. 
  • When the onions start to caramelize add within the garlic, stir the pan steadily at this level to stop the garlic from burning. 
  • As soon as the odor of garlic begins to waft up from the pan, add the broth, and deglaze the pan. Subsequent add the cumin, and the beans. 
  • Whereas the dish is coming collectively style the beans and salt to style. 
  • As soon as the beans are heat all over, they’re able to eat. 

To Use:

These beans may be eaten by themselves. Or, I wish to prime them with some chunks of avocado. They’re additionally nice on tostadas, with eggs for breakfast, or as a aspect dish.

Prickly Pear Fast Jam

Adapted from Positive Jell’s freezer jam recipe (My Meals and Household, n.d.)


Four cups sugar
2 cups prickly pear fruit (peeled, seeded, and diced)
1 bundle Positive Jell (fruit pectin)
¾ cup water


  • Take away spines from the skin of the prickly pear tuna utilizing both the scrape-off methodology or the burn off methodology. In case you burn the thorns off the fruits, place them in an ice tub after to make the fruit secure to deal with. 
  • Slice the fruit open, take away the seeds, scoop the flesh out, and cube or mince relying on how a lot physique you need the ultimate product to comprise.
  • In a big bowl, combine 4 cups of sugar into the diced fruit, and put aside. 
  • Combine one bundle of Positive Jell fruit pectin into three-fourths cup water in a small saucepan. 
  • Carry the combination to a boil over excessive warmth. Boil for one minute. Stir the pectin and water consistently all through the method to stop it from clumping. 
  • Pour the hydrated pectin into the fruit and sugar combination. Stir for 3 minutes, or till the sugar has dissolved. 
  • Portion your jam into containers, leaving a half-inch hole on the prime, for growth. Place the containers within the freezer for 24 hours. 

To Use: 

This jam will maintain within the fridge for as much as three weeks, or within the freezer for as much as a 12 months. Thaw the jam earlier than serving. 

Word: The flesh of the prickly pear may be very pigmented, so it’s possible you’ll need to cowl your workspace if staining the counter tops is a priority.

In Closing,

Prickly pear is a pleasant summertime forage in the event you reside in areas the place the plant is plentiful throughout the native ecosystem, and it may be simply introduced right into a cultivated house if not. With a bevy of well being advantages and scrumptious purposes, it’s straightforward to see how the fruit has turn out to be so well-loved—despite its intimidating packaging. This plant reminds us there’s greater than meets the attention, and that danger usually results in reward.


Bacardi-Gascon, M., Dueñas-Mena, D. BCS, & Jimenez-Cruz, A. (2007). Decreasing results of postprandial glycemic response of nopales added to Mexican breakfasts. Diabetes Care: 30(5): 1264-1265. 

Cota-Sánchez, J.H. (2016). Dietary composition of fruit cultivars. Cambridge, MA: Tutorial Press.

Hartung, T. (2011). Homegrown herbs: A whole information to rising, utilizing, and having fun with greater than 100 herbs. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Desert USA. (n.d.). Prickly pear cactus: Genus Opuntia [Website]. Retrieved from

Forest Service. (2014). Discipline information for managing prickly pear within the southwest. [PDF]. United States Division of Agriculture. Retrieved from

Sánchez, J. C. (2014). Breaking Floor. Tempe, AZ: JoAnn Castigliego Sánchez.

30 minutes to do-it-yourself Positive.Jell strawberry freezer jam. My Meals and Household. (n.d.). 30 minutes to do-it-yourself Positive.Jell strawberry freezer jam. [Website]. KraftHeinz. Retrieved from

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