The nopal cactus belongs to the opuntia subgroup and is also known as prickly pear or paddle cactus. It can be recognized by its broad, flat, branched, cushion-like stems that are studded with spikes and bear rich yellow or red flowers in summer. This results in the edible prickly pears, whose fruit colors vary in red, green and yellow-orange tones. The juicy fruits are ripe in September and can be eaten raw or cooked and used in jams and jellies. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked and have a fresh lemon flavor.
Where does the prickly pear come from?
Prickly pear cacti are also common in the sandy coastal areas of Florida's east coast to southern Connecticut and as far away as the Caribbean and Bahamas. In addition, the prickly pear is found in the sandy prairies of the Midwest around large rivers such as the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers. The natural occurrence of the prickly pear is in the hilly regions of southern Illinois and the sand and rocky regions of northern Illinois.
The History of the Nopal Cactus
The nopal cactus is the most commonly cultivated Opuntia species. In the pre-Columbian period, when Columbus discovered it, the cactus spread across America. The natives used both the young shoots and the prickly pears for food. They also used the prickly pear as a traditional medicinal plant and as a dye that they used in their rituals. One of the first explorers of the American Southwest, Cabeza de Vaca, reported in the 1500s that indigenous peoples celebrated the prickly pear harvest with festivals similar to the current Mardi Gras.
In the post-Columbian period, the prickly pear spread all over the world, mainly because sailors valued the nopal cactus effect as a prevention against scurvy. The nopales were quickly naturalized throughout the Mediterranean, as many shipping routes began or ended in the port cities. Because the prickly pear has healthy components, it has also gained in importance as a modern and successful dietary supplement in recent years.
Effect and health benefits of prickly pear
Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. The nopal cactus is rich in antioxidants and reduces the burden of free radicals.
Protection for the nerve cells
Treatment of enlarged prostate
lowering cholesterol levels
Eliminate hangover symptoms
regulation of blood sugar levels
Cultivation of the nopal cactus
Anyone wishing to grow a nopal cactus at home can either cultivate it by seeding in the spring or by using cuttings. Because it can sometimes be difficult to buy prickly pear seeds, they can also be obtained from a ripe prickly pear. Cultivation with cuttings, which are carefully cut off from the cactus, is much faster. The interfaces must dry until they have healed. Only then can the cuttings be planted. The prickly pear cactus needs a sandy, well-drained and nutrient-rich soil as well as an airy sunny spot. Since it does not tolerate frost, it should be planted in a large flowerpot that is frost-free in winter.
Use and way of eating the prickly pear
The prickly pears are prepared as follows: First, both ends of the fruit are cut off. The skin is then removed by making an incision all along the fig. Then the skin is peeled off with the fingers. The pulp is covered with countless seeds that can be eaten. The flesh can be eaten raw or pushed through a sieve to make juice or jam.
Thanks to the multiple health benefits of the cactus, there are also a number of medicinal uses. To get the best benefits, you should eat the prickly pear pure. You can also take them as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules, powder, extracts or in liquid form. To rule out possible side effects, it is safest to eat a raw prickly pear instead of a dietary supplement.
As a food, the side effects of the edible cactus are significantly lower than with a dietary supplement. Although prickly pear supplements are considered healthy and safe, more evidence should be provided. If you want to buy a product with the active ingredients of the Nopales cactus, you should choose it carefully.