Herb of the Month – Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear, Opuntia spp.

Prickly pear, Opuntia spp., is a great plant for dry climates. With its multiple spines it can be very forbidding but actually has many medicinal and edible qualities.

The pulp of this cactus is similar to aloe vera in its ability to soothe and heal inflammation for skin burns, bites, and rashes. Prickly pear pulp is very demulcent and mucilaginous and can help to coat and soothe mucous membranes and damaged gut tissue. It has a long history in Mexico and the desert southwest of use in the treatment of diabetes and stabilizing blood sugar. The pads, fruits, and flowers are edible. You can go to many Mexican markets and buy the pads intact or already de-spined and cut up. I still go through these pieces to make sure everything is off. To prepare a whole cactus pad for eating check out this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-yR3pYw9fM  You can also grill, boil, or pickle.

I use the prepared strips fresh in smoothies. The cooked pads can be sliced and used in tacos, egg dishes, pizza toppings, soups, and more. One of my favorite vegetarian tacos is black beans, cherry tomatoes, and cooked cactus strips warmed through in a sauté pan then served in corn tortillas with grated cheese, avocado, and sriracha mayo. Yum! Sriracha mayo is just mayonnaise blended with sriracha hot sauce to taste.

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