Nopal is a flower belonging to the cacti family that grows in the areolas of their stems. The color and size vary for each species, with some reaching up to 10cm in diameter when open. Depending on the species in question, the color of the flowers varies, they can be yellow, pink, red, orange, or green.
The flower of the prickly pear is edible. They have no smell. Opuntia flowers as a potential source of bioactive substances for food and medicines. It is rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, B, and C.
In Mexico, it’s considered a delicacy to pick off a flower from a prickly pear cactus, dip it in some spicy salsa and eat it. The taste is pleasantly sweet but slightly acidic at the same time.
In Mexico, there are multiple recipes for eating nopal flowers. Some people like to mix them into their drinks as a garnish.
In the Valle del Mezquital region, they are used in the preparation of nopal flower soup.
The Otomí people of Querétaro use the ovaries of the flower of the Opuntia auberi species in stews , similarly to nopales.
The Seris, for their part, eat the flowers of the Cylindropuntia Versicolor.
In Tlaxcala, they cook them with the beans from the pot. In general, the flowers of other species of nopal are eaten like any other vegetable, mixed in stews from different regions.
It is known in Hidalgo as flor de prickly pear.
The character of Prickly Pear Flower
- The most accurate method to determine the degree of prickly pear flower maturity is to focus only on size. The method is to measure the length and width of a fully opened flower, then use these measurements to calculate its surface area.
- Another way to determine maturity is to look at the color. Fully mature buds are bright red, while immature ones are green or yellowish-green.
- In the vegetative stage (bud development), the plant has green closed petal flowers.
- In the initial flowering stage, flowers are yellowish to orange; stamens are grouped together around the style in the beginning and become separated in the full flowering stage.
- The flower is in full when its color is bright yellowish-red, it exhibits a larger shape than that of the other flowering stages and starts nectar production. In the post-flowering stage, the days are getting shorter and cooler. As a result, we can see leaves turning yellow then red and then falling down from branches. The same process is happening in flowers, except that it happens faster than in leaves.
- Opuntia flowers are of variable sizes from 3 up to 10 cm long according to the progression of flowering.
- Floral development from bud to anthesis requires between 20 and 40 days.
- In May, harvesting of O. ficus-Indica begins in the form of vegetative growth and initial flowering.
- The flowers at the full flowering stage were harvested at the beginning of June. For O. stricta the harvesting period starts in the middle of June for the first three stages. For the post-flowering stage, flowers for both species were collected in the last week of June.
What Benefits Does the Prickly Pear Flower Have?
The prickly pear has been used extensively in the traditional medicine systems of many native cultures, including the Mayans and Aztecs. The mucilage of the prickly pear leaves inhibits the production of free radicals that cause premature aging of the human body.
The prickly pear flower is rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, B, and C.
What Do You Do with Prickly Pear Flowers?
The flowers of the nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear, are edible. They have a flavor similar to green beans, and they can be eaten cooked or raw. The flower buds (or tuna) of the cactus can be harvested before they open for use as a cooked vegetable. The parts of the flower that are not used for eating should be discarded.
“Opuntia flowers have been traditionally used for medical purposes for a long time.”
What Are the Benefits of the Prickly Pear Cactus Flower?
Apart from being a simple ingredient in food products, prickly pears also have several health benefits that can be used for medicinal purposes. The prickly pear cactus flower is said to be effective in treating some common ailments like:
- prickly heat or itching.
- Kidney stones and gallstones.
- Reduce inflammation.
The O. ficus-indica flowers exert a wide range of pharmacological activities including antioxidant, anti-microbial (Ammar et al., 2012, Ammar et al., 2015), antiulcerogenic, and wound healing activities (Alimi et al., 2011, Ammar et al., 2015) as well as anti-inflammatory effect (Ahmed et al., 2005, Benayad et al., 2014).
Some Facts about Prickly Pear Flower
- It was observed that the Opuntia ficus-Indica flowers (OFIFE) inhibited significantly the inflammation as confirmed by the hematological and the histological analysis.
- The anti-inflammatory effect of OFIFE was associated with the reduction of malondialdehyde level (MDA as an index of lipid peroxidation) and an increase in activities of catalase (CAT), and superoxide dismutase (SOD), and reduced glutathione (GSH).
- Overall, the results showed that OFIFE might serve as a natural source for the treatment of inflammation.
- Phytochemical studies have demonstrated the presence of several classes of chemical constituents in the O. ficus-Indica flowers.
- The flowers of Opuntia present a rich nutrient composition during flowering.
- The techno-functional properties revealed that flowers can be considered a source of dietary fiber.
- Opuntia flowers can be an excellent source of food supplements.
- Also, a recent study shows the antiulcerogenic activities of Opuntia inermis flowers (Alimi, Hfaiedh, Bouoni, Sakly, & Ben Rhouma, 2011