Nopales (pads of prickly pear cactus) are especially good for cardiovascular, colon and immune system health. Rich in vitamins A and C, both potent antioxidants that protect cells/tissues from free radical damage that leads to DNA mutations. Also preserve elasticity and integrity of blood cell walls and other epithelial tissues. Help reduce inflammations linked to arthritis or asthma. Rich in phytonutrients called flavonoids, also powerful antioxidants. Soluble and insoluble fibers aid digestion, lower blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. Fiber, antioxidants and other phytonutrients work synergistically to combat oxidative stress, optimize immune function, maintain good systemic balance and help prevent adverse conditions.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Vitamins – A, C, K, B6 (Pyridoxine) and B2 (Riboflavin)
Minerals – Manganese, Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium
Reduces symptoms or risk of constipation, gastric ulcers, atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer.
How to Grow
Several thousand species of cacti grow in the U.S., but only about 100 can grow outside arid regions of the Southwest. Prickly pears of the genus Opuntia are most common in northern areas, being hardy down to minus 40˚F. Most cacti produce gorgeous flowers in spring; some even produce edible fruit or vegetables. Opuntia ficus-indica produces fig-shaped fruit (prickly pears) about 2 inches long, as sweet as peaches. Pads of this species, nopales, are edible. Others popular in China and Vietnam produce pitaya, also known as dragon fruit. Consult local nursery for which cultivar grows best in your area. Cacti require full sun (minimum 6 hours per day) and excellent drainage for optimum growth. Work in a generous amount of compost or planting mix rich in organic matter. Add coarse sand, gravel and some limestone. If soil naturally retains much water, create a raised bed. Plant in spring but plan for the function and mature size of cactus. Prickly pears spread about 2 feet, others more confined, some grow wider. Check with nursery before planting. Protect hands with gloves, or even magazine, newspaper or cardboard, from both visible spines and smaller, hooked spines called glochids. Post planting, put a layer of gravel around base to prevent rot. Little maintenance required. Apply liquid fertilizer or other micronutrient-rich mix each spring. When harvesting prickly pears from Opuntia ficus-indica, handle with care; tiny glochids hard to remove if wedged in skin. Can grow in containers indoors, but less than full potential with lack of sunlight.
Tough, almost impenetrable, texture and sharp spines protect cacti from pests.
Be careful while harvesting. Use gloves. Soaking prickly pears in scalding water for a few minutes makes peeling skin containing glochids much easier.