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Benefits of Cactus Farming

Tender cactus leaves (nopalitos) are nutritious substitutes for green beans, okra, squash, and bell pepper. Its top production occurs in the summer months when other vegetable plants are out of season.

Cacti have many potential benefits and uses. One of the benefits is an excellent clothing dye called cochineal. This is dye which is made by an insect that thrives on the cactus pads. Cacti is also used for cosmetics, and a gel base for hair shampoo. Also, the cacti pear fruits and the tender leaves contain natural healing properties which makes it a healthy food for diabetics to eat.

As the urban population increases, cacti will take their place in the landscape market because its low water requirements conserve precious water supplies.

The major use of cacti in the past has been for fruit, vegetable, animal forage and wildlife food. This native plant with a spiny reputation has been waiting for increased research and development to prove its numerous potential capabilities.

Growing cacti on a market production scale is essential for its evolution as an alternate crop.

Hopefully, the cactus species can take its place as a recognized crop along with other native plants such as corn, squash, tomatoes, and potatoes.

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As we in the Texas Cactus Council are all very well aware, the nutritional benefits of tuna are many and profound. But over the years these benefits have been mainly researched in an anecdotal manner. So they have been largely classified as a “folk remedy” by those in the medical community. Lately, however, some scientists have begun turning their attention to this wondrous fruit.

 The following study compares tuna (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit with vitamin C. It suggests that supplementing a diet with tuna will decrease oxidative stress in healthy humans:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&Te
rmToSearch=15277160&ordinalpos=37&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_
ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

For generations people in South Texas and Mexico have been using cactus fruit to effectively control their diabetes, and now the greater population is beginning to figure out that they have been onto something, as evidenced by these two links:
http://www.herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbs-pdfs/nopal.pdf

This one studies the diabetic effects on those who specifically live in South Texas :

http://gateway.nlm.nih.gov/MeetingAbstracts/102222496.html

Apparently the pigments in cactus fruits are also diuretic, and this company is promoting their use for weight management and antioxidant protection:

http://www.bioserae.com/cactinea-cactus-fruit-ingredient.php

And new research is even suggesting that cactus flower extracts may very well be used to treat enlarged prostates! If you yourself would like to start researching this topic, simply go to http://www.pubmed.org and type in opuntia, betalain, or anything else cacti related you can think of…Be prepared for high quality information overload!

Another thing that is currently being done is trying to scientifically determine the place tuna has on the ORAC scale, which stands for oxygen radical absorption capacity. It is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities of different foods. 3000 units is considered an industry standard for health.

Food

ORAC Units *

Goji Berry

25,300

Prunes

5,700

Raisins

2,830

Spinach

1,260

Brussel Sprouts

980

Broccoli

890

Oranges

750

Cherries

670


Regarding where tuna rates on the ORAC scale, Jason Avent, plant physiologist for CriderAmericas and cactus expert, has identified these two references as important:

 Wang, H.; Cao, G.; Prior, R. L. Total antioxidant capacity of fruits. J. Agric. Food Chem. 1996, 44 , 701-705.

Kuti, J. O. Antioxidant compounds from four Opuntia cactus pear fruit varieties. Food Chem. 2004, 85 , 527-533.

Unfortunately they are not available online. But Mr. Avent has this to say: “(Dr. Kuti) is at A&M Kingsville and his measurements may be more in line with what the Texas cactus fruits provide.  If this is indeed a scale that can be trusted…and the procedures are comparable and my conversion from micromoles to millimoles is accurate, then you are looking at an ORAC between 15800-49200 from Dr. Kuti's work”.

Needless to say that, as the scientific community continues studying the nutritional benefits of tuna, which will surely only continue proving itself as a beneficial medical resource, those from all over the rest of country will be giving more and more attention to this wonderful fruit.