Late in the summer the fields of prickly pear cactus in the Sonoran Desert become laden with plump, vibrant magenta fruit as far as the eye can see. Other areas of the world grow fruit trees. In the desert the cactus are our orchards and they are abundant. The unique color of this fruit reflects its powerful health benefits. Research shows that in humans the fruit eliminates inflammation, boosts the immune system, improves the digestive process, aids in weight loss, decreases the risk of diabetes, stimulates bone growth, strengthens blood vessels, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, and prevents certain cancers. The fruit contains high levels of vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, copper, magnesium, and B vitamins. A serving of prickly pears will give you more than 30% of you daily Vitamin C requirement. To get even more detailed it has high levels of beneficial antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains.
There are close to 200 varieties of prickly pear cactus, also known as Nopales. The scientific name is Opuntia, and not all of the varieties are edible. In the desert, I use a knife to cut the spiny skin off a fruit that looks ripe and delicious. Often you can tell it is ripe because other creatures such as these bees will be enjoying the fruit already. I use a stick to stabilize it as i cut it right where it grows on the plant. Once the spines are cut off, I slice a piece of the fruit and taste it. If it is sweet and appealing to the palate, I call them edible. 🙂 Although end of September and beginning of October is so late in the summer I would consider it to be the beginning of fall, I found one prickly pear cactus still holding on to the last of its ripe, summer fruit. I wanted an easy and fast way to harvest and process the fruit so I didn’t have to deal with the tiny hair-like spines on the outside of it’s flesh. I also wanted to avoid the hundreds of tiny, hard, black seeds that fill its center and make it a little awkward to eat the fruit whole.
I found these great Prickly Pear Punch instructions at the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society. Simply use tongs to harvest the ripe fruit. Place the fruit in a blender and liquify it. Once liquified, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and voila, prickly pear juice. The whole process took me about 30 minutes. You can strain it again to get a thinner, more liquid juice.
I can testify this process eliminates all the tiny thorns. I enjoyed this juice for a week. Every time I drank it, I felt bright, healthy, and energized. Both me and my 3 year old niece find the juice delicious. My 5 year old niece on the other hand thought it was yucky. Either way, it is a unique experience and worth a try. Even when it is not prickly pear fruit season here in the Sonoran Desert, you can find prickly pear products all over town including right here at our very own Inns at El Rancho Merlita. Come check it out! Your body will thank you.
The ERM family