aka: Indian Fig, Cactus Pear
Warning: Too many prickly pear
pads eaten at one time can cause diarrhea. The pads contain oxalic
acid, which can hinder calcium absorption. Too much of the raw fruit
can cause constipation in some people. And the most important warning
about prickly pears
Watch out for the spines! Even if you purchase
the pads or fruit in a supermarket, check them for prickles before
eating. Promptly remove any spines embedded in your skin. Keep a close
eye out for the downy spines (glochids) also. They are easy to miss
Most people who have
grown up in the South or Southeast Texas area are familiar with
this cactus. It grows
throughout the state in fields, pastures, and even along the beach.
The flat "leaves" or "pads" make an excellent
cooked vegetable when young and tender. At this stage they are called
"nopalitos". The nopalitos are mild and mucilaginous,
similar to okra. They even have the same thickening effect on soups
and stews. The flowers range from yellow to a dark salmon color.
They are located along the margin on the top edge of the pads. The
red, maroon or purplish fruits (also known as tunas) are cylinder-shaped
and develop below the flower. Prickly pears are grown for food in
Mexico, Greece and Italy. You can find both the pads and the pears
in the produce department of most large supermarkets and at farmer's
The fruit contains lots of potassium and beta-carotene, vitamin
C, calcium, and phosphorus. The pads provide beta-carotene and potassium,
and the seeds are high in protein and oils. The pads soothe the
stomach and are good for the lungs and kidneys. The fruit is a gentle
diuretic, used in treating kidney stones and ulcers. Don't be surprised
though, if after eating the fruit, your urine turns a crimson color
for a short time - this is normal.
There are downy spines on the
fruit and nopalitos. Harvest them in potato or flour sacks,
and be sure to wear leather gloves and long, thick pants.
Twist the fruits from the pads so that the pad is not torn.
The roasted seeds produce a
nutty flavor and can be ground to be used as a meal or soup
There are no poisonous look-alikes
for prickly pear.
Deer and javelinas forage on prickly pear.
Various Indian tribes gathered the fruit,
sliced off the ends, sliced the fruits down one side, and
dried the pulp in the sun. It was then preserved for use during
the young pads by grasping them with tongs and slicing them at the
stem joints. Hold the pads over a flame to singe both the long spines
and the glochids, then scrape off any remaining spines with a knife.
Rinse the pads well, and check them thoroughly for any tiny spines
tha may cling to the surface. Slice the pads into thin strips, and
drop them into boiling water to cook for about ten minutes. Drain
off the water, and rinse the nopalitos to wash off some of the slippery
gum. The nopalitos are now ready to use. If you use older pads,
remove the tough skin by scraping it off with a knife, and cut out
the more fibrous sections.
Note: If you choose to harvest from the wild,
PLEASE BE RESPONSIBLE. Don't overharvest. Take only small amounts
from individual areas. Remember that the wildlife and ecosystem
depend on the cactus and fruit more than you do. After all, you
don't want to take so many that there won't be any to harvest next