Opuntia

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prickly pear cactus

prickly pear cactus

This popular cactus can grow all over the world and is destined to be the next big herbal superstar. Each part of this plant is both food and medicine, and its been used for centuries. Antiviral properties used for herpes, flu, HIV, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, cholesterol, and skin problems. The fruit of the cactus, which looks like pink easter eggs—also known as the pulp or tuna, can be eaten much like other fruits. They taste like raspberries and are SUPER high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, potassium, cancer-protecting flavonoids and huge doses of vitamin C. Prickly pear fruit has been clinically shown to reduce cholesterol. Seeds can be ground into flour. The flat green pads contain a full range of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It is extremely rare for a plant source to have this many amino acids. It’s very high in dietary soluble fiber, mucilage and pectin. Mucilage is the sticky juice that oozes from the pad when it is sliced, the same mucilaginous immuneboosting polysaccharide found in Aloe Vera. Studies have shown the prickly pear cactus to be effective against diabetes, even type II. Apparently, it helps the pancreas create insulin. Amazing. The juice can be applied to warts and consumed to work on kidney stones. Tea made from the pads are used for lung problems, prostate issues and diabetes. When harvesting cactus, use tongs. Maybe even have some super thick work gloves or welding gloves. There are the big sharp obvious spikes, but be aware that at the base of those are little teeny tiny hairs that stick in your skin and can drive you nuts. These are called “glochids” but who cares what they are called. Just be ready for it and be careful when handling cactus. The payoff is well worth it! Hose off the cactus pieces as much as you can with water somehow- in the sink or with a hose. Then scrape off the needles while holding with tongs. Some people carve out the base of each spine with a knife where the glochids are. Then peel off the skin to eat, or if you want a cactus smoothie, simply throw the whole thing in a Vitamix, skin, prickles and everything, run it on high speed for a while until everything is absolutely liquified. Then strain through a fine mesh strainer or nut milk bag and mix with fresh squeezed orange juice. Both the egg-shaped fruit and the flat pads can be eaten. People of many cultures peel the skin off the pads and cut them into strips to stir fry like any other vegetable. the flower can be added as garnish and eaten also. For pink lemonade- drop the pink fruit "eggs" into Vitamix blender with some lemon and optional honey, blend, strain out the prickles and you have amazing pink lemonade. The slimy inside can be mixed with water and used to wash and condition hair and even lather into a soap! The whole plant is edible.
Edible Plant Guide © 2012 Markus Rothkranz
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Opuntia

 

a genus of cacti with flat, succulent, jointed branches. They are erect or prostrate shrubs or, less frequently, trees. Modified buds, or areoles, are distributed along the stems. The areoles have spines and clusters of easily broken bristles, called glochidia. The leaves are small, awl-shaped, and soon deciduous. The flowers are solitary and bisexual. In many species, the fruit is an edible berry. The fruit of O. ficus-indica is called an Indian fig. In contrast to other cacti, the seeds of prickly pears are flat and have a hard coat.

There are more than 200 species of Opuntia, distributed from the Canadian prairies (56° N lat.) to southern Argentina (except for the humid tropical regions). Prickly pears grow in savannas, caatingas, tropical and subtropical deserts and semideserts, and mixed pine and juniper forests. Some species have been acclimatized to the Mediterranean region, Australia, India, and the USSR (the Crimea and the Caucasus). Frost-resistant species can survive temperatures as low as — 10°C.

Prickly pears were among the ancient plants known by the Indians. They are depicted on the state seal of Mexico. The stems, which contain starch, sugar, protein, and vitamin C, can be used as livestock feed. Prickly pears vigorously multiply by means of vegetative propagation.

R. A. UDALOVA

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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