Photos of Opuntia ficus-indica, Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear fruit

Opuntia ficus-indica, Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear fruit, native to Mexico, was taken to Europe at an early date, and is now common in many warmer regions of the world. Commercial supplies come from Mexico and elsewhere. Nopal is the ancient Aztec name for prickly pear. When Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs were cultivating nopal in orchards, primarily for the edible fruits. The first reference to nopal comes fthe Badianus Manuscript, or Aztec Herbal of 1552. The word Nohpalli, or Nopal, is derived from the Latinization of the Aztec name tlatocnochtli. The milky juice from the cactus, mixed with other herbs was combined with honey and egg yoke as an ointment to treat burns. According to a 1945 article by Dr. Shiu Ying Hu, in China the fresh pad of the cactus was cut longitudinally into two parts, and the inner pad was used as a dressing on abscesses. Cooked alone or with pork, the broth was given to strengthen weak patients. It was also fried with eggs for the treatment of numbness. In Italy and North Africa the flowers are used as a strong diuretic. In Mexican folk medicine the pads are used for diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. The flowers have also been used for treating benign prostatic hyperplasia.

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