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Opuntia humifusa 3A couple of weekends ago I went on a pecan picking expedition in Live Oak Florida with some friends. Out in one of the fields amongst the cows and pecan trees I found quite a number of Opuntia spp. or Prickly Pear as they are commonly known.  Other common names include Devils Tongue, nopales and Indian Fig.  Despite their harsh and abravisive appearance I find something oddly beautiful about them.  I also love the fact that the Prickly Pear can be used both as food and as medicine.  It is so cool to me to just walk out on my property and gather wild food or medicine for my family.

Description:  Cactus with jointed pad and sharp spines.  Fruits are normally a puplish-red when the are ripe and the flowers a bright yellow.

Location:  Found in dry sandy soils from Mass. to Florida and Texas to Minn.

Properties:  Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, galactogogue and anti-viral

Historical Medicinal Uses:  Native americans would remove the spines from the pads and split them open and use the pulp as a poultice for wounds, abrasions, burns and fractures.  The peeled pads have been applied to the breast to encourage milk flow or applied to other areas for rheumatic pain.  The juice from the plant applied topically has been used historically to remove warts or taken internally for kidney stones.  Baked pads have been used for gout and  Native Americans once used a tea made from the pads for lung ailments.  Recently research has been conducted which showed that Opuntia may be beneficial in hypoglycemia, benign prostatic hyperplasia and a number of conditions affecting the urinary system.

Food Uses:  The plant is quiet nutritious and a good source of potassium, calcium, vitamin A and fiber.  The fruits can be used to make a tea which can be turned into jelly, a syrup or candy.  The pad can be cut up eaten raw in salads.  The seed from the plant can be ground up and used to make flour.  Sliced pads with the skin removed can be cut up like green beans and either steamed or sauteed.

Recipes:

Nopales on The Grill

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, they are ready for the grill. Cook each pad for approximately 10 to 12 minutes on each side. While grilling, brush each side of the cactus pad with olive oil or a flavored oil of your choice. Pepper or garlic-flavored oil are often used on grilled Nopales.

Scrambled Nopales

1 or 2 cactus pads

8 Eggs

1/4 lb. of cheese (your choice)

salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, slice into bite-size pieces. Sauté the sliced pads in a small amount of butter for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl; add shredded cheese and the sautéed cactus pieces. Pour the egg mixture into a skillet and scramble. Serve warm with salt and pepper to taste.

Nopales Rellenos (Stuffed Cactus Pads)

12 tender cactus pads

3 cups of water

6 slices of Machego or Panela cheese

1/4 onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

1 clove of garlic

Salt to taste

1/2 cup of flour

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups vegetable or olive oil

1 can of tomato sauce (12 ounces)

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the ads, boil in 3 cups of water with the garlic, onion, and salt. Drain.

On each of 6 cactus pads place a slice of cheese and 3 to 4 pieces of onion. Top with another cactus pad, secure with wooden toothpicks and coat with flour.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add the yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes more to create a batter.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, dip the stuffed cactus pads into the egg batter and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Serve drenched with cooked tomato sauce.

Nopales Salsa

1 lb. cleaned cactus pads

1/2 lb. tomatillos

1 small white onion

2 garlic cloves

2 poblano peppers

1/2 tsp. of salt

2 tsp.of fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp.of cumin

2 Tbs. cilantro

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, grill for about 7 minutes on each side. Slice the grilled pads into strips. Place tomatillos, cubed onions and garlic in a baking dish, then cook in a 450-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Roast poblanos on grill or under the broiler, then peel them and remove the seeds. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until well chopped. A little water may be needed to moisten the salsa. Serve chilled with chips or use to season tacos, burritos or other Mexican dishes.

Nopales Salad

2.2 lbs. Nopales (cactus pads)

1 onion, halved

4 cups water

2 Tbs. salt

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

4 green chiles – serrano or jalapeno – chopped

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, chop into bite-size pieces. Place the chopped Nopales into a pan with the 4 cups of water, halved onion and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes or until tender. Drain Nopales and combine with remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. This dish gets better if you let is sit a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. Serves 4 or more.

(Courtesy of Desert USA )

PRICKLY PEAR PICKLES

Prickly pear

3 c. vinegar

3 c. water

6 tbsp. salt

Dill

Garlic cloves (1 for each jar)

Jalapeno peppers (1 for each jar)

Cut needles off prickly pear, slice and pack into sterilized jars. Put one clove garlic, 1 jalapeno pepper and sprigs of dill into jar. Boil water, vinegar and salt until salt is dissolved. Fill jars with boiling brine to within 1/2″ of top. Put on cap and screw band firmly. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Tastes best if let cure for at least 6 months.

CACTUS PRICKLY PEAR JELLY

Pick prickly pears with leather gloves on your hands. Take off spines. Rinse the fruit and place in kettle, adding enough water to cover. Boil until quite tender, squeeze through jelly bag or jelly press. To every 2 1/2 cups of juice add 1 (1 3/4 oz.) package powdered pectin and boil for a couple minutes. Then add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 3 1/2 cups sugar. Stir often and boil hard for 5 minutes. Pour in jelly glass and seal with paraffin.

(Courtesy:  Cooks.com)

 

Resources:

Steven Foster and James Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Richard Deuerling and Peggy S. Lantz, Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles

Michael Wilson, Medicinal Plant Fact Sheet:  Opuntia: prickly pear cactus;  http://www.pollinator.org/Resources/Opuntia.draft.pdf

Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses;  University of Florida

University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation:  Florida Forrest Plants:  http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Prickly_pear/pricpear.htm

 

 

 

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