Prickly Pear Cactus

This post was last updated on July 1st, 2021 at 08:35 am

edible prickly pear cactusPrickly pear is a common sight in the high desert areas of the rocky mountains. The prickly pear is an edible plant with many parts to enjoy a meal from. Although is is often difficult to have a nice meal of these without suffering some pokes. The most effective way to harvest the pear is to use thick leather gloves. These will make a great addition to whatever backpacking food you already have with you. There is nothing quite like enjoying fresh food harvested off the land.

You can eat many different parts of the prickly pear cactus such as:

  • Nopales (prickly pear pads)
  • Prickly pear (the red fruit of the cactus)
  • The pedals of the flowers

Nopales (the Pads)

These are all totally edible. It happens that the younger pads are the most desirable. The old pads tend to get tough and have a strong flavor. If you harvest the young pads in the spring they will not only taste better, but have less spines in them for you to deal with.  These are easily prepared by removing the spines with a knife or a peeler. Cook them up and enjoy. They taste something like a green bean. The Nopales are quite healthy and a great food to mix with other ingredients. They are good grilled or boiled.

The Ripe Fruit

These can be treated just like a fruit and can be eaten after just a little preparation. These are the small red or purple clumps that look like they came out of a Super Mario video game.  They are all edible but you will find that they don’t taste good unless they are ripe. These are usually best when they are purplish in color. They are full of flavor and by far the sweetest part of the cactus. To prepare these to eat you will need to remove the glochids, these are the small blond hairs that cause itching and discomfort.  To remove the hairs you should swirl them around in cold water for a few minutes, rinse and you are ready to skin them. Once you have them skinned they are ready to eat. Usually its a good idea to cut them into smaller slices so you can really enjoy them.

The Flowers

These can be eaten as is without any preparation they are not terribly full of flavor, but if you are hard up they can be eaten. These are good as a addition to a salad of a more substantial plant. They sure add a nice unique color to any dish they are included in.  You could collect a lot of flowers for most of the day and still not have enough for a full meal. so these to me are more of a byproduct.

The prickly pear cacti is a versatile plant that will provide nourishment in desert areas where you might not find a lot of other wild edibles. If harvested carefully and at the appropriate time of year these will make a great flavorful treat!