Eating Prickly Pear Cactus (Nopal Cactus)

Publication Date: 
Sun, 06/01/2014
By: Alere Staff


Prickly Pear Cactus (nopales or paddle cactus), grown from Mexico to Massachusetts, and west to Michigan and Oklahoma, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers.1, 2 It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.3, 4 There are over 250 species of these plants and many are edible.

The Prickly pear cactus has "leaves" which look like stems and are 2 to 6 inches long. It is a staple in the diet of Mexican and Mexican-American Cultures.3, 4 The older leaves are very tough, so the younger leaves are the preferred part of the plant to use when cooking and eating. The edible parts of prickly pear cactus are the leaves, flowers, stems and fruit. The spines are removed by scrubbing or peeling prior to cooking (boiled or grilled). The fruit of the cactus provides a juice that tastes between a cross of bubblegum and watermelon. The cactus is used to make sauces, jam, candy, cocktails, and juices. You can find the cactus, pads, or juice in many specialty supermarkets, Spanish markets, or online.

According to the USDA, one (1) cup of cooked nopales (prickly pear cactus) has 7.6 micrograms of vitamin K.5 This amount is considered low in vitamin K, but the most important thing to remember is to remain consistent with your diet. Consistency in diet means to be aware of the type of foods you choose every day, pay attention to your portion sizes and be aware of the frequency you consume foods high in vitamin K.

For more information about the amount of vitamin K in the foods and beverages you consume, check out our Vitamin K Finder.

Very few studies have been done to review the potential for interaction between botanicals and other natural products with warfarin. It is important to talk with your doctor about starting any new foods because they can interact with your warfarin, so please keep this in mind when planning your next meal.

  1. Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, McNamara DJ. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr 1994;124:817-24.
  2. Frati AC, Xilotl Diaz N, Altamirano P, et al. The effect of two sequential doses of Opuntia streptacantha upon glycemia. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1991;22:333-6.
  3. Shetty, A. A., Rana, M. K., and Preetham, S. P. Cactus: a medicinal food. J Food Sci Technol. Oct 2012; 49(5): 530–536. Published online Jul 16, 2011.
  4. Prickly pear cactus. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Accessed May 13, 2014.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2004. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,