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Plantidote of the Day 2012-08-16

twig's picture

baby paddle

Opuntia ficus-indica

Prickly pear cactus pads (nopales) with baby pad (nopalito)

If the first thing you think when you see a prickly pear cactus isn't "Yum!", then you probably haven't eaten one. Pretend the spines aren't there, and think of the pads as vegetables, suitable for salads, stuffing, and salsa. They have a mild, but oddly interesting flavor and some impressive health benefits (blood sugar management and lowering bad, LDL cholesterol, for example).

I can't tell you much about prickly pear fruit, because I've never had it. But here's a bit of information on how to use the fruit juice in cocktails and vinaigrettes. Best of all, if you're in Zones 8 through 11, you can grow prickly pears. They're extremely drought tolerant, very low maintenance, and can even survive cold snaps. They're also ridiculously easy to propagate. See that baby pad in the photo? Snap it off, stick it in the ground, and just like that, you've got yourself a whole new cactus!

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jerztomato's picture
Submitted by jerztomato on

Opuntia ficus indica may be hardy only to zone 8, but there are many more opuntias which are cold hardy. (A nursery I would recommend is www.intermountaincactus.com) In colder climates they seem to rot from too much moisture in the winter.
I'm not sure if they are all edible though. Prickly pear fruit fresh off the cactus (as opposed to purchased at the local grocery) are definitely a treat. In my opinion, the pads are more trouble (getting out ALL of the prickles) BTW, they taste like green beans cooked.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

I had no idea opuntias could grow in cold climates.

I've only eaten cactus in restaurants, so I don't know anything about preparation. There must be a trick to removing the spines, or no one would ever eat them twice. I've moved enough of the plants to know that the spines are like fiberglass bits -- nearly impossible to get out from under the skin.

There's a cool trick for whenever you need to handle one of these that I may have mentioned before -- take a section of the newspaper and fold it over three or four or five times to make a narrow strip, something like a belt. Then you can wrap the paper around the plant and lift it, move it, whatever. Saves a lot of cussing in the long run.

Submitted by YesMaybe on

I love how plants' young growth looks, it tends to have such vibrant colors.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

and this little pad actually looked a bit like a little shy child poking it's head out to see what's going on in the world. Anthropomorphizing again, yes, but sometimes it just fits.