Prickly Pear Cactus

With much of Colorado being an arid climate, the prickly pear cactus can be found throughout the state, even in higher elevations.


The prickly pear plant has three different edible sections:

The pad can be treated like a vegetable, the flowers can be added to salads and the pear (tuna) which can be treated like a fruit. They grow wild throughout the American southwest, down to South America and up to Canada.


Obviously, when foraging for prickly pear pads you should be careful of the spines.  While the large spines look scary, its the small hairlike spines that you should be afraid of.  Wear thick gloves and/or cut them free at the stem.  Look for bright green, firm pads. The smaller, younger pads have the least amount of spines and are more palatable.  Older pads have thicker sap and tend to be stringy.


Remove the spines with a knife or other tool. Don't be fooled once you remove the large spines as there are tiny invisible spines that are very irritating when they embedded into your flesh.  The small hair like spines are worse than the large spines as they are hard to remove and will make wish you stuck one of the large spines into your hand instead. Be sure to stand downwind when removing the small spines. Fire can also be used to remove them from the cactus.  Once the spines are removed, rinse with water and cut off any bad spots.


If you do happen to get the small hirelike spines stuck in your skin, you can use duct tape to remove most them.  Glue and gauze works better but duct tape will work if that is all you have.  Otherwise I hope you have tweezers.


To cook the pad (nopale), leave whole or cut into strips.  You may boil or grill them, adding other ingredients to your liking. If the sap is too thick for you while boiling, rinse them and boil them again.  The sap will not hurt you but may have an undesirable taste or texture.


To prepare the pear, remove the spines in the same method.  Be sure to rinse the pears before cutting into them to remove any fine spines.  While all pears are edible, they may be difficult to find when they are ripe.  Get them when they are bright purple, just before the start to wrinkle.  Skin the pair by first cutting off the ends trying not to cut into the seed-filled center.  Then cut lengthwise along the edges like you would if you were skinning an apple.  With the spines and skin removed, the pear is now ready to eat.