The Prickly Pear Cactus
“The prickly pear cactus was and is a staple in the diets of many indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States and Mexico.”
“It is believed that all species of prickly pear cacti originated in North America where it was a valued source of food and medicine for centuries of people.”
The green or purple, fleshy pads of the cactus – Nopal in Spanish (Nopales = plural) are flat and about hand-sized.
Nopales have a light, slightly tart flavor, similar to green beans, and a crisp, mucilaginous texture. They are eaten commonly and regularly forms part of a variety of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine dishes.
Nopales are farmed and sold fresh throughout Mexico and the Southwest U.S. In more recent years, nopales have been canned or bottled for export. “Mexico exports many of the nopales sold north of the border – 40,000 pounds are shipped daily to Texas alone.” (italics NV)
Prickly Pear Cactus has gained recognition as researchers have discovered that when consumed it produces a “blood-sugar-lowering effect” – important for those diagnosed with non-insulin dependent diabetes. Nopal pads are known to be high in vitamins A and C, as well as B complex vitamins and iron.
”Native Americans, who are suffering under an epidemic of diabetes, desperately need to be re-taught the medicinal uses of desert plants. If nopal were widely harvested and used to help regulate blood sugar in Native Americans, the diabetes rate would fall sharply”. - NaturalNews.com
Traditional use by Indigenous Peoples
“Prickly pear fruit was usually eaten fresh and raw” by indigenous peoples. ” Some tribes made candy and chewing gum from the fruit, or mashed the ‘tunas’ into a sort of applesauce. Mashed fruit was also boiled down into prickly pear syrup, juice or jelly. Excess fruit was dried and stored for winter.”
Prickly pear fruit and nopales were also used by indigenous peoples to treat a “variety of physical ailments.”
“Nopales in particular were split and applied to open wounds on both humans and animals”
” Roasted nopales were held on the side of the neck or below the chin to treat rheumatism and mumps.”
” Tribes in New Mexico and the Baja region of California applied warm nopales to the body to reduce swelling. Many tribes wrapped split, soaked pads over open wounds to speed recovery, and the Pima [Akimel O’odham] tribe used warm pads to increase milk flow in nursing women.”
“Spines from prickly pear pads were commonly used as needles by many tribes. The deep reds and purples of the tunas were extracted as juice and used to dye textiles.”
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