Sewanee Herbarium » Project Center » Medicinal Plants » Prickly Pear Cactus

Optuntia humifusa – Prickly Pear Cactus
Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Other Names: Devil’s tongue, Beavertail, Nopal, Slipper thorn, Indian fig

Description: Cactus to 1 ft. Jointed pads have tufts of bristles, usually sharp-spined. Large showy yellow-orange flowers. Fruits are red, golden green, or dark purple and are edible.

Where Found: Dry limestone soils. MA to FL, TX to MN.

Status: Native

Medicinal Part: Pads

Preparation: Peeled pads, Baked pads, Pad tea, Fruit juice, Roots, Flower tea

Uses: American Indians and pioneers poulticed peeled pads on wounds. Pad tea was used for lung ailments. Baked pads are used in folk medicine to relieve gout, chronic ulcers and wounds. The juice of the fruits is applied to remove warts. Western frontiersmen simmered roots in milk and drank to relieve dysentery. Slaves afflicted with severe diarrhea often drank half a cup of milk simmered with 8 cups of water to which a little Optuntia was added, both to stop the diarrhea and restore mucus to the intestinal tract. A tea made from the flowers alone is thought to increase the flow of urine.