Nopal - essbarer Kaktus aus Mexiko - Pacific and Lime

Nopal - edible cactus from Mexico

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.

Nopal cactus

Where does the prickly pear come from?

Prickly pears, like most cacti species, are native to the Americas, where they are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico . Through human actions, they were spread to many other regions of the world. In Mexico, the cacti are particularly numerous in the central and western parts of the country and on the West Indian Caribbean islands. In the southern and central US, they grow in many areas of the arid and drought-prone western US, including the lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains and southern Great Plains, and the southwestern desert area, which is home to several species.

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 originally comes from America, where it was cultivated as a crop by the Aztecs in what is now Mexico long before the Spanish conquest. For many centuries, the prickly pear was a staple food for Native Americans, with many species of figs growing wild in the deserts of the American Southwest. Because the shrub and fruits of the cactus, the prickly pear were covered with prickles and thorns, they bred varieties with fewer prickles several centuries ago.

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.

edible cactus

Effect and health benefits of prickly pear

Antioxidant content

Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. The nopal cactus is rich in antioxidants and reduces the burden of free radicals.

Antiviral Cure

The best way to prevent a viral infection is prevention. The prickly pear has antiviral properties. In addition, research has shown that it has antiviral effects on HIV, respiratory syncytial virus and herpes simplex virus.

Protection for the nerve cells

Like any other cell, nerve cells can be damaged, causing loss of sensation or pain. The prickly pear possesses a number of neuroprotective properties. In this way, it can help ensure that nerve cells are not damaged or lose their function.

Treatment of enlarged prostate

The Nopal cactus can be used in the treatment of an enlarged prostate and is even said to be effective in the treatment of prostate cancer. The side effects are said to be fewer than with conventional prescription drugs.

lowering cholesterol levels

Studies have shown that the nopal cactus can lower cholesterol levels. While the edible cactus reduced total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol decreased significantly. In addition, the nopal cactus may have fewer side effects.

Eliminate hangover symptoms

The nopal cactus can be used against the symptoms of a hangover. The cactus extract is most effective before drinking alcohol . A 2004 study found that the nopal cactus effect significantly reduced the pressure of a hangover when taken before drinking.


regulation of blood sugar levels

Regulating blood sugar levels plays a major role in diabetics. The nopal cactus could offer a complementary solution. Studies indicate that the nopal cactus effect can be used to regulate blood sugar levels with diabetes medication.

Cultivation of the nopal cactus

Because the edible cactus thrives primarily in subtropical and tropical desert areas, it is widespread in Mexico and the American Southwest. It also grows in South Africa and Australia. After the Spanish conquerors brought the nopal cactus to Europe in the 16th century, it is also cultivated in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean. The world's largest producer of the edible cactus is Mexico. There it is mainly grown in the central Mexican states of Estado de México, Guanajuato and Queretaro. Then follows Italy, where the largest growing area in Sicily is located.

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.

prickly pear

Use and way of eating the prickly pear

There are different ways to use the nopal cactus. It is usually used in boiled and grilled form in soups, chili dishes and salads, or for jams, juice, jellies and sweets. In Mexico, the raw prickly pear is a specialty that gets its delicate taste from refined spices. To prepare the nopales, the spines are removed with a sharp knife and then cleaned with a brush. Then they are cut into thin slices.

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.
edible cactus
Back to blog