When you think of a cactus, have you ever thought of it bearing fruit? Prickly pear or cactus fruit is the common name for the fruit that grows on top of the leaves of the cactus plant.
Not only does the cactus bear fruit, but the fruit is also edible, delightfully sweet and it possesses vital health benefits.
Botanical Name and Family of Prickly Pear
Prickly pear is botanically known as Opuntia. It belongs to the Cactaceae or cactus family and has been referred to as Cactus pear, Barbary fig, and Indian fig opuntia.
What Is Prickly Pear?
Cactus pear is the fruit of the Nopales cactus plant that is native to Mexico but has been cultivated in arid countries across the world such as Morocco, Egypt, Europe and the Middle East.
The interesting aspect of this fruit is that it grows on the edge of the prickly leaves of the cacti, which grows in extremely harsh conditions. The shape of this fruit is oval and its color ranges from light green to yellow to orange, pink and red, depending on the ripeness and variety.
Spread throughout North and South America, there are about 200 different species of Nopales cacti, which all bear prickly fruit, but not all are edible.
This plant is best known for the large fruits called tunas that are eaten after removing the outer skin and chilling for a few hours. The taste of this cactus pear is sweet and juicy, with a flavor similar to that of watermelon.
Active Ingredients Found in Prickly Pear
Cactus pear is a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidant compounds such as:
- Vitamin B family
- Dietary fiber
The juice obtained from the fruit is a bright red color due to the presence of two antioxidant compounds called indicaxanthin and betanin.
Health Benefits of Prickly Pear
Prickly pear has been used in traditional medicine for its antispasmodic and diuretic action. The flowers have been used to treat gastrointestinal problems such as colitis, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.
Prickly pear is also used for the following ailments:
- Strengthens immunity
- Improves the digestive system
- Protects heart health
- Fights cancer
- Reduces joint pain-related bone disorders
- Aids in weight loss
- Reduces inflammation
This herb is used in Ayurveda to treat diabetes and to reduce cholesterol. Research studies have found evidence for this use and attribute this pharmacological effect to the herb’s antioxidant action.
How to Use Prickly Pear
The fruit of this plant has been used as food and in alternative medicine treatments because of its nutrients and health benefits. Here are some of its uses:
Food: The outer skin of the fruit is removed and the inner part is consumed after chilling. It can also be eaten dry or made into jams, candy and alcoholic beverages.
Alcoholic beverages: Native Americans used prickly pears to make alcoholic beverages like colonche and Ayahuasca.
Hangover cure: Ironically as this sounds, the fruit that is used to make alcoholic beverages has been used as a hangover remedy for hundreds of years.
Extracts: These may be prepared from the flowers of the herb to use as medicine
Side Effects of Prickly Pear
Even though this fruit may propose a variety of health benefits, it is also accompanied by side effects that need to be considered. Some people may suffer from side effects such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea and headache. Also, due to its hypoglycemic action, prickly pear must be avoided by those on anti-diabetic medication.
Because of this, it is always recommended to speak to your primary care physician before you consume this fruit to ensure that it would be beneficial for you.
The content of this Website is for informational purposes only, is general in nature and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and does not constitute professional advice. The information on this Website should not be considered as complete and does not cover all diseases, ailments, physical conditions, or their treatment. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise, weight loss, or health care program and/or any of the beauty treatments.
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Alimi H, Hfaiedh N, Bouoni Z, Sakly M, Rhouma KB. Evaluation of antioxidant and antiulcerogenic activities of Opuntia ficus indica f. inermis flowers extract in rats. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. Nov 2011: 32(3); 406-416
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