Herb: Prickly Pear


Latin name: Opuntia ficus-indica


Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)



Medicinal use of Prickly Pear:

The flowers and stems are antispasmodic, diuretic and emollient. The split stems have been bound around injured limbs as a first aid measure. The flowers are astringent and are used to reduce bleeding and treat problems of the gastro-intestinal tract, especially diarrhoea, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The flowers are also used in the treatment of an enlarged prostate gland.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Perennial

Height:
5 m
(16 feet)

Flovering:
June to
September

Habitat of the herb:

Naturalized in the Mediterranean where it grows in dry arid and rocky places.

Edible parts of Prickly Pear:

Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use. Sweet and gelatinous. Very refreshing, they are somewhat like a watermelon in flavour. The fruits are up to 10cm long and 9cm wide. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity. Pads - cooked and used like French beans. Watery and very mucilaginous. Flowers - raw. Seed - ground into a meal. An edible gum is obtained from the stem.

Other uses of the herb:

A gum is obtained from the stem. It is used as a masticatory or 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 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:

Naturalized in the Mediterranean where it grows in dry arid and rocky places.

Known hazards of Opuntia ficus-indica:

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.