Prickly Pear

Scientific name: Opunita lindheimeri
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruit (tunas), pads (nopalito), flowers, juice
How: peeled pads can be pickled, fried, made into jerky; fruit can be raw or blended into a smoothy/icee drink; juice from strained fruit can be drunk, made into ice cream, mixed drinks, preserves.
Where: sunny fields
When: fruit-late summer, pads-all year though younger pads taste better.
Nutritional Value: vitamin C, some minerals and omega-3 fatty acid
Dangers: The spines and tiny, fine hairs are very irritating and can even be fatal if lodged in the throat. Burn off the spines/hairs to remove.

Prickly Pear in May
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Close-up of prickly pear flower.
Cactus - Prickly Pear

Unripe fruit
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Ripe fruit.
Cactus Prickly Pear

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Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
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North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
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Before doing anything with the pads or fruit you must remove their tiny, almost invisible needles called glochids. Use a barbecue tongs to harvest the pads/fruit and then burn off the glochids with a torch or gas stovetop.

The pads can be peeled then sliced and cooked like green beans though much slimier. Peeled pads can also be seasoned with your favorite beef/venison jerky spices then dehydrated into "vegan jerky".

The fruits are usually mashed, boiled, and then strained through a fine mesh such as cheesecloth to release their delicious juice. Peel the fruit then mash it up in a saucepan. Add just enough water so as to cover the pulp then boil for about ten minutes. Let the resulting juice cool a little then filter out the pulp and seeds through cheesecloth or other fine filter. This juice can be drank straight, made into jelly or wine, or slightly sweetened (it's already quite sweet) then boiled down to make a syrup.

Burning glochids off of the fruit of the similar Opunita species "Cow's Tongue" cactus.
BurningGlochids

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