Herb: Bastard Fig

Latin name: Opuntia phaeacantha

Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Medicinal use of Bastard Fig:

A poultice of the heated plant has been applied to the breasts of a nursing mother in order to encourage milk flow.

Description of the plant:


50 cm
(1 foot)

Habitat of the herb:

Dry prairies and open woodlands, often on sandy soils.

Edible parts of Bastard Fig:

Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use. Juicy. They can be made into a jelly or baked with sugar, cinnamon etc. The fruit is pear-shaped and up to 8cm x 4cm. Seed - dried, parched and ground into a meal, then added to flour and used in making cakes etc. Young stems - cooked. Boiled or roasted, then used like green beans.

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 Bastard Fig:

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 and open woodlands, often on sandy soils.

Known hazards of Opuntia phaeacantha:

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.