The Many Uses of the Prickly Pear

The opuntia, or prickly pear cactus, produces luscious fruit that can be made into jelly, wine and many other products.

| September/October 1976


Always wear gloves when harvesting prickly pear fruit.


If you're like most people, you probably don't think of cacti—those spiny denizens of the desert—as fruit-bearing plants. Bebe (Cactus Lady) Bruce says "Think again! Some cacti live a long way from the dry Southwest and bear luscious fruit that can be made into jelly, wine, and many other products ... all of which have a definite market value!"

The opuntia—commonly called the prickly pear cactus—is perhaps the best-known and best-loved cactus in the world today. Best-known because it's so widely distributed (you'll find opuntias from California to Florida to Europe to the West Indies). Best-loved because of the bountiful yield of pulpy, red, deliciously tangy fruits—or "prickly pears"—this cactus produces every fall.

My own love affair with the opuntia began one afternoon as I was walking my dog down a dusty road outside the small, west-Texas town to which I'd recently moved. At one point, my canine friend stopped to sniff a ripe, crimson-colored, half-eaten (by a bird) fruit that had—apparently—fallen from a clump of cacti growing out of a rocky ledge above the road.

Like a true city bumpkin I picked up the partially devoured fruit, carried it home, showed it to my neighbor, and asked: "Isn't this what folks use to make prickly pear jelly?"

"Yep! Sure is," my friend replied. She then told me the name of an elderly lady in a nearby community who made the jelly and who could give me the recipe.

Thus began a prickly pear recipe collection that has since swollen to include jam, preserves, pie, wine, and a vitamin C-rich pear-juice "cooler," among others. My "romance" with the prickly pear has turned out to be a long and—well— fruitful one.

8/2/2016 2:47:33 AM

Hi I like the information about prickly pear and I was curious what we can make from it like jam, i am interested in how to make jam from prickly pear and what other ingredient need to get healthy with no added sugar jam.

12/30/2015 11:43:46 AM

I am a University of Nevada Reno employee and am working on a cactus field. One of my responsibilities is to find cactus recipes. I really like the recipes that are found on this website and I was wondering if I could use some of them, in your name, on our project website.

Nancy Graciela Ruggeri
1/23/2013 8:00:27 PM

I love prickly pears and am having a hard time finding them in the super market. I heard how great their medicinal value was. I had only 4 pears and it took the pain I had in my knees away. Thats how incredible this fruit is. I am going to start growing my own and hope to some day have an entire plantation. I will never be without this amazing fruit!

9/21/2009 11:07:42 AM

Is there a recipe for prickly pear jam?? If so can you send it to me or tell me where to find it? Thank you

6/1/2009 10:44:14 AM

I wonder if a new article on prickly pear cactus is in the works for MEN- this article- although an excellent one, is 36 years old! I think it's time to revive the interest in such a versatile plant and one that is native to many parts of the U.S. Think global, eat local!

7/24/2008 8:05:40 PM

I love prickly pears. Reds, purples, orange, yellow, green and white. Living in Mexico, I get them all from May to early November. I have bottled the juice and put in the freezer and will hold for 5 to 6 months, maybe more but I've drank it and won't know. I've refrigerated it for about 25 days at 4 degrees F. Although, I want to make its shelf life longer and pasteurization makes it taste like hay. Is there another means of fighting bacteria without having the prickly pear juice taste like hay after boiling it for 10 minutes? Lorenzo

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