A Prickly Situation

Today’s post is for clueless white folks as our hermanos y hermanas already know this shit. As we’ve suggested before the rule with landscaping at the Homegrown Evolution compound is, if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it. But there are a few miracle plants, well adapted to Southern California’s climate, that are both edible and don’t need watering. One of the most versatile is the prickly pear cactus, of which there are about a dozen varieties all under the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae). In the late spring the plant produces new leaves which can be harvested and eaten. Stores and street vendors sell them as “Nopolito”. Nopolito, tastes a bit like a slightly slimy green pepper and can be used in scrambled eggs and mixed with tomatoes and onions in a salsa. During the summer the very tasty fruit matures and can be eaten raw, although the abundant seeds make it a bit of an acquired taste. The fruit can be made into a jam, a drink, or a salad dressing. If forced by the zombie menace into a survival situation, the plant is a good source of water and can even be used to heal wounds.

For nopolitos use only the young leaves and extreme care must be taken when harvesting both leaves and fruit. Wear gloves when harvesting and preparing both the fruit and the nopolitos, as the plant contains thousands of almost invisible barbed spines. Thankfully these spines are easy to remove by dragging a knife across the skin or by using a vegetable peeler. Sometimes I just eat the fruit by cutting it in half, holding it with thick gloves and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.

This is one of those plants that should be everywhere here in Los Angeles. Propagate the plant by cutting off a leaf and sticking it in the ground – it’s simple – no fuss, no pesticides, no watering once established. And note that not all prickly pear varieties produce edible fruit so when you look for cuttings seek out plants that are productive and tasty. It’s the ideal plant for what we call “pirate” gardening, the act of taking over a vacant lot or otherwise abandoned public or semi-public space. Plant a bunch of prickly pear and come back to harvest the nopalitos and fruit.

More info and recipes can be found here and here.

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