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.
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.
Are poisonous prickly pear cactus common?
The Prickly Pear, Peyote, San Pedro, Echinopsis Peruviana, Saguaro, Barrel, Euphorbia canariensis, and Cholla cacti are among the most lethal cacti.
Is the prickly pear cactus healthy?
Although it may be too soon to label prickly pear cactus as a superfood, it can still be included in a balanced diet. It contains lots of fiber, carotenoids, and antioxidants. Prickly pear cactus is in fact well-liked throughout the world, especially in Latin America where it is a native plant.
Are all varieties of prickly pears edible?
Cacti are fleshy and appear to be suitable as vegetables. It’s crucial to understand that there are edible and deadly cacti varieties before you start eating them.
All authentic cactus fruit is safe to consume. After the spines are removed, some varieties of cactus, including cholla, dragon fruit, and prickly pear, can be used as vegetables. Other cactus species, such as peyote, Bolivian, and San Pedro, are poisonous and should not be consumed.
Cacti of many types are frequently planted as indoor and outdoor ornamental plants. Check to see if the cactus variety is poisonous or suitable for people or pets to eat before choosing it for your garden.
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.
What determines if a cactus is edible?
Edible cacti and succulents are incredibly low-maintenance plants that taste great if your climate is right for them.
Some people want to know the distinction between succulents and cacti. A cactus is technically a succulent plant since the term refers to “one that has thick, fleshy, water-storing leaves or stems.” The term “cacti” is typically used to refer to succulent plants with spines, but all true cacti actually belong to the plant family Cactaceae.
Let’s discuss the numerous edible cacti and succulents that you can use in your landscaping:
All genuine cactus fruit is edible, but certain varieties have greater flavors than others. Some are excellent when cooked, and most must first have their spines peeled or otherwise removed before being consumed! Of course, everyone has varied tastes in stuff. In order to ensure that you enjoy them and are not allergic, it is advised to test a few of the cactus you are contemplating before purchasing.
Which edible cactus you select will depend on its intended purpose and the aesthetic of your edible landscaping. More than 200 Opuntia species, often known as Nopales, Nopalitos, the Cactus Pear, or the Paddle Cactus, contain a variety of delicious cacti.
All Opuntias have edible leaves and egg-shaped fruit (sometimes known as “tunas”). An Opuntia is recognized by its oval, flat, spine-covered leaves, or “paddles.”
Of all the edible cacti, Opuntia ficus-indica, also known as the prickly pear cactus, is the most well-known and popular. Its fruit and leaves, which are also known as the Indian Fig, are a mainstay in many recipes throughout Central America and the southwest of the United States. Australia, northern Africa, and the Galapagos Islands are just a few of the diverse areas this cactus has been introduced.
Opuntias are quite tolerant of the cold, and they can be found as far north as British Columbia. In some areas, they have also spread invasively. They can still be a gorgeous focal point in rock gardens or other drought-tolerant environments, and they have a wide range of functions in landscaping (they make great barrier hedges).
When fully grown, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), the graceful representation of the desert in the southwest of the US, has edible fruit (which can take decades). However, the Saguaro is difficult to obtain and illegal to transfer without a permission.
Despite being smaller and with “arms” that often develop near the base of the plant rather than higher up the main stem, the Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) resembles the Saguaro. It has red Pitahaya Dulce fruit, which is roughly the size of a golf ball, and lavender flowers.
Visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona (United States), which is home to many of these beautiful cacti, to observe them in their natural habitat.
Fruit from barrel cacti can be harvested and eaten raw, and because it lacks spines, it is simple to handle. Additionally edible are the buds and blooms. One of the American Wild West myths was that you could cut open a barrel cactus and squeeze the pulp for water to keep you alive in the harsh desert.
The Night-Blooming Cereus (Hylocereus undatus), a cactus with long fleshy leaves and bright red or yellow fruit with a white or crimson core and black, crunchy seeds with great nutritional content, is also known as the Dragon Fruit or Pitaya (and is also known as Pitahaya Dulce in some locations). The plant only blooms at night and has enormous, fragrant white flowers.
Some species, such Peniocereus greggii, are also referred to as “Night-Blooming Cereus.”
Although it appears very different from Hylocereus, the Peruvian Apple Cactus (Cereus repandus), which likewise produces sweet, vividly colored edible fruit, is another cactus that bears the name Pitaya.
The Epiphyllum species, sometimes known as the orchid cactus, are another genus of cacti that are edible. They resemble the Hylocereus species in appearance and behavior but have smaller fruits. All of these have gorgeous flowers!
Edible Succulent Plants
In northern Africa and India, vegetables made from a few of the Caralluma species—Caralluma fimbriata, Caralluma adscendens, and Caralluma edulis—are consumed.
Many Agave species can be rendered edible, but the most famous is Agave tequilana, which is used to make tequila.
All Sedum species, also known as stonecrops, can be eaten. They taste sour or spicy and are used in salads. Consume these in moderation; excessive consumption of some may result in dyspepsia.
Purslane is beneficial as a ground cover in wet locations, is simple to grow, rather attractive, and delicious when cooked.
Although purslane is regarded as a weed in the US, it tastes delicious fried and is ok in salads and works well in stews and soups.
What happens if you consume a spiked cactus?
There are many people who enjoy cacti, but the majority avoid handling them frequently because to their thorns. So, are the spines of cacti poisonous? Are the spines of cacti harmful? You may learn more about different varieties of cactus spines, whether they are poisonous or harmful, and other information in this post.
The spines of cacti are not toxic. However, some cactus spines (such as Cholla or hairlike spines) can be harmful if they penetrate deeply into tissues and can result in bruising, bleeding, and even dead tissues.
Are prickly pear and bunny ear cacti the same thing?
The rabbit ear cactus, also known as Opuntia microdasys or angel’s wings, is a smaller relative of the more well-known prickly pear cactus. Despite not having many culinary applications, it is a common houseplant because of how simple it is to care for and how adorable it looks. The glochids and pads of this cactus sometimes resemble bunny ears, giving it its common name.
If you recently purchased an Opuntia microdasys or are considering purchasing one, continue reading to learn everything there is to know about this type of cactus.
Does prickly fruit taste pleasant?
Prickly pear flavor has been compared by some who have had the good fortune to try it to a stunning blend of watermelon and traditional bubble gum (via Spoon University). While not overbearing, the bubble gum flavor gives this fruit just enough kick to transform it into a mind-blowingly delectable treat. According to the cuisine blog The Other Side of the Tortilla, the seeds of the prickly pear are also entirely edible.
Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic reports that the vivid pink prickly pear has a ton of fantastic health advantages. Thanks to anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, the luscious meat is packed with vitamins and nutrients that have been linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing diabetes, and perhaps even treating nasty hangovers. Additionally, it contains potassium, which aids in promoting healthy digestion and cardiovascular and metabolic function (via WebMD). Additionally, prickly pears are a component of various skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products.
Consider giving prickly pears a try if you’re looking for a new fruit to try. It’s gorgeously colored, deliciously juicy, a lot of fun to make and eat, and generally healthy.