Nopal cactus is indigenous to some Southwestern regions of the US and Mexico. It also goes by the name prickly pear cactus. This plant is mostly consumed when it is young, as it gets very hard when it matures. It is among the common ingredients in Mexican foods. This succulent plant is very healthy and beneficial for our bodies.
It is commonly added to a range of dishes such as tacos or scrambled eggs. It turns out amazing when stir-fried as it has a high concentration of water in it. These prickly pear cacti also go exceptionally well with other fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions.
The Plant Nopales
Nopal cactus is the most common variety of plant nopales. This plant has a characteristic tart and citrus flavor, which makes it possible to be used in both sweet and savory dishes. The nopales plant has about 114 different species – and all of them are cultivated and harvested in Mexico where, approximately, 7 million acres of land is dedicated to the cultivation of this plant.
Nopal cactus is rich in carbs and fiber. A cup of fresh and raw nopal provides you with 13.8 calories and about 1.14 grams of protein. It is also laden with numerous essential vitamins such as vitamin A, C, and K. Moreover, it is beneficial for our bones as a cup of nopal cactus contains 141 milligrams of calcium in it.
In addition to these nutrients, this prickly pear cactus also provides us with flavonoids, quercetin, and kaempferol. All of these are important plant compounds that are essential for our bodies because they act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Health Benefits of Nopal
- An Effective Antiviral
Nopal cactus has been deemed as an essential antiviral agent for our bodies. Few pieces of evidence of preliminary research have shown that consuming prickly pear cactus helps fight the viral activity of herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Hence, nopal is beneficial for us as an antiviral because prevention is the best line of defense against any virus.
- Protects The Nerve Cells
A study has shown that prickly pear cactus tends to our damaged nerve cells. Nerve cells, like any other body cells, also need repairs. Damaged nerve cells can result in severe consequences such as sensory loss and pain.
- Has Antioxidant Properties
Free radicals damage our body cells and are very detrimental to our well-being. Antioxidants protect us from these free radicals. According to a study conducted in 2013, it was found that nopal cactus has antioxidant properties and can also help in lowering oxidative stress.
- May Aid in the Treatment of Enlarged Prostate
Few traces of scientific evidence have shown promising prospects of nopal cactus aiding the treatment of enlarged prostate. An enlarged prostate is a painful condition in men, which may lead to prostate cancer. However, with some promise by nopal cactus, it is possible to treat an enlarged prostate effectively.
- Helpful in Reducing Cholesterol
Consumption of nopal cactus has shown a significant decrease in the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in our blood. The research also discovered that the use of nopal cactus for managing cholesterol levels in the blood has fewer side effects than the usual cholesterol medications.
- Effective in Getting Rid of Hangovers
The nopal juice is claimed to help fight off the dreary after-effects of drinking significantly. It is widely used to treat hangovers. However, there is a catch – consuming nopal juice or extract is only helpful in eliminating hangovers if taken before. So, it is more of a pre-treatment than a post one.
Side Effects of Nopal
Not always, but consuming nopal can sometimes result in the following side effects:
How to Consume Nopal
The prickly pear cactus can be consumed raw and fresh. However, it is important to peel off its skin first. As it is mostly consumed when the plant is young, it has a tad bit tart flavor. Nopal also has small seeds that can be removed with a strainer when making nopal juice or simply spit out when having it raw.
If picked fresh from a garden, it is essential to remove the thorns from the prickly pear cactus. It should be thoroughly washed before cooking, and all the slime should be removed. Nopals make up for delectable vegan tacos. They are an excellent alternative to meat.
Interesting Facts about Prickly Pear Cactus
- With only about 14 calories, this fruit is a popular weight loss drink in Mexico.
- During full moon nights, the plant of prickly pear cactus secrets an oily fluid – making them slimy.
- They are mostly grown in areas with sandy or gravelly soil, such as near boulders, rocky hillsides, and washes.
- The plant of prickly fruit cactus has a long life and can live up to 20 years.
- Nopal cactus has several different varieties of various sizes. The one specie, grown in the Sonoran Desert, known as Engelmann prickly pear, is the tallest of all. It can stretch up to about 5 feet in height and about 10-15 feet in width.
- The red variety of prickly pear cactus is also called tuna.
- The sap of this plant is also very beneficial for hair.
- The nopales can thrive without water for many days, and they are highly drought-resistant.
- Nopales plant only requires to be watered once a month.
- One of the most common Mexican tradition is to share the nopal’s plant. It is an easily shareable plant – you just need to cut off a piece and cultivate it in your garden.
Nopal cactus or prickly pear cactus is highly beneficial for our health. It is rich in protein and can easily substitute meat in numerous dishes, such as vegan tacos. Prickly pear fruit is also rich in vitamins and minerals, along with having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Though people with diabetes should be cautious about its consumption, this fruit is very beneficial for lowering the levels of bad cholesterol in our blood. It is also used in herbal medicinal treatments. And not to mention, the nopal juice is widely consumed as the best weight loss drink across Mexico.