‘Prickly pear’ is the common name of the fruit that grows at the tops of the leaves of Nopales cacti. The fruits are oval in shape, and can range in color from yellow and light green to orange, pink, and red, depending on the variety and ripeness.  Apart from the unusual name, appearance, and origins of this fruit, it also has a very unique composition of nutrients, including high levels of vitamin C, B-family vitamins,magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, and dietary fiber. In terms of organic compounds, prickly pears have high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains, all of which have a positive impact on human health.

Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover.   Prickly pear cactus is popular in many areas of the world,  because it’s high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.

The edible parts are the leaves, flowers, stems and fruit. Prickly pear cactus is eaten whole (boiled or grilled). It is also made into juice and jams. The fruit can be eaten fresh.

Some of the health benefits of prickly pear include its ability to lower cholesterol levels, improve the digestive process, decrease the risk of diabetes, boost the immune system, stimulate bone growth, strengthen blood vessels, prevent certain cancer,  reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s,  aid in weight loss attempts,  and eliminate inflammation throughout the body.

If you’d like to try prickly pear cactus, consider easing into it.   Side effects for some people include mild diarrhea, nausea, increased stool volume, increased stool frequency and abdominal fullness.