Herb: Eastern Prickly Pear

Latin name: Opuntia compressa

Synonyms: Opuntia humifusa, Opuntia macrarthra, Opuntia opuntia, Opuntia rafinesquei

Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Medicinal use of Eastern Prickly Pear:

A poultice of the peeled pads is applied to wounds, sores etc. The juice of the fruits is used as a treatment for warts. A tea made from the pads is used in the treatment of lung ailments.

Description of the plant:


20 cm
(7 3/4 inch)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Opn dry areas. Rocky bluffs, sand dunes, dry rocky or sandy grasslands.

Edible parts of Eastern Prickly Pear:

Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use. Sweet and gelatinous. Lean and insipid. The unripe fruits can be added to soups etc, imparting an okra-like mucilaginous quality. The fruit can hang on the plant all year round. The fruit is up to 4cm long and 3cm wide. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity. Pads - cooked or raw. Watery and very mucilaginous. Seed - briefly roasted then ground into a powder. It is also used as a thickener.

Other uses of the herb:

The following notes are for O. ficus indica. They almost certainly also apply to this species. A gum is obtained from the stem. It is used as a masticatory or can be mixed with oil to make candles. The juice of the boiled stem segments is very sticky. It is added to plaster, whitewash etc to make it adhere better to walls.

Propagation of Eastern Prickly Pear:

Seed - sow early spring in a very well-drained compost in a greenhouse. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Give the plants some protection from winter wet. Make sure you have some reserve plants in case those outdoors do not overwinter. Cuttings of leaf pads at any time in the growing season. Remove a pad from the plant and then leave it in a dry sunny place for a couple of days to ensure that the base is thoroughly dry and has begun to callous. Pot up into a sandy compost. Very easy, rooting quickly.

Cultivation of the herb:

Opn dry areas. Rocky bluffs, sand dunes, dry rocky or sandy grasslands.

Known hazards of Opuntia compressa:

The plant has numerous minutely barbed glochids (hairs) that are easily dislodged when the plant is touched and they then become stuck to the skin where they are difficult to see and remove. They can cause considerable discomfort.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.