I own no land, instead I have wheelestate. I’ve been a full time RVer since 1997. Working summers as a Park Ranger takes me to many beautiful places and playing during the winter takes me to many more. This blog is simply the story of my life's adventures.


Thank you for stopping by. Just to let you know, I'm still blogging but have moved to Geogypsytraveler. Hope you'll follow my adventures. Just click here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Prickly Pear Cactus

Imagine a plant which can provide you with several year-round foods, as well as a sweetener, medicine, a red dye, flour, a hair conditioner, and still be a drought tolerant burglar fence. Not just found in AZ deserts Prickly Pear cactus grows throughout the United States, across the plains to Nebraska, all over the west, and one species even grows along the Atlantic coast.

Although cacti are about 90 percent water you can’t tap one with a spigot and fill your canteen. But you can eat the pads, seeds, fruit and flowers prepared in a variety of ways. I like the flowers fresh off the plant.

Of course you must be careful of the spines, both large and smaller hair-like spines called glochids can really hurt, but can be knocked off with a stick or burned off. Young shiny pads are best, then peel the skin and eat raw, boiled, or fried. Add onions and eggs for Huevos rancheros con nopalitos or use as a thickener in stews. If you don’t want to go through all the work try looking for a jar of nopalitos (cactus pads) in the grocery store.

Old fruit
The fruit, which ripens during late summer, can also be eaten raw or used to make delicious drinks, pies, jams, candy and syrup. It is loaded with tiny seeds which can just be eaten with the fruit or dried and ground into flour.
As a bonus, the fruit is a rich source of the mineral magnesium and the amino acid taurine, nutrients often cited as important to brain and heart health. It's also rich in flavonoids, antioxidants credited with keeping arteries healthy. Plus a red dye can be made from the juice of the fruit or by squeezing the cochineal beetles that live on the pads.

Current research indicates Prickly Pear cactus might decrease cholesterol levels and help diabetics lower blood glucose by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestine.

Cactus pads can also be used as a hair conditioning rinse by agitating pieces of the peeled pads with water then after straining the mucilaginous liquid is massaged into the hair and rinsed resulting in silkier hair. (I know it’s easier to just buy conditioner.)

Prickly Pear cactus is an easy to grow food source that is drought resistant but not tolerant of snow, frost or extremely wet conditions. In the right environment it can grow into a natural fence that will deter most animals and people over its 20 plus year lifespan.


Carolyn Ford said...

I have photographed these amazing cacti with the yellow or pink flowers. I can't resist getting a picture when I come across them. Your detailed information is very interesting. I didn't know about the hair conditioner...but, I agree, it's easier to run to the store to get it. Very nice post...and, nice photos!

Anonymous said...

I think those peccori yard friends of yours like these yummi cactus delights too. Often one can see bite marks on some of the pads.

I think its time to go back to nature and live off the wild land in a respectful and nurturing manner.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Gaelyn: That one won't grow around here. We have way too much snow for cactus.

Anonymous said...

You told the story of these beautiful cacti so well. So much wonderful info you shared with us. I truely love to learn how many uses plants have. Even if I don't use it, I feel I have that knowledge, just in case. It would be fun to go out and try to live off the land some time, just to see how much of that knowledge would come into use.

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

An extremely interesting post Gaelyn. I LOVE the fruit of them and when in season, eat them by the box. We have a variety here which are thornless and so much easier to handle. The wild ones are picked by attaching a 8oz tin to a stick or handle, then you place this over the fruit and bend it down to break it off. Quite painless.

I have never tried the leaves or flower though and am sure it should taste similar to the fruit.

It has a lot more uses than I knew of. When you drive in certain areas, these grow wild and you see them stretch for miles.

Elaine said...

Very interesting post! The Prickly Pear Castus is an amazing plant.

Pat said...

This was an interesting post for me, because I have seen prickly pear cactus outside in the winter here in Belgrade and near my cousn'is in Pennsylvania, someone has a huge one on their front lawn that they never take in. And the one I see here in Belgrade gets flowers! I've taken mine indoors in the winter, and no flowers!

No luck!

As you see, I'm back commenting again!

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. We don't have too much prickly pear in NE Oklahoma.

Ruth said...

My family serves nopales in salad in Mexico and I don't mind the taste at all. We can buy the fruit here in Canada but it is rather flavourless by the time it is shipped. A useful plant for sure.

Arija said...

The plant certainly has a number of good features. Unfortunately after being introduced in Australia, it became as big a pest as the rabbit plague and is a proclaimed weed.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

This is a fabulous post, Gaelyn. The information is great and I love the way you placed the photos in order - birth to death of the Prickly Pear. Outstanding.

Martha Z said...

I bet that the native population was aware of its benifits but I sure wasn't. Very interesting.

Quiet Paths said...

This was a very interesting read. I knew some of this but most of it was new. Thanks! As always the photos were a wonderful addition.

Craver Vii said...

That's interesting to know. You won't find a single cactus around here though... not unless it's inside someone's house. They say we may get up to 14 inches of snow before the day is done.

Anonymous said...

We had loads of this growing in our garden when I was a kid and we used to eat the fruit, but I had no idea about the rest of the uses, other than as a prickly barrier obviously.

Jeannette StG said...

Thank you Gaelyn for telling us city dwellers how to eat these cacti (I saw them in the store, but had no idea how to eat them) -interesting as a thickener, and hair conditioner:)

You're posting more regularly now, does that mean your computer is fixed?

Janie said...

I learned a lot of new stuff about prickly pear in this post. We must have a slightly different variety because ours have to tolerate cold and snow. Ours look different, too - they tend to grow close to the ground, not as tall as the one you pictured.

Firefly the Travel Guy said...

I thought I knew all about prickly pears, but you have just tought me a thing or two. We also have prickly pears over here, but in our case they are problem plants. Introduce as fodder, they took over huge tracts of land and only got under control thanks to the introduction of the cotchineal beetle. We all love the fruit though.

xomeritis said...

You can find prickly pear all over the Med, brought by the Spanish.

Google Analytics