prickly pear cactus

Prickly and Prudent Nopal

Many times have the cactus plant been painted as something that is only helpful when you get stuck in a desert and finding one can offer you a brief moment relief by drinking the water that is stored in it. While there is truth to this, a cactus–especially the Nopal cactus, have been helping mankind in more ways than we have never thought.


These days, Nopal cactus’ more famous form is when its edible pads are dried and ground into powder. It is considered by many health advocates as one of the healthiest food supplements in the market these days. But before basking in the glory of being a world-known superfood, Nopales as locals of Mexico call it, has been a common food ingredient for local cuisine in this part of Central America.


For Americans, Nopales  is called prickly pear or paddle cactus. In botany, this vegetable variety is known as Opuntia ficus indica.


The origins of the Nopal cactus date back from the 14th century in the volcanic regions of Mesoamerica that is now called Mexico. Since Mexico is known as The Land of Enchantment, the roots of this plant grow deep through legends. As the story goes, the sun god, Huitzilopachtli appeared before an Aztec chieftain and instructed him how he can find their new homeland. He was supposed to look for an island in the middle of a lake–and on that island, there he must find and eagle perched on a cactus that is growing from a rock, on its beak is a snake being eaten. The chieftain eventually found this place and built a great city to honor the sun god. But little did he know that the cactus the eagle was resting on was actually the torn heart of the sun god’s nephew, Copil. Copil is the son of Malinalxochitl, the moon, and Chimalcuahtli. Copil was fighting for his mother but was easily defeated by his uncle and ultimately received a punishment. It is believed, up to this very day, by the locals, that it was the Nopal cactus that grew from the heart of Copil.


Noting that story aside, the Nopal cactus is truly a gift from both heaven and earth. It has a nutritional value of 20% manganese, 13% vitamin c, 11% magnesium and 14% calcium. These minerals help in metabolizing fat and carbohydrates, regulate blood sugar levels, they produce energy for our body functions, and strengthen our bones and teeth. For the last 20 years, Nopal Cactus has been spearheading cardiovascular care because of its significant counts of fiber. According to health experts, incorporating Nopal to your diet is the healthiest move you can ever make.

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