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The nopal, or prickly-pear cactus, is one of the major national symbols of Mexico and appears on the Mexican flag.
This cactus has a long history of use as food and medicine. Its fleshy, leaf-like stems (cladodes), especially when young, are eaten as vegetables. The fruit is eaten raw, fermented into a beer, or turned into a cheese-like food. Medicinally, nopal fruit, stems, and flowers have been used to treat diabetes, stomach problems, fatigue, shortness of breath, easy bruising, prostate enlargement, and liver disease. Nopal is also a significant source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Neither the optimum dosage nor the most active species of nopal cactus has been established. The one double-blind study noted above used a special extract made from the skin of the fruit of Opuntia ficus indica.