Herb: Plains Prickly Pear

Latin name: Opuntia polyacantha

Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Medicinal use of Plains Prickly Pear:

The stems are astringent and diuretic. An infusion is used in the treatment of diarrhoea. A poultice of the flesh has been used to treat skin sores, infections, wounds and back aches.

Description of the plant:


15 cm
(6 inches)

Habitat of the herb:

Dry prairies, sand hills and rocks.

Edible parts of Plains Prickly Pear:

Fruit - raw or dried for later use. The dried fruit can be mixed into stews or used to thicken soups. The fruit is dry and spiny. It is up to 3cm long. Young pads are boiled and fried. The large hairs are burnt off, the pads are boiled and the remaining thorns washed off. The pads are then dipped in a syrup made from boiling sweetcorn seeds and then eaten. Seed - dried, parched and ground into a meal, then added to flour and used in making cakes etc.

Other uses of the herb:

The peeled stems have been used as a mordant in fixing dyes. A pink to red dye is obtained from the fruit. A gum is obtained from the stem that can be used as an adhesive.

Propagation of Plains 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, sand hills and rocks.

Known hazards of Opuntia polyacantha:

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.