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Nopal Cactus Otherwise Known As Nopales Or Prickly Pear

Updated on April 21, 2015
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Carolee is a passionate writer with a love for learning and teaching. She is a published author, poet, blogger, and content creator.

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Let’s talk about Nopal cactus also commonly known as prickly pear. The fleshy part of the nopal cactus/prickly pear is used in many cuisines as vegetable. The prickly pear's real name is Opuntia which comes from the cactus family. Other names for the Opuntia are Nopales or Paddle Cactus.

However, in Jamaica this vegetable or cactus plant is known as “tuna”. Here in our island we have many uses for nopal cactus but many locals do not know it can be eaten.

Some of the uses of prickly pear in Jamaica are:

  • Hair treatment for dry or damaged hair
  • skin treatment for pimples or sores
  • The juices are good for back pain when drunk
  • Squeeze some in the eye to relieve conjunctivitis
  • Soothes burns and rashes


What is Nopal Cactus?

The Nopal cactus is a member of the cactus family, Cactaceae. As you can see from the photos above and below they usually are flat and somewhat oval shaped with the glochids or spines pushing out through what could be termed as eyes. Some are more spiny than others. For instance the one in my yard isn't very spiny at all but the eyes are still there.

The trees can grow quite large and they tend to multiply on their own. One paddle can give you a large tree as it is easy to take root. All you have to do is stick one paddle in the ground and wait.

Prickly pears are found near dry areas mainly in the western parts of the US such as Colorado and Arizona. Many species have also been found in Mexico as well.

The prickly pear was brought from Brazil and taken to Australia in 1788 as well, so this makes the cactus a very popular one that can be found all over the western hemisphere. Many people have been using this for medicine for centuries and recent studies have proven many of the benefits.

Nopal Nutrition facts: Serving size - 1 cup raw prickly pear cactus

Nutrient
Amount per serving
% of daily requirement
Calories
14
 
Protein
1 gram
2.2
Fat
0.1 gram
less than 1%
Carbs
2.9 grams
1 %
Vitamin A
 
13%
Vitamin C
 
13%
Calcium
 
14
Magnesium
 
11
Vitamin B-6
 
5
Sodium
18 grams
less than 1%
Fiber
2 grams
5%
Source

To some people the prickly pear would seem like it was not very valuable nutritionally but when you think about it, it is a very valuable vegetable to have in your diet if you want to lose weight or just eat healthy.

It has a low caloric and sodium level which means you can eat it without feeling guilty or it affecting your weight negatively. You will also get the added benefits of adding some fibre to your diet along with vitamin A, C and calcium

People are always concerned with their sodium intake. I for one am hypertensive and am concerned about the foods I eat. Having a vegetable that is low in sodium, fat and carb is ideal for any diet.

Prickly Pear medicinal value

Diabetes: The prickly pear cactus or nopal cactus contains pectin, which helps to lower blood glucose by reducing the absorption of the sugar content in the stomach. The fact that the nopal cactus is low carb also means that it is great for diabetics.

Fiber: Not only does it contain pectin but loads of soluble and non soluble fiber. Fiber is essential for colon and digestive health. Studies have also shown that soluble fiber helps to reduce bad cholesterol and allows elevation of good cholesterol in the blood.

Antioxidant: A research done at the University of Palermo showed that the prickly pear cactus has very positive antioxidant properties. It was discovered that persons having the cactus in their diets greatly reduced the risk of age related and diseases bearing oxidants.

Anti-inflammatory: Another research showed that nopal cactus had a positive effect in the reduction of inflammation. This report was published in March 2001, researched by the College of Pharmacy, Sookmyung Women's University, Seoul, Korea.


How to use the Nopal Cactus

The Nopal cactus can be eaten in salads, steamed or made into juice. It is best to have the nopal cactus in its most natural state but you must make sure that the skin of the vegetable is completely removed.

The skin of the cactus must be thoroughly removed to reduce the risk of discomfort from ingesting glochids. The glochids are the spiny or hairy prickly stuff on the skin. This can cause discomfort in the throat, tongue and lips. The spine will lodge easily in the flesh and can cause swelling and rashes.

Ways to use:

  • Salads
  • Stews
  • Stir fry
  • Juice - extract juice from
  • Water - set the flesh in some water for a while and strain.

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    • profile image

      Betty 

      4 years ago

      My grany has dis cactus in her house n i never knew it is edible until now,i thnk I wil recommend it for my mom's diabetes,thnks a million.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Archana, thanks for visiting.

    • archana srivastav profile image

      archana srivastav 

      6 years ago

      useful hub.thax for sharing.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Unknown Spy, thank for stopping by. You have a great day.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Vinaya, I am so glad I shared this. I realize that many people have this plant but have no idea of its benefits. Have a great day.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Not Found 

      6 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Didn't know this! wow, amazing!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      I have this cactus in my garden but did not know it was called Nopal. I did not know uses of this plant other than decorating the room.

      Useful and informative, socially shared!

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Polly, I had no idea it was so special until recently. I thought it was just a Jamaican thing. Thanks for the visit.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 

      6 years ago from US

      I have just recently seen these being sold at flea markets with veggies so now it is great to have the story on them. Thanks!

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Lasertekservices, you have one very medicinal plant in your yard!

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hey OM, you can ask for a small piece and plant it to get your own...lol

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      6 years ago

      Nice! I've learned so much from this hub. There are a few Nopal cacti in my neighbor's backyard but I don't think she'd like to share any of them with me! hehehe

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Jen, someone the one in my yard has little or no spine. I can hold it and pull it off from the stem quite easily like I did in the photo. I am wondering if the rainfall has anything to do with the spines falling off.

    • profile image

      jenubouka 

      6 years ago

      This grows like wildfire at my house; it was growing right next to the front entrance; however, I had to pull for the baby's sake. With in the next season it had re-rooted and now is in full bloom on the side of the house. And you are correct about just leaving it on the ground; one leaf was stranded during moving this painful plant and it has now rooted and sprung more friends. I did not know the extent of it's health benefits; however, those spines are such a pain to remove!

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Vellur, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Debbie, I thought it was crazy too, when heard that it could be eaten but I must admit that I am considering eating it as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting, but never have tried anything like this. Thanks for sharing and voted up.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      My daughter in law in Texas eats this all the time.. at first I thought they were crazy but I know now this is so

      good for you

      thank you for sharing

      Debbie

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Teaches. I am thinking I need to start eating it too. We have the juice and use it as topical treatment but never eaten it before. We have a plant in our back yard so it's very convenient. Thanks for stopping by.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I didn't realize they had all these additional benefits for the body. I have not had a good dish of napale and eggs in quite awhile, but your hub has made me think it is time to do so. Interesting topic and so very well written.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Pamela, I too had no idea about some of its uses until I did the research. I know we used it for pain and hair treatment before but the diabetes and cholesterol benefits were new to me. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Wow! I had no idea there so many great uses for this cactus. Very interesting and useful hub.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hey there Wetnisedogs, I think it is the same. It's very popular and many people don't know the medicinal value either. You have a wonderful plant growing in your yard. Thnaks for stopping by.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 

      6 years ago from Alabama

      This looks like the cactus I have growing at the side of my house and yes, stick it in and another will grow. I have put two such loose leaves in the front and they are thriving. I didn't know it was edible/medicinal. My older plants gets yellow flowers in the spring. Think this is the same as you wrote about? Either way, I have enjoyed your hub as usual.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hello Dinkan53, yes, it's very popular in Mexico. I think of all the places that use it a vege, Mexico eats it the most. Thanks for the visit.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hey Moonlake. That's true, if you are in the desert you can certainly drink the juices. There are other cactuses that can be consumed as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 

      6 years ago from India

      I knew that Nopal cactus is in the Mexican flag and is an important food source in Mexico. Happy to know its health benefits and thanks for providing such useful information. Rated as useful!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 

      6 years ago from America

      I bet it would be really good in stir fry or even deep fried. I know here I think I have heard if your lost in the desert with no water drink the juice from a prickly pear. Enjoyed your hub good information.

    • Cardisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi BigEd5857, glad I could supply info. Thanks for stopping by.

    • BigEd5857 profile image

      BigEd5857 

      6 years ago

      Did not know! Thanks Cardisa, very interesting.

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