Is Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Edible

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.

Can you eat the fruit of a prickly pear 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.

Cactus pear fruit is it edible?

Opuntia, the prickly pear, is a remarkably adaptable food source. Both the fruit (tunas) and the pads (nopales) are edible, although care should be taken when gathering and preparing them.

What are some uses for prickly pear cactus fruit?

The prickly pear cactus, often referred to as nopal, opuntia, and other names, is marketed as a remedy for hangovers, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. It is also praised for having anti-inflammatory and antiviral qualities.

Are there any prickly pears that are poisonous?

The Prickly Pear, Peyote, San Pedro, Echinopsis Peruviana, Saguaro, Barrel, Euphorbia canariensis, and Cholla cacti are among the most lethal cacti.

Method

Cut off the prickly pear’s two ends:

Peel the skin back:

Peel off a small section of the prickly pear’s thick, fleshy skin. Throw away the skin. The prickly pears themselves will be all that is left.

If you prefer the seeds, feel free to simply chop the prickly pear up and eat it with the seeds and all. The flesh is covered in a ton of tiny delicious seeds.

Take the juice out:

The “husked” prickly pears should be added to a blender or food processor and pulsed until they are liquefied to extract the prickly pear juice.

Put the juice through a fine mesh strainer, then strain it into a bowl or pitcher. Throw away any leftover pulp and seeds.

Anyhow you like, use the juice. 6 to 12 prickly pears, depending on their size, can provide around 1 cup of juice. Just use equal portions of prickly pear juice and fresh lemonade when blending it in.

Do you have a favorite recipe for prickly pears? Please share the information with us in the comments.

Is drinking prickly pear juice healthy?

Prickly pear’s fiber and antioxidant levels are mostly responsible for its alleged health advantages. Although there aren’t many studies on prickly pear’s ability to improve health in humans, early research points to positive effects.

Weight loss

By binding to dietary fat, boosting its excretion, and lowering energy intake, the fiber in prickly pear cactus plants may help people lose weight (8, 9).

In comparison to a placebo, taking two 500 mg cactus fiber tablets three times daily (for a total of three grams of cactus fiber daily) increased fecal fat excretion by a significant amount in a research involving 20 healthy people (9).

The findings, according to the study’s authors, provide evidence that cactus fiber may aid in weight loss by lowering the amount of dietary fat that is accessible for absorption. However, they did not track the individuals’ weight decrease (9).

However, other research on the capacity of cactus fiber tablets to boost fecal fat excretion has monitored weight reduction. According to a 12-week trial, taking cactus fiber supplements increased weight loss compared to taking a placebo (8).

These studies’ findings are intriguing, but it’s crucial to remember that they didn’t examine the fruit itself but rather fiber tablets made from the prickly pear cactus plant.

You might see similar weight reduction advantages because a normal prickly pear fruit has more than three grams of fiber and is relatively low in calories. To fully grasp how eating prickly pear may aid in weight management, more research is necessary (4).

Skin and hair

Eating prickly pears is frequently promoted as a way to achieve lustrous skin and hair. Even hair conditioners and skin care products contain prickly pear variations.

Vitamin C and betalain pigments, two of its constituents and minerals, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are important for the health of the skin and hair, are present in prickly pears, notably in the seeds and peel (10, 11).

A small study with 18 healthy people found that taking 250 grams of prickly pear fruit pulp twice daily for two weeks increased blood levels of the antioxidant vitamins C and E and decreased oxidative stress in a manner similar to that of a vitamin C pill (10).

By preventing damage to these regions brought on by oxidative stress brought on by aging, inflammation, sun exposure, or other reasons, the antioxidant boost from prickly pear may enhance the health of your skin and hair (12, 13).

However, no research have particularly addressed the advantages of prickly pear for skin or hair. As a result, there is little evidence to support the theory that the antioxidant-rich prickly pair guards against hair and skin damage.

However, topical prickly pear applications for skin have been tested, but not for hair.

Oil extracted from prickly pear seeds was discovered to have antibacterial effects against skin infections and wound-healing capabilities in a study on test tubes and mice (14).

It is uncertain whether eating prickly pear fruit or applying prickly pear oil directly to human skin would offer comparable advantages for skin health. Overall, not enough research has been done on the advantages of prickly pear for skin and hair.

Diabetes

The usage of prickly pear in the treatment of diabetes problems and blood sugar control is another potential advantage.

Prickly pears’ soluble fiber pectin may have the ability to reduce blood sugar and improve blood fat levels (15, 16).

Prickly pear eating may reduce fasting blood sugar levels and post-meal insulin levels in both healthy persons and those with type 2 diabetes, according to some preliminary human research (15).

However, the results have been conflicting, and it appears that the intake method and plant portion used have a significant impact on the effects of prickly pears.

Consuming the flat pads of the prickly pear cactus resulted in appreciable drops in blood sugar and insulin levels, according to an analysis of 20 human trials. Blood sugar levels were not significantly affected by the prickly pear fruit (15).

However, when it comes to heart health, prickly pear fruit may be more advantageous than the pads. High levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL “bad cholesterol” are common in patients with type 2 diabetes, which may raise the risk of heart disease (17, 18).

Another systematic evaluation of 11 trials encompassing both healthy persons and those with type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases found that eating prickly pear fruit may significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol levels (17).

Cactus pads or powders derived from this section of the plant, however, did not seem to have the same favorable benefits on blood fat levels (17).

More study is required to determine the best dosage and type of prickly pear for controlling blood sugar and lowering blood fat levels.

Liver health

Some contemporary research support the use of prickly pear to treat liver issues, which has been done historically.

It is believed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of prickly pear help guard against oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can harm the liver (11).

Eating prickly pear cactus may prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, according to one study in obese rats, in part through reducing oxidative stress (19).

By boosting antioxidant status and avoiding oxidative damage brought on by alcohol, a second study in mice revealed that prickly pear juice aids in the prevention of liver damage brought on by chronic alcohol usage (20).

People who drink alcohol may get comparable effects from prickly pears. An extract from the cactus plant taken before consuming alcohol reduced hangover symptoms and blood signs of inflammation more than a placebo, according to a study on 55 healthy adults (21).

To learn more about how prickly pear affects liver health in humans, more research is necessary. It’s also not apparent whether eating prickly pear fruit has advantages similar to those of eating other plant parts.

Prickly pear may aid in weight loss, support healthy skin and hair, lower blood sugar and blood fat levels, and protect the liver, according to studies. However, more study is required.

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.
  • Obesity.
  • Colitis.
  • Diarrhea.
  • 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).

Side Effects

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.

How do you tell when a prickly pear is ready to be eaten?

When cactus pears turn a dark, almost magenta-colored red, they are mature. Birds picking at the fruit and fruit falling to the ground are two additional indicators of optimum ripeness in addition to the straightforward color test. Picking a pear that has green flesh at the cut indicates that the fruit is not yet ripe. You should pay close attention to the glochids since they can come off the fruit during harvest, lodge in your skin, and cause discomfort, irritation, and occasionally allergic responses. Put on leather gloves and use metal tongs to harvest the fruit to be on the safe side.

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:

Peyote Cactus

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.