Where does it come from?
The Opuntia is a genus of plants of the family of cacti, consisting of more than 300 varieties, all originating in America , and who live from North America to Patagonia.
They were introduced in Europe by the conquerors and easily adapted in the Mediterranean region, both in countries like Italy or Spain, as well as in Morocco and other North African countries.
There are varieties of this plant that can reach a size of a few centimeters , such as the nopal known as “angel wing” or up to five meters high, such as the “white peach” or “white nopal” variety .
What are nopales for?
Nopales have a set of utilities in different fields , among which are:
- As food, human and livestock.
- As a glucose regulator in the body.
- As an antibiotic
- As an anticancer.
- As a component of waterproofing.
As human and livestock food
The nopales serve mainly as food , both for human consumption and as fodder for different types of livestock.
The nopal is one of the plants consumed by the American man since time immemorial, and it is one of the first plant species cultivated in the American continent.
Its consumption involves both the fruit, called “prickly pear” in America or “prickly pear” in Spain, as well as the leaves, which also bear their own name: “nopales” .
The “trunk” of the nopal and the “non-tender leaves” are used as fodder for animals.
In its biochemical composition, the food contributions stand out, which are :
- Potassium salts
- Small amount of protein
- Vitamins A, B2, B3, C, E, K, present in the fruits
As a glucose regulator in the body
The dehydrated fiber of cactus is used as an aid in digestive disorders. Recent studies concluded that the cactus has the quality of being hypoglycemic, that is, as a controller of excessive levels of sugar in the body.
The function of nopal on glucose is due to substances identified as isolated polysaccharides , which trap glucose molecules in such a way that the insulin generated in the pancreas, even at low levels, is sufficient to regulate blood sugar levels .
This has only been seen in patients with type II diabetes (who produce a certain amount of insulin), but for people who have type I diabetes (who do not produce insulin), the consumption of nopal is not a substitute for injections of it.
It is used as a natural antibiotic
The antibiotic properties of nopal are derived from the natural antibiotics it contains, related to the metabolism of crassulaceous acids in plants, which inhibits or suspends the growth of various bacterial species in cacti. Hence, both the consumption of nopal and the application of nopal stalk poultices have beneficial effects on wounds and mild skin infections.
Anti-Algerian Properties in Nopal
It is known that nopal is related to ” Opuntia Máxima “, a substance that makes it up, and that it was administered during an experiment to laboratory mice with kangerian tumors. In that experiment, it was found that the cancer remained dormant for a longer time.
The sequence of the process that leads to the slowing down of cancer cells is still unknown.
As a component of waterproofing
Nopal slime is the transparent liquid extract obtained by applying pressure to the cladodes. It is characterized as a powerful ingredient for paints and waterproofing for home roofs, as it contributes to their hydrophobic property.
Thanks to the preparation of paintings with nopal slime, rainwater and humidity from the environment can be kept away from the building material, preventing erosion by erosion.
Characteristics of the nopal
The nopal has extensive and shallow roots. In addition, it is provided with secondary roots with absorbent hairs. These secondary roots are deciduous because their presence is limited to the short rainy seasons, in which they are responsible for capturing as much water as possible.
The nopal leaves are flat and are called cladodes . These are smooth, with widely spaced spines, and are capable of holding large amounts of water.
The nopal flowers are diurnal, solitary, and are born at the base of the trees that function as floral or vegetative buds.
The flowers are bright and vivid colors , ranging from yellow, orange, red, and purple. They appear in the areolas, at the edges of the segments, and can even be born in the areolas of the fruits.
The fruit of the nopal is a berry between ovoid and cylindrical, of different colors, umbilicated at the upper end, with numerous mattresses of ahuates distributed in the shell and seeds of variable colors. There are sweet and sour fruits. The candies can be green, yellow, red, and purple. The sour fruits, called “xoconostle” (pronounced “shoconostle”) and are also edible.