Plants of the Future: Opuntia ficus-indica, the Cactus Pear, is used in Traditional Medicine to Combat Diabetes


Plant Ecology Here and Now

Plants of the Future: Opuntia ficus-indica, the Cactus Pear, is used in Traditional Medicine to Combat Diabetes

The Indian fig or Nopal cactus, and cacti in general, are high in fiber and can lower blood sugar and reduce insulin levels.

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss



Chinese mystics believed that the Cactus stimulates blood circulation and qi energy. Yet, Feng Shui discourages having cacti in your midst; their needles apparently disrupt energy flow



Noticing my mother's Christmas cactus from last year, I wondered what had gone wrong. It was desperate in some way that escaped me. Why so lifeless and grim?

My solution was to give it a little drink of water until my mother cried, “Too much water is precisely the problem – you drowned it, and the roots have rotted!”

Yes, I had fed it too much water repeatedly over the preceding few weeks, and it reacted by exhibiting indolence. However, it was still very much alive.



Formidable Strength | Spirit and Personality of Cactuses

Experiencing our inter-existence helps us see with new eyes. We can sense how intimately and inextricably we are related to all that is. Observing nature teaches us about ourselves and other life around us.

When you gaze upon a cactus, look a little deeper, and you will see they are indestructible. And this is the very thing about cacti you can count on – they tolerate practically anything.

Are you drawn to cactus plants, with their beautiful flowers and spindly needles? If so, you may subconsciously venerate their ability to thrive in extreme conditions that would render a plant of lesser strength lifeless.

The spiritual meaning reinforcing the Cactus is symbolized in its hard protective exterior. Cacti are adaptable and survive in new (or careless) surroundings and situations.

Recognized for this ability to thrive, cacti show us their courage and determination. In Native American culture, cacti have become a symbol of warmth and unconditional, enduring love.



Fire and water elements are supposed to be mutually destructive.
Still, they seem to cohabitate in the Cactus perfectly


The Untapped Potential of the Cactus Plant

Opuntia ficus-indica is the most essential cactus species in agriculture and the first fruit crop especially adapted to semi-arid and non-irrigated lands.

The cactus plant thrives in arid climates and may become an unusual source of fuel and food in the new world. With ever-increasing drought issues affecting crops such as corn and soybeans, cacti are very much a plant of the future.

Cactus plants are not picky about growing conditions. Prickly pear, or O. ficus-indica, produces the most fruit and uses up to 80% less water than other crops. Cactus can be used as fodder, dye, a source of energy, and even has a role in ecosystem remediation.





Raw Opuntias taste like okra-meets-cucumber-meets-asparagus.
In their most natural form, they are full of vitamins and at their most nutritious



If you haven't tried cactus fruit, the first thing you will notice is its unusual appearance. Also known as Barbary fig, tuna fruit, or cactus pear, it is delicious and loaded with nutrients. It has a naturally sweet flavor and can be used in various desserts. Prickly pear is ideal for ketogenic and low-carb diets and is low in calories and sugars.

Although not a key crop in the United States, cacti are found from British Columbia to South America. They have been adapted to Australia, East Africa, and the Mediterranean.

The cactus fruit is widely used in Mexican cuisine and is found almost everywhere throughout the country. It grows from Sonora in the north to inland Oaxaca in the south. Cactus have become an enduring symbol of the country’s reputation abroad and an ingredient of the staple diet of its people at home.

Cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, which consists of about 1750-2000+ known species. Prickly pear, nopal, and Opuntia – all names for the same thing – are juicy fruit from the Nopal cactus; more than 200 varieties exist.

All cactus varieties have one thing in common: their resilience to melting sun and torrential rain, their gorgeous orange, red, fuchsia, and yellow blooms, and their savory nopal flesh and sweet tuna fruit.


Cacti are distinctive and unusual plants with protective spines and peculiar morphology. Long deemed one of the least desirable plants of the natural kingdom, they possess an array of anatomical and physiological features which conserve water.

Cactus stems have expanded into succulent green structures containing the chlorophyll necessary for life and growth.



Botanical Classifications

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Opuntiodeae
Tribe: Opuntieae
Genus: Opuntia
Species: elatior Mill.



While the cactus plant may not be recognized for its attractiveness, its natural beauty and treasure come from the inside, with its unique ability to store water.

Cacti evolved in barren, hot deserts to become strong and resilient plants. Stemming from that fact, they've come to represent endurance, courage, and power in the face of adversity.



Keeping a cactus in your environment will remind you to stay tough and endure.
Cacti remind you that the essence of both your truth and your beauty comes from within 



Prickly Pear Nutritional Benefits

There is an excellent opportunity for cactus cultivation as a food source for humans and animals. With their many uses, Cacti have immense potential to be the food of the future.

Prickly pear is rich in phytochemicals with hypoglycemic, neuroprotective, and antioxidant effects. This fruit protects against bacteria and germs and supports liver health. A single serving of cactus fruit may lower blood sugar levels by up to 48 percent.

Owing to its natural sugars, the fruit of the cactus plant is outstanding in jams or can simply be used like many other fruits. The young leaves of Cactus can serve as flavorful, nutritious vegetable and salad dishes.

The fruit isn't the only edible part of the prickly pear cactus. Its soft pads, familiar in kitchens as Nopales, are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Nopales can be enjoyed raw or used in both sweet and savory dishes. They make a healthy addition to scrambled eggs, tacos, soups, stews, chili, salsa, and even lasagna. You can eat fresh pads or preserve them with canning and pickling methods. 

Rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, the cactus fruit fights inflammation and keeps your immune system strong. It also has beneficial effects on blood lipids and bone health.



Medicinal Food Properties of Cactus

Cacti are traditionally used as medicine in many countries over the world. Rheumatic disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and gastric mucosa diseases are just a few.

The cactus plant contains bioactive molecules known for their health-related properties. Nutritionally rich prickly pears correlate to a reduced risk of diseases associated with diabetes, cancer, and even neurodegenerative diseases.


Other Nutrition Facts

The prickly pear cactus is known for its ability to grow tasty, syrupy fruit. And the petals are also a delicious snack that can be consumed on their own or paired with other foods.

Whether you want to get leaner or feel energized, look no further. This superfood provides the nutrients you need to function at your peak.

With only 42 calories, a single cactus fruit offers 24 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C intake and high doses of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and copper.

Boasting only 9.9 grams of carbohydrates, including 3.7 grams of fiber, cactus fruits will also give you small amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, iron, and selenium. 

Choose this fruit if you are on a low-fat diet. It has less than one gram of fat per serving. Its rich, sweet flavor will satisfy any craving. Use it in fruit juices, homemade pie, citrus salad, lemon bars, and pancakes.




If you grow cactus plants indoors, they are more likely to germinate fast. Indoors are a more controlled environment, and seed germination can take three to several months.

On the other hand, if you decide to grow your seeds outside, they take years to germinate.



When times are tough, we sometimes forget our inner strength.
With a potted cactus plant on your shelf, you may be reminded that you, too, can handle adversity and take on whatever challenges you're facing






© 2005 – 2023, Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing, LLC | The web property Garden of Healing dot com is wholly owned and operated by Garden of Healing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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