Eat Prickly Pear As A Medicine And Natural Remedy For Almost Any Ailment
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The prickly pear cactus represents about a dozen species of the Opuntia genus from the Cactaceae family. They are mostly found in the North American deserts. Other known names for the prickly pear are tuna, sabra, nopal, nostle or paddle cactus.
The fruits of the Opuntia genus are edible and sold using the name “tuna“. Whereas the branches (a.k.a. the pads) can be eaten as a vegetable, and are sold under the name “nopal” or “nopalito“.
The flowers of the prickly pear cactus can be found in red, yellow or purple, and each flower will yield one fruit.
The flesh can be found in colors such as white, green, yellow, red or purple; with the reddish-purple or dark red variety being the more popular variety in North America.
They are also an important commercial crop in Mexico, Latin America, North Africa, the Mediterraneans and Middle East.
Some describe the fruit as delicious, and that it tastes like a cross between watermelon and strawberry, mildly sweet and almost bland. It reminds me of the pitaya (dragonfruit).
Nutritional Benefits of Prickly Pear
Prickly pear fruits can be eaten whole, juiced or added in salad. They are rich in dietary fiber, high in antioxidants: carotenoids, polyphenols, flavonoids and betacyanins.
It also contains linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) and several protein block-building amino acids. Among the minerals found in prickly pears are calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and manganese.
As with all plants, various vitamins are also found in this plant but they are beneficial only when consumed raw (uncooked). Vitamins are destroyed when cooked in high temperatures.
Health Benefits of Prickly Pear
Like the aloe vera (another form of cactus), the prickly pear plant has been gaining medical interests due to its antiviral, anti-inflammatory and high antioxidant properties.
More recently, prickly pears have been promoted as a superfood, and you will soon see why.
These are some of the serious health benefits of prickly pears:
Anti-aging: Prickly pears contain nutrients that are beneficial for your skin health. Consumption of prickly pears helps to hydrate and nourish your skin to prevent dryness, dull appearance, and premature formation of wrinkles and fine lines. Due to its many other antioxidant properties, it also helps to prevent formation of dark circles under the eyes.
Anti-cancer: The high antioxidant activities found in prickly pear fruits help to lower the risk of certain cancers. In a lab mice study, it was shown that cactus pear extracts significantly suppressed tumor growth.
Anti-inflammatory: The anti-inflammatory properties in prickly pear provide many health benefits in fighting inflammation in the body. Consuming this cactus plant prevents inflammation of the joints and muscles caused due to gout and arthritis. Other inflammatory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis fibromyalgia, allergies, migraines can also benefit and be relieved from it.
Blood pressure: Prickly pears are rich in phytonutrients, enzymes and minerals that all contribute to healthy blood and healthy blood vessels. Regularly consuming prickly pears help your body to maintain normal blood pressure levels.
Blood sugar level: The fiber and gooey pectin found in prickly pear cactus helps to lower blood sugar by decreasing sugar absorption in the stomach and intestines. It improves insulin sensitivity, thus can be a healthy addition to a diabetic diet. Include cactus pads in your cooking, to enjoy the blood sugar lowering effect that prevents a sugar spike after a meal.
Bone health: Studies show that cactus pads contain high levels of bioavailable calcium and have positive effects on bone mineral density. Women consuming cactus pads daily were found to have higher bone density with lower risk of hip fractures.
Chest congestion: To relieve chest congestion, heat a cactus pad and place it on the chest. This is a common traditional remedy that are used by old folks where this plant is grown abundantly.
Colon health: Consumption of the cactus pads keeps the colon in optimum health. The present of antioxidant activities from the prickly pear neutralizes free radicals, and reduces inflammation in the colon caused by harmful toxins that found their way into the colon.
Digestive health: Consuming prickly pear daily helps to regulate bowel movements in order to maintain a healthy digestive system. Regularity prevents all the diseases that can occur in situations of chronic constipation.
Gastric Ulcers: A study showed that betanin, found in prickly pears, is able to regulate the production of gastric mucus and reduce inflammation in the gastrointestines. Cactus pear consumption have been reported to be protective against stress-induced acute gastric lesions, by maintaining a regular flow of gastric mucus.
Hangover: When consumed before drinking excessive alcohol, prickly pear extract has been shown to be beneficial in reducing the severity and occurrence of hangovers.
Heart health: The high content of antioxidants in prickly pear helps to prevent hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). Betacyanins can reduce hypertension and oxidation of cholesterol, thus preventing coronary heart disease, and other heart diseases. Flavonoids in these cactus fruits are also instrumental in normalizing blood viscosity that prevents stroke.
Immune system: The rich antioxidant content and antiseptic properties of prickly pear is responsible for strengthening the body’s immune system. They help your body increase the ability to fight against harmful, infectious and disease-causing pathogens in the body.
Kidney health: In traditional medicine, prickly pear is often used as a diuretic. This means that it is beneficial for your kidney and bladder health. It prevents urinary problems, abdominal bloating and water retention (edema) in the body.
Liver health: Consuming whole prickly pear fruits or juice, or the cactus pads provide hepatoprotective (liver-protective) activities that prevent the development of fatty liver, neutralizing free radicals and toxins that cause liver damage.
Muscle cramps: Prickly pears contain anti-inflammatory properties and key nutrients such as magnesium and potassium, that help the body regulate muscles and nerve functions. By eating prickly pear regularly, you can be sure to prevent muscle cramps.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): One of the reasons for PMS symptoms is an increase in the levels of a hormone-like chemical called prostaglandins. They contract your uterus, and can cause painful cramps in the process. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more severe menstrual cramps. Prickly pear inhibits the synthesis of these hormones, thus greatly reducing PMS symptoms.
Skin wounds: The cactus pulp or juice can be used to treat and soothe skin wounds, cuts, insect bites, bruises or sunburn by topical application. Mashed cactus pads can be applied to wounds and boils for quick healing.
Where can you get prickly pears? In larger grocery stores, especially the ones that carry international foods, you may be able to find prickly pear fruits and the cactus pads.
Restaurants that serve Mexican food may also offer dishes that include slices of the prickly pear cactus.
If you’re buying prickly pear fruits or cactus pads, the thorns/spines should have already been removed. To prepare the fruit, you will need to remove the tough outer skin.
Using a sharp knife, slice off both ends of the cactus pear and discard. Then, cut the fruit into two, lengthwise. Carefully peel back the skin, away from the flesh of the fruit. If the fruit is ripe, the skin should come off easily.
A prickly pear fruit contains many small seeds. They are edible, but many people choose not to eat them. You can chew on the fruit and spit out the seeds.
To make prickly pear juice, you can use a slow juicer—simply put the fruit through your juicer and the seeds will be expelled separately.
You can also use a blender—put the fruit flesh in a blender, then use a strainer to remove the seeds. You may have to strain it two or three times to get a smooth-tasting juice.
Like most cacti, prickly pears have thorns, but they are not the ones you need to worry about. Look out instead, for the fine, almost invisible hair-like spines that cover the fruit called glochids. They come off the pad easily, and once lodged in the skin, glochids can be difficult to remove.
Great care is often required when they are being harvested and being prepared for consumption. Use of thick gloves might be wise.
Next time you see cactus pears, try them!
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