Prickly Pear (Nopal In Spanish; Opuntia In Latin)
Our herb of the month is an edible one, often eaten as a vegetable for its medicinal benefit. Prickly pear cactus is a ubiquitous sight throughout the Southwest, with a wider range of growth than most cacti species, and is a very attractive one now for its April display of yellow or pink flowers. The green pads are the most distinctive part of the plant. They are oval or marquis shape flattened and about a foot long. They grow end to end and are often at right angles to each other. For this unusual appearance, the plant is used in landscaping, and even as material for a fairly dense, impenetrable living fence, which is a popular form of property boundary throughout Latin America. Mexican cuisine features nopal as an accompaniment to eggs, or as dried nopalitos.
So where’s the medicine in all this? Prickly pear is a very useful food for diabetics, because the presence of prickly pear in a meal has been found to lower the glycemic index for the foods it accompanies. [1, 2]
- Lowering Effect on Postprandial Glycemic Response of Nopales Added to Mexican Breakfasts. Montserrat Bacardi-Gascon, MD, Dulce Dueñas-Mena, BSC and Arturo Jimenez-Cruz, MD. Diabetes Care. Publishined online February 26, 2007.
- The glycemic index of some foods common in Mexico (article in Spanish, abstract in English). Frati-Munari AC, Roca-Vides RA, López-Pérez RJ, de Vivero I, Ruiz-Velazco M. Gaceta Médica Mexicana. 1991 Mar-Apr;127(2):163-70; discussion 170-1.