Herb: Prickly Pear

Latin name: Opuntia fragilis

Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Medicinal use of Prickly Pear:

The flesh of the leaf pads is diuretic. A poultice of the flesh has been used to treat skin sores and infections.

Description of the plant:


10 cm
(4 inches)

June to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry prairies, sandhills and rocks.

Edible parts of Prickly Pear:

Leaf pads - cooked or raw. The outer skin is peeled off before eating the pads. Watery and very mucilaginous. The following notes are for O. compressa. They almost certainly also apply to this species. 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. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit of O. fragilis is about 12 x 12 mm. 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 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:

Dry prairies, sandhills and rocks.

Known hazards of Opuntia fragilis:

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.