The lower 48 states of the United States are home to the eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa). In addition to being a lovely plant, it is edible, offers sustenance and safety to wildlife, and can be utilized in natural landscaping.
This cactus is simple to locate, especially in Indiana. The prickly pear features flat, fleshy pads (known as cladodes) covered in spiky spines, similar to other spiny succulents. Showy yellow blossoms are produced by the prickly pear.
How to eat a prickly pear
A red, egg-shaped fruit starts to form after flowering. After removing the skin, the fruits can be eaten raw and are edible. The fruit is frequently converted into jams, candies, and other sweets, and some people even eat the plant’s fleshy pads as a snack.
For thousands of years, the prickly pear cactus has been an essential part of Mexican and Central American cuisine. Prickly pears are becoming more popular as food in various areas of the United States.
The nopal, or cactus pad, which is frequently used as a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit, are the only two edible portions of the prickly pear plant.
What do prickly pears taste like?
Cactus pears have a sweet, rather bland flavor that is comparable to melon. The fruit is not technically a member of the pear family, despite its name. It was merely given that name because the prickly fruit looks and acts like a pear.
Where can I find prickly pears?
In Indiana, such as the Kankakee Sands and the Lake Michigan shore dunes, the prickly pear cactus can be found in open sand and arid places.
Another fantastic location to see Indiana’s sole cactus is the lovely Ober Savanna in Starke County.
Prickly pear in your yard
The fact that this native cactus is challenging to manage is unknown to many who like planting it in their backyards. A single plant can develop into a tangled, dense colony very fast.
The best approach to stop the prickly pear from spreading is to plant it in a pot. Purdue Pest & Plant Diagnostics Lab has a few options to get rid of prickly pear from your property if it is already out of control on the cactus.
When handling this lovely native cactus, be sure to use thick gloves. Their long, thorny spines, which can reach a length of several inches, are the least of your concerns. Glochids are painful and challenging to remove because of their hair-like appearance and decreased visibility.
Is the prickly pear cactus edible raw?
Mexican food features a lot of cacti and their fruits. The broad, flat cactus pads, also known as “nopales,” are a common ingredient in many main dishes in Mexico, including salads, eggs, and other cuisines. The cactus fruit, sometimes known as “prickly pears,” is extremely delicious and can be consumed straight from the plant. They can be mildly sweet or syrupy sweet, depending on the degree of ripeness.
What characteristics make a prickly pear cactus edible?
The prickly pear belongs to the Opuntia genus of the Cactaceae family of cacti and is a native of the Western Hemisphere. This particular type of cactus is widespread throughout the world’s semi-arid and dry climates, especially in Mexico, the Americas, the Mediterranean, Australia, and Africa.
There are more than 200 different species of cacti in the Opuntia genus, even though there is only one member—the prickly pear cactus. Several distinguishing characteristics are present in all prickly pear cactus species:
Prickly Pear Characteristics
- The huge nopales, or paddle-shaped leaves, that they produce are actually flattened stems or branches. They can be prepared like a vegetable and are edible. Nopales are frequently used in Mexican cuisine.
- Fruits: The fruits, commonly referred to as tunas, range in hue from deep magenta to a bright yellow-green. They range in size from a little plum to a huge kiwi, and the sweetness is dependent on how ripe they are.
- Flowers: The flowers come in a range of hues, including mauve, yellow, orange, and red. They are also edible.
Depending on where you are in the world, there are numerous names for prickly pears. Nopal or nopales, sabra, tuna (fruit), opuntia, paddle cactus, Barbary fig, and Indian fig are a few of their common names.
Can you eat prickly pear cactus fruit?
What Fruit Is a Prickly Pear? Few people are aware that the fruit of nopales cacti—cacti with paddles resembling beaver tails—are surprisingly tasty. These neon-colored fruits are known as prickly pears, and their juice tastes like a cross between watermelon and all-natural bubble gum (if such a thing exists).
Can you eat the entire prickly pear?
Although you might find that not all species of prickly pears from the Opuntia genus are delightful and tasty, they are all edible. You must pick what you want from the fruits you choose because some will typically have more seeds or spines than others.
The Opuntia genus is where the majority of the prickly pears and cactus pads you will see in stores originate, but they have been carefully chosen, prepared, and packaged. Although it is difficult to get in supermarkets, the fruit of saguaro cacti is edible as well.
The fruit of the organ pipe cactus and the well-known dragon fruit, which grows on some cacti species, are both edible. These are some of the most popular cactus fruit varieties, though there are many others that are eaten around the world.
Possibly Effective for…
- Diabetes. Some persons can have a 17–46% reduction in blood sugar after a single dose of prickly pear cactus. It is unknown, though, if prolonged daily use may reliably lower blood sugar levels. One variety of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia streptacantha) has roasted stems that may help persons with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. However, this species’ raw or unprocessed stems don’t seem to be effective. Other varieties of the prickly pear cactus don’t seem to work either.
- Hangover. Before consuming alcohol, taking prickly pear cactus may lessen some hangover symptoms the next day. It appears to considerably lessen dry mouth, anorexia, and nausea. Other hangover symptoms including headache, dizziness, diarrhea, or discomfort do not appear to be lessened by it, either.
Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…
- prostate enlargement Men who have an enlarged prostate frequently feel that their bladder is full and have frequent, severe urogenital urges. Taken orally, powdered prickly pear cactus blossoms may help to lessen these symptoms, according to emerging research.
- high cholesterol that is inherited (familial hypercholesterolemia). According to preliminary studies, people with hereditary high cholesterol can lower their total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels by ingesting the edible pulp of the prickly pear cactus everyday for four weeks while also following a diet.
- high cholesterol levels. According to preliminary studies, consuming prickly pear cactus edible pulp daily while adhering to a diet can lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in patients with high cholesterol. The level of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, does not appear to be impacted.
- metabolic disorder According to preliminary research, women with metabolic syndrome who take a special supplement comprising dried prickly pear cactus leaves (NeOpuntia) daily for six weeks do not experience any changes in their blood fat levels.
- treating virus-based illnesses
- other circumstances
To assess the effectiveness of prickly pear cactus for various uses, more data are required.
According to the following scale, the effectiveness of natural medicines is rated by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).
When used as food, prickly pear cactus is LIKELY SAFE. When used orally as medication in the right dosages for a brief length of time, the prickly pear cactus’s leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and standardized extracts are POSSIBLY SAFE.
Mild diarrhea, nausea, an increase in the volume and frequency of stools, bloating, and headaches are some of the negative effects that the prickly pear cactus can produce.
What cactus can’t be eaten?
The majority of succulent cacti include some acidic substances that are challenging for the human liver to break down. Some kinds of this succulent contain alkaloids in its thick flesh, which can result in unpleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even paralysis.
While some cactus plants can be eaten, others are dangerous and should not be consumed. The following three varieties of cactus should not be consumed:
Scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, peyote cactus is a hazardous kind of cactus that should not be consumed. It is a cactus plant without spines that contains the hallucinogenic chemical mescaline.
When ingested, the substance mescaline induces psychotic symptoms. Peyote poisoning frequently causes hallucinations, agitation, nausea, and vomiting. Peyote cactus overdoses can be lethal in rare circumstances.
J.D. Slothower of the Encyclopedia of Toxicology (2014) states that after 34 hours, mescaline “produces an acute psychotic condition…
A dose of about 300–500 mg causes depersonalization, illusions, anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as visual and sporadically olfactory or aural hallucinations.
Its physiological effects include trembling, sweating, and nausea.
San Pedro Cactus
When consumed, the San Pedro Cactus, a native of the Andes Mountains, can have similar psychedelic effects to Peyote Cactus. This is due to the substance’s inclusion of the hazardous hallucinogenic chemical mescaline.
Palpitations, stomachaches, tremors, and hallucinations are typical adverse reactions to San Pedro Cactus use.
Bolivian Torch Cactus
The Bolivian Torch Cactus, also known as Echinopsis lageniformis, is a type of cactus that is poisonous and has psychedelic side effects. It is not edible. When consumed, this plant’s high mescaline content causes visual and auditory hallucinations.
It’s time to appreciate the nutritional benefits of this plant now that you are aware of which cactus species are edible and which precise sections you may consume. Eating cactus fruits, nopales, seeds, and flowers can improve digestion, lower cholesterol, speed up weight reduction, and reduce inflammation, among other health advantages.
All of these health advantages are made possible by the substances and minerals found in cactus. Vitamins, amino acids, and phytonutrients are a few of these.
Prickly pears are they poisonous?
The Prickly Pear, Peyote, San Pedro, Echinopsis Peruviana, Saguaro, Barrel, Euphorbia canariensis, and Cholla cacti are among the most lethal cacti.
Prickly pears are they healthy?
Prickly pears include essential elements for healthy blood pressure, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as vitamin C, which is crucial for a strong immune system ( 6 , 7 ). Additionally, prickly pears include a variety of advantageous plant substances, such as antioxidants including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and pigments.
The flavor of prickly pears.
All throughout 2017, Starbucks released new, limited-edition drinks, and the summer was no exception. The colorful, summer-themed Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino was briefly available at Starbucks locations across the country. Describe the prickly pear. I was unaware at the time.
Before the drink’s introduction, I had never heard of prickly pears and had assumed that the fruit would be shaped like a pear and have a crunchy interior and a green or brown exterior.
The fruit really comes from a cactus plant called the “Opuntia” that is indigenous to the Americas, which is why the label “prickly pear” is very misleading. Widespread occurrences of it can be found in Mexico, the Caribbean, and arid regions of the western United States, like the Rocky Mountains.
The vibrant Starbucks beverage features cactus-borne edible fruits. The fruit has a vivid crimson color and a flavor that is a cross between watermelon and traditional bubble gum. Due to its pleasantly sweet flavor, it is frequently used in juices, drinks, syrups, jams, and candies.
The prickly pear fruit is not only a tart complement to many recipes, but it also has a ton of health advantages. Each fruit has a lot of dietary fiber and is rich in essential minerals and antioxidants. Prickly pear extracts or supplements have been known to be useful in several medications because of the fruit’s anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, its extract is used to treat high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Prickly pear has also been used for hundreds of years as a successful hangover remedy in addition to being used in mixers and syrups for margaritas. Even in terms of aesthetics, prickly pear sap is added to some conditioners to bring softness and shine to hair.
The prickly pear requires a little more work to prepare than a regular pear, but the luscious fruit hidden beneath the thorns is worth it. After all, the fruit comes from a cactus plant, so it makes sense.
To get ready, you’ll need some pliers or a sharp knife to remove all of the spines from the prickly pear’s exterior, along with some thick leather gloves. If you’re considering cutting and preparing your own prickly pear, consider the following advice.
Once the prickly fruit has been cut open, you can make fresh prickly pear juice, lemonade, and cocktails. As an alternative, you can order prickly pear syrup or mixer online if you don’t want to deal with peeling the fruit.
In addition to beverages, you can bake the fruit to bring out its acidic flavor or use it in a ton of other recipes like jelly, marmalade, and cupcakes. Or just eat the fruit by itself.
To start your prickly pear culinary journey, check out your neighborhood Mexican supermarkets or national chains like Wegman’s that occasionally carry the unusual fruits. You can now enjoy this fruit to its fullest now that you know the definition of a prickly pear.
Can you survive by eating cactus?
You may have heard that if you ever become stranded and dehydrated in the desert, a cactus may provide you with water. Although it seems like a good survival tip to keep on hand, is it really that simple? It transpires that a cactus is not essentially a freshwater basin covered in spines. In a dry environment full of thirsty creatures, such a plant would not survive for very long. In addition to their frightening spines, most cactus species further guard their spongy flesh with acids and powerful alkaloids since water is a very valuable resource in a desert. Most people find these substances to be too bitter to tolerate, and ingesting them puts a strain on the kidneys. Some cactus species’ meat can also result in temporary paralysis, vomiting, and diarrhea—none of which are helpful for your survival in a crisis. The prickly pear and one species of barrel cactus, the fishhook barrel, stand out as prominent outliers to this norm (Ferocactus wislizeni). While both of these plants are fairly unpleasant to consume raw, they contain fewer harmful compounds and could provide some hydration in an emergency. Better options include cactus fruits, however many are unpleasant to eat raw.
*Of course, all of this assumes that you are stranded in a desert in the New World with real cacti. Members of the Euphorbiaceae family, which resemble cactus plants, are poisonous and can be found in the deserts of Madagascar and southern Africa. If this plant’s milky sap gets in your eyes, it can permanently blind you and burn your skin and mucous membranes. Do not attempt to consume those.
Christopher Columbus claimed to have seen mermaids off the coast of what is now the Dominican Republic; however, they were manatees, and he described them as “not half as beautiful as how they were drawn.”