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.
What advantages do cactus leaves have?
Native to Mexico and the southwestern United States, the nopal cactus is also referred to as the prickly pear cactus. When the plant is young, the flat cactus pads can be eaten. The cactus becomes too difficult to consume as it ages. In some parts of Mexico, the nopal cactus is frequently used as a food ingredient.
The nopal cactus can be used in a variety of ways, such as in jellies, candies, and as a tool to help plaster harden. Due to the numerous health advantages of this cactus, there are a variety of therapeutic uses as well.
How should a cactus leaf be used?
Remove the spines from new cactus leaves before peeling back the skin to expose the meaty interior. Salads of fruits and vegetables, soups, and omelettes can all benefit from the addition of fresh prickly pear cactus leaf, which has a flavour reminiscent of green beans. Cactus leaf can also be boiled, fried, or made into a jelly. As an alternative, you can ferment cactus leaf to create a snack that tastes like cheese or pickle it and use it as a condiment with other recipes.
Can you eat cactus leaves?
Cactus pads, nopalitos, and nopales are other names for edible cacti. The flat green leaves are consumed similarly to vegetables. They are also known as stems, paddles, or pads. They resemble okra in texture and taste when cooked, but taste more like green beans.
Packed with antioxidants
While we don’t want to bore you with a science lesson, antioxidants do merit a little explanation. Antioxidants help to maintain good health by assisting in the battle against free radicals, which are to blame for the development of many chronic illnesses. In the simplest terms possible, antioxidants maintain our cellular health. The most well-known ones include vitamins (vitamins A, C, and E), selenium, and flavonoids, all of which naturally present in fruit and vegetables. If that seems a little too abstract, let’s just state that they are all vitamins. The water from prickly pears has been scientifically related to the elimination of toxins and contains some of the most potent plant-based antioxidants.
We all know that water makes up the majority of our bodies. We need water to maintain a healthy metabolism, maintain healthy skin (that glow you’re chasing), enhance cognition, and avoid headaches.
Although we are all too aware with the daily water intake guidelines, in reality we fall short of them. To quench our thirst or to receive an energy boost, we frequently turn to coffee or a carbonated beverage.
Another issue is that we frequently confuse hunger and thirst. According to a recent study reported in The Seattle Times, respondents mistook hunger for thirst 62 percent of the time and properly identified thirst only 2 percent of the time. This is due to:
- Some signs of mild dehydration, such as headaches or trouble concentrating, are similar to hungry signs.
- Even our own brains can occasionally become confused because hunger and thirst are processed by the same area of the brain (the hypothalamus!).
Does cactus benefit the kidneys?
Nopal is a big prickly pear cactus that is indigenous to dry regions of South and North America. It is traditionally consumed by Mexicans as food and used medicinally as a laxative, anti-inflammatory, and to treat high blood sugar and alcohol hangovers.
Nopal has a blood sugar-lowering function, but the precise mechanism is unknown, despite the fact that it contains significant levels of soluble fibre and pectin, which may impact how well glucose is absorbed. Although earlier research disputes fiber’s significance in lowering blood glucose levels in animal trials, it does not propose a substitute mechanism. 34 Opuntia extract (1 mg/kg body weight) used for 7 weeks in conjunction with insulin and then Opuntia extract alone allowed blood sugar levels to quickly revert to those of non-diabetic rats. In a recent animal experiment, diabetic rats treated with streptozotocin (STZ) were given liquid and filtered extracts of Opuntia streptacantha to see how they would react. 35 The extracts weren’t able to lower blood sugar levels. But when administered before an OGTT, it had an antihyperglycemic effect, indicating a potential mechanism involving inhibiting hepatic glucose outflow.
A mild to moderately positive effect on people with T2DM has been confirmed by a number of small (N = 732) published clinical trials (all carried out by the same research group) utilising various forms and doses of Opuntia species.
The broiled stem of Opuntia streptacantha, which was administered as a dose of 100–500 g per day, was the most popular type of nopal utilised in the experiments.
Nopal should not be consumed by those who are nursing, pregnant, or have kidney problems. Bloating in the stomach area, diarrhoea, and nausea are possible side effects. In people using antidiabetic drugs, it should be used cautiously (one case report). 40
Is cactus beneficial for growing hair?
Commonly used in shampoo and conditioner formulas, cactus water transforms lifeless, dry hair into lustrous, bouncy, healthy hair. Due to its high concentration of amino acids and iron, both of which are necessary for hair growth, it contains qualities that help revitalise hair.
What flavour does a cactus leaf have?
Cactus has a distinct flavour, but it isn’t overpowering. If you’ve been itching to try nopal but have been hesitant because you think the flavour could be overpowering, just know that cactus has a very mild, unobtrusive flavour.
When you cut it open, the whole cactus will probably look similar to a cucumber or an okra. The interior contains a thick liquid resembling okra and is pale and wet on the outside, with a rough exterior.
The flavour is also quite comparable. The distinctive flavour of nopal is a moderate “green” flavour with a hint of sourness, similar to asparagus or okra.
Cactus texture will vary depending on preparation. It could be meaty, mushy, gummy, or crunchy. Cactus has a crispness to the bite that is reminiscent of a vegetable and a gelatinous coating that is similar to that of a tomato or an okra.
You should be prepared for a little slime in terms of texture. While some cooking methods can lessen this, for the most part the goo is just a characteristic of the distinctive texture of nopal.
What three purposes do cacti serve?
NARI recently gave 200 kg of fresh cladodes—the flattened organ that grows from a plant’s stem—to farmers in the Andhra Pradesh district of Medak. Numerous other institutions in India have also conducted studies on this plant.
It would be fantastic if farmers began experimenting with it as Nandini Nimbkar continues to raise awareness about this great crop.
Cactus is said to reduce blood sugar.
Consumed often in Mexico, prickly pear cactus pads can cut blood sugar spikes after meals by almost half and may aid in managing diabetes.
Since I live in the Southwest, I am particularly interested in the plants because of its culinary and therapeutic uses. The prickly pear cactus, also known as nopal in Spanish, is one plant that looks to have several highly advantageous traits. This plant, which is originally from Mexico and the American Southwest, is now widely planted across the world, particularly in the Mediterranean areas. I endorse prickly pear extract as a supplement to help those with diabetes or pre-diabetes manage their blood sugar levels, and so does Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., one of my mentors and a fellow desert dweller who is a recognised authority on integrative medicine, dietary supplements, and women’s health. Prickly pears are frequently suggested to patients by Dr. Low Dog as food, supplements, or juice with lots of pulp. Additionally, she instructs fellows at the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Program on how to make straightforward recipes with delicious cactus leaves (pads).
Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, a specialist in herbal medicine, demonstrates the correct methods for cutting, preparing, and cooking prickly pears.
When consumed with typical Mexican dishes like burritos and quesadillas, prickly pear cactus had a negative impact on blood sugar levels, according to a 2007 study published in Diabetes Care. The study’s objectives included determining the glycemic index of three popular Mexican breakfast dishes and determining the impact of cactus pads on type 2 diabetes individuals’ postprandial glucose response. A supper of scrambled eggs and tomato burritos, chilaquiles (cheese, beans, and tomato sauce with corn 1/2 tortillas), or quesadillas with avocados and pinto beans, with or without 85 grammes of prickly pear cactus pads, was given to the 36 type-2 diabetic participants following an 18-hour fast. According to the study, when prickly pear cactus was ingested concurrently with all meal types, as opposed to when it was not supplemented, blood sugar levels were decreased. The percentage of reductions varied based on the meal, with prickly pear cactus with quesadillas being linked to a 48 percent reduction, prickly pear cactus plus chilaquiles to a 30% reduction, and prickly pear cactus plus burritos to a 20% reduction.
Cactus pears have previously been connected to improvements in diabetes-related health. The metabolic syndrome, which is characterised by central obesity, hypertension, and abnormal glucose and insulin metabolism, demonstrated significant benefits in a previous trial using a prickly pear cactus extract. Increased type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks have been related to the condition.
Prickly pear is also well-liked in Mexico for reducing hangovers; a Tulane University study that was published in the June 28, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine supported the efficacy of this traditional treatment. Researchers discovered that taking a prickly pear extract five hours before ingesting five to seven alcoholic drinks resulted in considerably lower levels of nausea, dry mouth, and appetite loss the next day in participants than did taking a placebo. However, the extract did not stop the headaches and lightheadedness that come with a hangover. The benefits, according to the researchers, were associated with the potent anti-inflammatory properties of prickly pear. The juice contains betalains, an unique class of antioxidants that gives beets and red Swiss chard their vibrant colour. Additionally, prickly pear juice is rich in vitamin C.
According to certain studies, prickly pear may also aid in lowering cholesterol. A tiny Italian study from 2003 found that prickly pear extract may lower LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels but had no impact on HDL (“good”) or triglyceride levels (only 10 patients participated). The Nuclear Medicine Review of Central and Eastern Europe published the study’s findings. Another small study at the University of Vienna in Austria with 24 participants discovered that prickly pear decreased total cholesterol (by 12%), LDL (by 15%), triglycerides (by 12%), blood sugar (by 11%), insulin (by 11%), and uric acid (by 10%), but had no effect on HDL or other lipid measurements.
How long should cactus be boiled?
- Place the cactus paddle on your cutting board, then remove the edge with a sharp knife. To completely remove the spines, thorns, or eyeballs, scrape them with your knife while moving it from back to front. The cactus paddles should be turned, and the opposite should be done. (Please see the list of components below.)
- With the remaining cactus paddles, carry out the identical procedures. After washing, return the cactus paddles to your freshly washed cutting board.
- 4 quarts of water should be placed in a medium-sized kettle to boil.
- Slice the paddles of the cactus into thin strips.
- When the water is boiling, add the tomatillo husk, cactus, onion, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Boil until tender, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes. Pay close attention to this step to prevent the foam from spilling over because the cactus will usually foam and produce a sticky material.
- Drain and rinse the cactus after cooking. They should thoroughly drain before being patted dry with paper towels. Your nopales are now prepped and can be added to salads, scrambled eggs, Mexican stews, etc.
Note: Grilled nopales with melted cheese on top are very delicious. After cleaning the spines, simply make three to four small cuts in each nopal, rub them with oil, and grill them for roughly three minutes on each side.
Are cacti a good source of nutrition?
Vitamins C, E, and A, iron, calcium, and carotenoids are just a few of the nutrients and antioxidants found in cacti that can aid the body fight inflammation.
Researchers from the Tulane Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, examined the effects of the barbary fig cactus, or opuntia ficis indica, on adults who had consumed five to seven alcoholic beverages in a 2004 study. The subjects experienced less hangover symptoms and had a roughly 50% lower probability of getting a hangover when they took the cactus extract five hours before drinking alcohol. Researchers think the cactus achieved this by lowering inflammation in the body, which is frequently associated with drinking too much alcohol.
Can nopal help you lose weight?
If you are unfamiliar with nopales, they are the thick, flat, oval stems of the cactus plant and are consumed similarly to vegetables. In fact, one of the key ingredients in traditional Mexican food are the young, sensitive pads of the nopales, known as nopalitos. Many people mistake nopales for leaves when they are, in fact, the cactus’ stems.
Nopales are a low calorie vegetable with only 16 calories per 100 grammes, making them a wonderful addition to a diet low in calories. In particular, non-carbohydrate polysaccharides including hemicellulose, mucilage, and pectin are abundant in these delicious veggies’ nutritional fibre.
Nopales, or the pads of a cactus, are very nutritious. They provide beta carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A, as well as vitamin A. Nopal pads also contain trace levels of the B-complex vitamins B-6, thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. A serving of nopales provides you with 15% of your daily requirement for vitamin C.
How may nopales be incorporated into a diet? They taste best when consumed raw in a salad. They make an excellent snack meal when used fresh in your own homemade salsa. In addition, nopales can be prepared similarly to other vegetables and served as a side dish or added to stews and soups. The nopales make a great side dish when roasted or grilled. By chopping them and putting them to scrambled eggs along with tomatoes and onions for breakfast, you can include them. Cactus pad juice has become a well-liked beverage, and pickled nopales make a great starter.