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

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!

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