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Opuntia ficus-indica

Opuntia ficus-indica

The Indian fig opuntia, fig opuntia or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill., 1768) is a succulent plant of the Cactaceae family, originally from Mexico, introduced by the first explorers of the new world and naturalized throughout the basin of the Mediterranean and temperate zones of America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Systematic –
The prickly pear, from a systematic point of view, belongs to the Domain Eukaryota, Kingdom Plantae, Division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, Caryophyllales Order, Family Cactaceae, subfamily Opuntioideae, Opuntieae Tribe and then to the genus Opuntia and the species O. ficus-indica .

Etymology –
According to the epithet of the genre takes its name from an ancient Greek region called Locride Opuntia, or its capital Opunte, near which, according to Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder vegetating plant (Opuntia herba) whose leaves were rooting and whose Fleshy fruits were a bit tasty but the issue (as ficodindia was introduced after the discovery of the Americas) is somewhat controversial.
The specific epithet, ficus-indica, on the one hand, recalls the vagueness of the fruit with the fig tree (Ficus carica L.), on the other the American origin (West Indies) of the plant; It seems in fact, according to others, that the fig tree name was born thanks to Christopher Columbus who believed he had cast anchors in the Indies. The fruit comes to Europe with the Spaniards in the mid-1500s, just after the conquest of the new world.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Indian fig opuntia is a xerophilic plant that, according to recent genetic studies, is native to Central Mexico. From there it spread all over Mesoamerica and then to Cuba, Hispaniola, and the other Caribbean islands, where the first European explorers of Christopher Columbus’s expedition knew it, introducing it to Europe. It is likely that the plant had been introduced into South America in pre-Columbian times, although there is no certainty in this regard; What seems to be certain is that the production of carmine, closely related to the cultivation of Opuntia, was already widespread among the Incas.
After the introduction spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean basin where it became naturalized to become a characteristic feature of the landscape. Its spread was to both the birds, and eating the fruits ensured the seed dispersion, both to the man, who carried them on the ships as a remedy against scurvy. Nowhere else in the Mediterranean as the prickly pear has spread in Sardinia, Sicily and Malta, as well as representing a constant element in the natural landscape, it has also become a recurring element in the literary and iconographic representations of the island, and can become in Some way the symbol. The blades harvested in Sardinia were also brought to Eritrea to introduce cultivation for food purposes.
The Indian fig tree, after its introduction, also expanded in the arid and semi-arid environments of Asia (India and Ceylon) and the southern hemisphere, particularly in South Africa, Madagascar, Réunion and Mauritius, as well as in Australia. In many of these countries, the figs of India have become poisonous so as to invade millions of hectares and require large amounts of potatoes to contain their invasion; Only the biological struggle could come to the fore in 1920-1925, with the introduction of phytophagous insects such as the butterfly Cactoblastis cactorum and the Dactylopius opuntiae coccinella.
The poisonous nature of this plant, which tends to replace the native flora by modifying the natural landscape, has also alerted some Italian regions, including Tuscany, where a regional law specifically prohibits its use for naturalistic engineering interventions , Such as rejuvenation, reforestation and land consolidation.

Description –
Opuntia ficus-indica is a succulent, arborescending plant that can reach 3-5 m in height, and in some cases even more.
The stem consists of cladodes, commonly called blades: these are modified stems, flattened and oval shaped, long 30 to 40 cm, wide 15 to 25 cm and 1.5 to 3.0 cm thick, which, by joining Each of them forms ramifications. Cladodes are responsible for chlorophylline photosynthesis, completely replacing the function of the leaves. They are covered with a waxy cuticle that limits perspiration and represents a barrier against predators. Subsequently, the basal cladodes, around the fourth year of growth, are bound to lignification, giving rise to a real trunk.
The real leaves of the fig tree are in fact a conical shape and are only a few millimeters long. They appear on young cladodes and are ephemeral. At the base of the leaves are the areoles (about 150 per cladode) that are modified arthrops, typical of the Cactaceae.
The meristematic fabric of the azole can be differentiated, as appropriate, into thorns and glochis, or it can give birth to adventitious roots, new cladodes or flowers. It is interesting to note that the floral recipe, and therefore also the fruit, is covered by areolas from which you can differentiate both new flowers and roots.
The thorns are whitish, sclerotized, solidly implanted, 1 to 2 cm long. There are also varieties of helpless Opuntia, without thorns.
The glochis are thin thin, a few millimeters long, brunastrous, which easily detach from the plant to the contact, but with tiny hooks in the shape of a hook, are implanted solidly in the skin and are very difficult to extract, as they break Easily when trying to remove them. They are always present, even in the helpless varieties.
The root system is superficial, generally does not exceed 30 cm in depth in the ground, but in contrast it is very extensive.
The flowers of this species are ovary, inferno and unilocular. In these the pistil is surmounted by a multiple sting. In the flowers we find many stamens. The sepals are unobtrusive as the petals are well visible and of a color between the yellow and the orange.
A cladode still in good vegetative state can bring up to thirty flowers, but this number varies considerably depending on the position the cladode occupies on the plant, its exposure, and also according to the nutrition conditions of the plant.
The fruit of Opuntia ficus-indica Opuntia ficus-indica is a fleshy, unilocular berry with numerous seeds (polispermica) whose weight can range from 150 to 400 g. It comes from the ovary hell adhering to the flower recipe. Certain authors consider it a false arillus. The color is different according to the varieties: it passes from yellow to orange in the so-called “sulfarnin” variety, to the purple red in the “blood” and white to green varieties in the “muscaredda” variety. The shape is also very variable, not only according to the varieties but also in relation to the time of formation: the first fruits are rounded, the later ones have an elongated shape and pedunculate. Each fruit contains a large number of seeds, around 300 for a fruit of about 160 g. Very sweet, the fruits are edible and have a great flavor.

Cultivation –
For the cultivation technique, see the following sheet.

Uses and Traditions –
The Ficus-indica is orogenic in Mexico. From here, in ancient times, it spread among the populations of Central America that cultivated and traded in the Aztecs, where it was considered a sacred plant with strong symbolic values. A testimony to the importance of this plant in trade is provided by the Mendoza Code. This code includes a depiction of Opuntia branches along with other tributes such as ocelot and jaguar skins. The carmine, a precious natural dye for whose production the cultivation of Opuntia is required, is also listed among the goods traded by the Aztecs.
In Europe, the plant, as well as its fruits, aroused attention as a possible tool for breeding the carmine’s coquille, but had to wait until the nineteenth century for the attempt to succeed in the Canary Islands. At the beginning there was therefore a curiosity to be accommodated in botanical gardens.
The plant arrived in the Old World probably around 1493, the year of the return to Lisbon of Christopher Columbus’s expedition. However, the first detailed description dates back to 1535, by the Spanish Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Valdés in his Historia general y natural de las Indias. Linneo, in its Plantarum Species (1753), described two different species: Cactus opuntia and C. ficus-indica. It was Miller, in 1768, to define the Opuntia ficus-indica species, which is still officially accepted.
Opuntia ficus-indica has a remarkable nutritional value that is rich in minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamin C.
The most valuable food is fruits, called the figs of India, which, in addition to being eaten fresh, can be used to produce juices, liqueurs, jellies, jams, sweeteners and more; But also the blades, more properly the cladodes, can be eaten fresh, in brine, undercooked, candied, in the form of jam. They are also used as forage.
If consumed in excessive amounts it can cause mechanical intestinal occlusion due to the formation of seed pains in the large intestine. Therefore, this fruit is eaten in moderate quantities and accompanied by bread to prevent the seeds from absorbing the polystyrene part to cling and form occlusal “caps”. For similar reasons, this is not recommended for people with intestinal diverticulitis. This problem is the background of a poem by Giuseppe Coniglio, poet of Pazzano, in the book My Land.
In Mexico, you get: the thistle, a syrup obtained from the juice of juice, the queso de tonne, a sweet pasta obtained by bringing the juice to the solidification, the melcocha, a gelatin obtained from the mucilages of the cladodes, and the colonche a drink Fermented with low alcohol content.
In Sicily traditionally produces a syrup, obtained by concentrating the private pulp of the seeds, quite similar to the texture and taste of maple syrup, and used in the preparation of rustic desserts. It is also used as an infusion for a digestive liqueur.
The production of food-cladodes is obtained from low-varieties in mucilages selected in Mexico. Indian figs (nopales), carefully bobbed and burnt on stone or iron plates, are part of Mexico’s eating habits, as well as other Latin American countries. It is not difficult to find them in the regional markets already ready for use or sold by street walkers, along with bean, corn and onion cream.
The capillary diffusion in Sicily, the historical and extensive use of Sicilian cuisine, has led to the generic ficodynia (Opuntia ficus-indica) being included in the list of traditional Italian agro-food products (PATs) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Forestry (Mipaaf) as a typical Sicilian product. On the proposal of the Sicilian Region, the following traditional products were recognized as specific territorial excellences. These are: Belice Valley Ficodindia, Torto Valley Ficodindia, San Coco Ficodindia and Calatafimi Bastarduna.
The San Coco ficodynia and Etna ficodynia are also recognized as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products.
In therapy the fruits of the fig tree are considered astringent and because of their vitamin C richness they have been used in the past by sailors to prevent scurvy. Young cladodes, baked in the oven, are used as emollients, applied in the form of cataplasm. The direct application of the “pulp” of the cladodes on wounds and sores is an excellent anti-inflammatory, re-epitizing and healing remedy for wounds and skin ulcers; Is an old remedy of the Sicilian tradition, still used today in the island’s rural culture; Finally the decoction of flowers has diuretic properties.
In addition, the fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica have marked antioxidant properties. It is also demonstrated that the effectiveness of an O. ficus-extract is effective in the treatment of post-traumatic alcohol poisoning.
Mucilages and pectins in the cladodes showed a gastroprotective effect in laboratory animals.
In Mexico, O. ficus-indica is used for the breeding of Dactylopius coccus, a coccinella that damages the cladodes, from which a valuable natural dye is derived, the carmine. Attempts to import livestock in the Mediterranean have also been unsuccessful in the winter months, too low temperatures and frequent rains that prevent the insect survival. In the Canary Islands, however, breeding has grown, especially in the island of Lanzarote, where it is a thriving economic activity.
This plant is useful in some agronomic techniques especially for the protection of soil, for the creation of hedgehogs, mulch, for the production of compost. The various species of Opuntia are also used as fruit plants for the creation of rock gardens.
In cosmetics it is used to produce wetting creams, soaps, shampoos, astringent and body lotions, lipsticks.
It is also used for the production of adhesives and rubber, fibers for artifacts and paper.
Fruits, as well as raw uncooked seeds, are used for jams, distillates, syrups, candies, flours. Or stored, after sunburning them. Seeds are extracted from an edible oil and the leaves can also be eaten: fresh, brine, apricot, candied and in the form of jam. Blades are used as feed for pigs.
In Mexico, the mucilage contained in the blades is used to make ice cream and, as said, a liqueur named “Conche”.
The flower extract is used as an emollient, moisturizing and elasticizing skin. The fruit is used to produce wet creams, soaps, shampoos, astringent lotions and the body. Always the fruit, powdered, enters the perfume talcum composition.
Opuntia’s pulp has excellent hypoglycemic properties and other metabolic disorders. Scientific literature also highlighted the hypocholesterolemic power of the fibrous component of the leaves. As well as the extract, in the treatment of alcoholic intoxications. Other properties of the active ingredients contained in the species are: draining, diuretic, cardiac tonic, antioxidant.
In herbal medicine, the plant enters various compounds used for dietary diets and, as a dietary supplement, in sports nutrition.
The direct application of leaf pulp to wounds and sores is an excellent anti-inflammatory remedy (preventing and fighting inflammatory phenomena), wound healing and skin ulcers; Is an old remedy of the Sicilian tradition, still used in peasant culture.
In popular medicine young leaves, heated in the oven, are used as emollients, applied on the skin as wraps. Preparations made from flowers, for internal use, are used to treat prostate hypertrophy and problems of the intestinal gastrointestinal tract, such as diarrhea.
The Opuntia ficus-indica is certainly known since the time of the Atzechi, who traded for its nutritional and medicinal properties, and considered it a gift to the gods.
Various parts of the plant are also used by industry. In Mexico, the fig tree is used for the breeding of Dactylopius coccus, a cinnamon that damages the cladodes, from which a valuable natural dye is derived, the carmin, used in the food industry and called E120. This breeding was also attempted in the Mediterranean area but it was unsuccessful for the cold winter climate. On the other hand, the Canary Islands, especially in the island of Lanzarote, have established itself and are a flourishing activity.
A warning in the manipulation of this plant: Thin hair penetrates easily into the skin, causing considerable pain. To remove small plugs, it is advisable to apply a patch and then remove it gently.

Methods of Preparation –
As said, in Sicily initially the fruits of the Indian fig opuntia were considered poisonous; Subsequently overcome the initial distrust was exploited to the fullest extent in all its parts and qualities. In practice, this plant uses everything in Sicily: Blades are used to feed cattle in poor times. Dried flowers (‘u ciur ri ficurinia) are used to extract herbal teas that, in addition to being refreshing for the urinary tract, will be able to cope with the disturbance of the circulation.
From the skins of the fruit, properly cleansed, in some places of Sicily, they get succulent cutlets.
Of the fruit our ancestors had first to prevail over the legend that they called it poisonous and then on the reality considered that at first sight may seem inexhaustible because of the copious presence of thorns. Gaetano Basile, writer and scholar of our day, writes in this regard: “…. There was a direct intervention of the Padre del Ponte, which for us islanders has always had an eye of respect. Thanks to his divine interest, the spiky fruit of that plant became good to eat and also benefits … “Indeed, in addition to the indisputable taste of the freshly consumed fruit, it is possible to find again its use for the production of tasty pancakes, a Particular rosolia, granite and an unusual mustard, ‘u masticasti, presented in special forms of terracotta and decorated with laurel leaves.
Let’s see together some recipes based on figs of india:
1) India’s Gel and Powder Juice: The gel or juice extracted from India’s pile blades is used both on the outside, as a cosmetic to apply on the skin, and inside, as a healthful drink rich in beneficial properties. With Indian figs you can prepare a natural drink to cool your summer. 2) Indian figs: Did you know that Indian figs can be eaten? That’s right, you can prepare delicious dishes with Indian figs. You can clean, cook and match with fresh tomatoes to season bruschetta, use them as a condiment for the omelettes or fry them in a frying pan.
3) Guinea Jam: One of the best known recipes for keeping figs in India is the classic jam preparation. You will get a very sweet and delicious jam, suitable for spreading on bread and cakes for breakfast, but also for making homemade tarts and biscuits.
4) Indian fig opuntia cream: Have you ever thought about preparing an ice cream with the figs of India? The result will be really amazing. If you want to surprise your guests in an original way and have access to the figs of India, you can prepare a great ice cream with the same procedures used for other fruits. The result is amazing.
5) Indian fig opuntia with red onion and cooked vinegar: Indian fig tree does not throw anything away, not even peel. With the peel of the figs of India you can prepare a really special dish served as a side dish in which the taste of the Indian figs is matched with that of red onions and bacon.
6) India grape tart: With the figs of India, you can also prepare an excellent tart which you could cook with your home-made pecan pie jam or with cubed Indian figs pulp. The base for this tart is made with classic pastry.
7) Indian grape syrup: you can prepare a special homemade syrup with the figs of India. To obtain a ruby ​​red syrup, you will need red figs, ripe to the right, sour, dandy.
8) Peanuts with Peanuts in India: Once again, remember not to discard and especially not to throw away the peels of the figs of India. In fact, it will be useful to prepare sweet figs with the figs of India to serve as an alternative snack.
9) Risotto with the figs of India: With the figs of India, especially using the skins, you can prepare an excellent summer risotto. It’s a delicious dish and a delicate flavor that will surprise your guests in a truly original way.
10) Guinea pigs with the figs of India: the fig tree of the figs is a typical Sicilian preparation. To prepare it, in addition to the figs of India, you will need an orange or mandarin, a teaspoon of cinnamon powder, fennel seeds and cloves, and corn starch.
Finally a “tutorial” for the cleaning of the fig tree fruits. I recently realized that many people do not know how to peel the figs of India and that many have never tried them. So, to all of them, you may be able to learn how to proceed safely, without running the risk that the tiny, almost invisible spines cling to the fingers, causing considerable discomfort, since additionally, given their size, it is difficult to remove them even if you Have tweezers available.
To proceed, cut the two caps (even without completely removing them) and then engrave the fruit longitudinally.
Holding the fig with the fork, with the tip of the knife begin to lift the skin and detach it from the pulp for about half the circumference.
Repeat the operation from the other side to completely release the edible part that must remain full and compact, in the form of a barrel.
The fruit is so easy and perfectly peeled and you have avoided tasting a good fruit but “full of thorns”.

Guido Bissanti

– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. The Health of the Lord’s Pharmacy, Tips and Experiences with Medicinal Herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (eds.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and surgical uses are indicated for information purposes only; they do not represent any prescription of a medical type; Therefore, no responsibility for their use for any curative, aesthetic or food use is considered.

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