Prickly Pear

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Opuntia tuna mill (tuna) and Opuntia ficus-indica (barbary fig, Indian fig). Other species include: Opuntia fragilis (brittle prickly pear), Opuntia streptacantha

COMMON NAME(S): Prickly pear, Nopal


Prickly pear was used as a food source (conserves) and for alcoholic drinks in Mexico for hundreds of years. Native Americans applied the pads to wounds and bruises.

Botany :- Prickly pear is a perennial cactus native to tropical America and Mexico, preferring a dry habitat and rocky soil. It can grow to approximately 3 m high. The round stems (pads) have a thorny skin covered in spines. Prickly pear flowers are yellow. The oval, pear-shaped, purplish fruit has prickly outer skin with a sweet inner pulp.

Uses of Prickly Pear

Prickly pear has been used to treat wounds, gastrointestinal (GI) complaints, lipid disorders, and diabetes.

Prickly pear cactus stems also contain various antioxidant compounds that may be useful against free radical damage to cell membranes.

Side Effects of Prickly Pear

Dermatitis may be the most common side effect from prickly pear. O. megacantha has been shown to be nephrotoxic in rat studies. Side effects may include exacerbation of hypoglycemia if combined with oral hypoglycemic agents.


  • Hypoglycemia (blood sugar levels lower than normal) could theoretically be a possibility if the cactus increases the action of oral antidiabetic medications.
  • Other than that, there is currently no known or documented serious risk or complication associated with the ingestion of prickly pear cactus stem.

Dermatitis from the plant was the most common toxicity found in current literature searches on prickly pear. A case report of cactus dermatitis in a 2-year-old child was described after contact with O. microdasys.Two other patients were affected by this same species, both experiencing dermatitis, and one developing severe keratoconjunctivitis in the right eye. A case of cactus granuloma in a 24-year-old male is described from contact with O. bieglovii thoms. Granuloma formation also was seen from O.acanthocarpa spines embedded in the dermis, with onset occurring within several days and lasting several months. Treatment with topical corticosteroids is recomrnended. Side effects may include exacerbation of hypoglycemia if combined with oral hypoglycemic agents. O. streptacantha is nontoxic in oral and IV preparations.

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