Also known as prickly pear, cactus fruit is commonly used as an additive in processed jellies, teas, juices and alcoholic beverages. It is also used medicinally to treat skin and intestinal ailments. Traditionally, American Indians, Mexicans and Koreans have used it to treat burns, indigestion and diabetes.
The flowers of the cactus fruit contain the most usable medical components. Research shows that flowers from this plant contain quercitin, rutin, beta-sitosterol, penduletin, leteolin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin-glucoside and piscidic acids. The skin also contains essential nutrients, such as iron, calcium, mangesium and selenium. The pulp contains additional antioxidants, including flavanoids and carotenoids.
Traditionally, American Indians used it as a wound treatment for burns. The plant would be burned on the skin, which they believed prevented infection and irritation. They also mixed cactus fruit in a special tea that they believed helped women during labor. It has been used in Mexican folk medicine as a treatment for diabetes, gonorrhea and asthma. The stems of the fruit, called cladodes, have been used to treat high cholesterol, blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, glaucoma, liver problems and wounds.
It also has been used traditionally in Korean medicine to alleviate indigestion, stomach pain, asthma, type II diabetes and burns. It usually has been administered orally, although topical preparations were used to heal burns. In other countries, such as Sicily, the stems have been used as a diuretic, wound disinfectant, joint paint reliever and treatment for whooping cough. Traditionally, cactus fruit's most popular use has been to heal superficial skin wounds or burns.
Cactus fruit has been clinically shown to improve wound healing time. Several studies show the polysaccharides in the fruit promote hypoglycemic activity, which can help type II diabetics manage their blood glucose. Controlling blood glucose is important for diabetics, who are at risk for developing hypoglycemia from uncontrolled diabetes.
The stems of cactus fruit also promote anti-inflammatory activity, because they contain beta-sitosterol, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in mice. The monosacchardies and membrane phospholipids in the fruit also reduce the formation of ulcers. Its flower, fruit and stem portions have been shown to induce diuresis, or increased urine output, in rats.
Its polysaccharide content is responsible for speeding up wound healing time. Some studies show that it enhances the repair and healing of full-thickness wounds. This aligns with its traditional use as a treatment for wounds and burns.