Opuntia ficus-indica - prickly pears

Characteristics and uses:

Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid regions of the world. Probably it is native to Mexico. Opuntia ficus-indica are planted in hedges to provide a cheap but effective erosion control in the Mediterranean area; in Tunisia and Algeria to slow and direct sand movement and enhance the restoration of vegetative cover. Cladodes that are 1-2 years old produce flowers (white, yellow and red coloured) in late spring; from them, in summer, the fruit, having colours ranging from pale green to deep red. Opuntia ficus indica is grown primarily as a fruit crop, but also for other uses: the fruits ripen from August through September; they have a taste similar to sweet watermelon. Fruit (a large pear-shaped berry containing many flattish seeds) is also known as "indian fig opuntia", "Barbary fig", "cactus pear" and "spineless cactus". Jams and jellies are produced from the fruit.


"Indica" is classical Greek and Latin for "of India" and opuntia probably refers to a Greek region (Locris Opuntia with the town of Opus)

Other uses:

Mexicans have used Opuntia for thousands of years to make an alcoholic drink called "colonche". In Sicily a liqueur called "Ficodi" is made from this fruit (in Malta, more or less the same, which name is "Bajtra"). But Mexicans also eat the young cactus pads, usually picked before the spines harden: sliced into strips, sometimes skinned, and fried with eggs and jalapenos, they are a breakfast treat (texture and flavor like string beans). Ficus-indica is also used as building materials and in furnishings.

History and folklore:

In Hebrew, this plant is referred to as sabra: this led to the popular use of this term to refer to an Israel-born Jew, because the fruit and the people alike are tenacious and thorny, rough and masculine on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside. In the early 1900s in the USA, the prickly pear fruit was imported from Mediterranean countries and Mexico to satisfy the growing population of immigrants arriving from Greece and Italy. Today it is considered a really wonderful delicacy. In the language of flowers, cactus flowers mean passionate love, and opuntia ficus-indica, in particular, "I burn"

***** As the fruits are delicate, we harvest them carefully by hand, when fully ripe. *****