Planting cacti in one’s own yard is a trend that is getting increasingly popular. Due to their innumerable varieties of shapes and colors of not only flowers but also of leaves, cacti have obtained an important place in home gardens. However, most of these hobbyist home gardeners don’t know that cacti are not only beautiful but are useful too, and one of their uses is their amazing health benefits. Typically, only one plant in the cactus family is known for its medicinal benefits and it’s aloe. However, many other cactuses have incredible medicinal properties and if gardeners know about them, they’ll be even more motivated to grow these spiny beauties.
Cactuses are full of nutrients and have medicinal properties. The parts of the plants used for obtaining the medicinal properties are usually the cactus pads and fruit which can fight infections, and relieve symptoms of anything from high cholesterol to hangovers.
Let’s take a look at the medicinal benefits of cactus.
Being high in fiber, both the cactus pad and cactus fruit have the ability to lower the amounts of cholesterol in blood. According to a study, eating cactus can reduce cholesterol levels, body fat and blood pressure. Including cactus fruits in your diet can reduce the risk of diseases that arise from high cholesterol, such as coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular diseases and stroke.
Studies have shown that taking cactus extract after consuming 5 to 7 alcoholic drinks caused fewer hangover symptoms (like dry mouth, nausea and vomiting). Cactuses contain vitamins like A, C and E, and minerals like calcium, iron and more. All these nutrients can help reduce the inflammation. Therefore cactus extract was also found to reduce inflammation which is usually associated to alcohol consumption.
Controlling Blood Sugar
If blood sugar in the body is higher than normal, it can indicate the presence of several diseases, like diabetes, heart disease or stroke. A Mexican study had an important observation that people who regularly had cactus in their diet showed a remarkable reduction in their blood sugar.
Strengthening Immune System
Cactus, especially cactus fruits, is loaded with vitamin C, one of the best immune boosters. Regular intake of vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells, which reduces the risk of catching an illness and prepares your body to fight off viruses in case of an infection.
Packed with Nutrients
You eat a lot of things; but are you sure you’re getting all the nutrients? Rarely! The foods we eat are generally devoid of nutrients that our body needs. And hence we are usually malnourished and have something or the other deficiency. In such a condition, what if we get a food that contains most of the nutrients? Cactus is such a food eating which you can counteract most of your nutrient deficiencies. These nutrients have anti-inflammatory properties and can decrease the risk of serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Cactus is an excellent source of nutrients like vitamin A, C and E, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, iron and omega 3 fatty acids. Plus it’s very low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol in its raw state.
How to Eat Cactus?
As mentioned earlier, raw cactus is very low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. However, the amount of nutrition may change if the cactus is cooked with salt, oil or butter. In many types of jams, juices and candy, cactus juice may be mixed with other juices like orange, grapefruit or pineapple. This can add to the sugar content.
You can grow your own cactus and harvest it, or buy fresh cactus in your local market with its spines removed. You can even buy processed, packaged or canned cactus.
While preparing cactus for cooking you should remove the spines and skin off the pads and then cut nopales into squares or strips, and cook them. If you boil cactus pads, the slimy texture will come out, whereas if you roast them, you can get their unique tart flavor.
After cooking them, you can add them to various dishes like tomato soup, chili, scrambled eggs, tacos, tamales and quesadillas. Or you can even make cactus dishes like cactus salad, stuffed nopales, cactus casserole and fried nopales.
Cactus fruits (prickly pear) can be eaten raw or in the form of jams or juices. In the latter case, you can pulp the fruit and strain it to remove seeds. You can even add the fruit to fruit salads, turn it into sorbet or smoothie or make its pancake syrup.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go, harvest those cactuses in your yard and start eating them to become healthy!