Prickly Pear Cactus

Found from Chile to Canada, the prickly pear comes in a wide variety of colors and tastes. The Mexicans are particularly fond of prickly pear and it’s said that the Triple Alliance/Aztecs wandered for many generations before seeing an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus in a lake. They took this as a sign and built a city named Mexico-Tenochtitlan…meaning ‘In the moon’s navel – place of the prickly pear cactus.’ This is near Mexico City. Check out the flag of Mexico and you will see the plant if you look closely.

Although you can still find a few random pads for harvesting, that time falls more in the spring. If you can’t wait for spring, there is a little company producing delicious Cactus Jerky, something I’m definitely going to try making later. The fruits, however, are widely available in southern California right now. To harvest I would suggest a pair of tongs, or very thick work gloves. I also like to use a fruit picker to reach fruits growing out of reach. Place them into a container and be careful about glochids (very small stickers) releasing into the air as you harvest.

I then bring them home and fill up a bucket with sand. You can rub them between your hands with the sand, or use a stiff vegetable cleaning brush to rub off the stickers and glochids. Then submerge your fruits into a bowl of hot water, as this softens the glochids even more. I have also tried burning off the glochids and then placing into hot water, this method also works.

The photo above is for making fresh juice. Recipe below highlights how to make syrup. The fresh juice is divine, and most of the prickly pear fruits in this area have a flavor much like watermelon. You can see the fruits cut open, glass bowl is where seeds and pulp are scooped into, and then straining out the seeds and using cheesecloth to further separate. The seeds I got last year were quite hard, but this year’s seem softer. I’ll try and sprout them.

Prickly Pear Syrup

Clean fruits of glochids and remove seedy/pulpy center. Put flesh into large pot, mash it, and bring to a low boil. Strain through cheesecloth to separate seeds. Put seeds to the side and add sweetener to make syrup to your liking. Bring to a boil and place in clean glass jars. Refrigerate or boil in open-water bath.

23 comments

  1. Brenda Prevo says:

    would like a reciepe for prickly pear tea on how to harvest the flowers and or pods and what to do. If you can help. Thanks Brenda

  2. teri mccamish says:

    my mother is ailing and has heard that this tea has a homeopathic healing to it. I have numerous cacti in my garden and yard and would like to know how to make the tea. I currently purchase it and it would be less expensive if I could harvest my own. Thanks for the jam recipe- will try it for her.
    Thanks again and happy holidays

  3. sunny says:

    happy holidays to you as well teri! let us know if you learn any tricks when harvesting the flowers.

    cheers, ~sunny

  4. sunny says:

    Hi Carrie,

    yes…you either take a knife or potato peeler to get the skin off the pad….or if eating the fruit peel off the outside and eat the flesh inside. There are seeds, which you can spit or strain out. Just be careful of the very tiny little stickers (called glochids) on the outside skin of the fruits, as they will stick in your hands for days. I’ve heard some people dump glue on their hands, let it dry, and then pull it off to get the little stickers out…but it seems like a waste to me. Anyways, that is why there are pictures of rubbing them in sand and then dipping into hot water…that is all in order to remove the glochids.

    cheers, ~sunny

  5. sunny says:

    hi Julie!
    i would like one as well. i won’t be back in prickly pear country until the fall time, but am planning to do some experimenting then. please let me know if you find a good method/recipe.

    cheers, ~sunny

  6. Barb says:

    Do you have a recipe for making a marinade or cooking meat with the P.pear syrup? Can you just use the syrup as it is? Thanks.

  7. sunny says:

    no marinade recipe…maybe some minced shallots, tamari/soy sauce, prickly pear syrup, cayenne pepper….? have fun and let us know if you discover a yummy marinade recipe.

    cheers, ~sunny

  8. LAURIELLE CUTHBERTSON says:

    Good afternoon. I am looking where to buy prickley pears. I want to make prickley pear jams and chutney. I have never done this and am very excited about it, but don’t know where they can be purchased? Does anyone know? My work phone number is 925-933-9442. If anyone can help me I sure would appreciate it. Thankyou. Laurielle

  9. sunny90290 says:

    Nikki…prickly pear dipping sauces are relatively easy to come by in the southwestern part of the US. For the rest of the US you will have to go to specialty food stores.

    Laurielle…it all depends on where you live. Here on Maui you can purchase prickly pear at the health food store…if you have any mexican or latino food stores in your area you are almost guaranteed to find them. Good luck, ~sunny

  10. stu says:

    After the flowers are gone from a pink prickly pear cactus, do I knock of the flower pods or do they fall off themselves. Some pads have 8 pods on them

  11. dawn Hester says:

    i would really like to make all natural prickly pear juice and sell it. But i can’t find anything on the internet to tell me how to process it in jars. do i need to add anything to the juice before i put it in jars? please help.And how long will it last in canning jars?

  12. Cara says:

    I live in Long Beach, CA and I would like to buy a prickly pear cactus. Do you know where I can find one in the area?

    Thank you!

  13. Art Hinch says:

    The Turquois room in La Posada resort, Winslow, AZ is a really fine restaurant which serves an extraordinary prickly pear sauce with the extraordinary fried quail dish. I’m trying to find out if it can be purchased anywhere, or if I can come up with a similar recipe. Since I live in the central US, prickly pear sauces are not available. If I come up with anything, I’ll email it to your website.

  14. Tuchavita says:

    It makes about 5-6 cups, depending on the size of the fruit you’re using. In my opinoin, that’s about 2 servings (my husband and I split this most mornings).If you’d like it sweeter, as someone asked above, just add more grapes or some pineapple. No need to add processed sweeteners.

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