Optuntia Ficus-Indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant, important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semi-arid parts of the world. It blooms in the Summer and produces yellow or pink flowers. It grows in clumps. Some of the common English names for the plant and its fruit are Indian Fig Opuntia, Barbary Fig, Cactus Pear, Spineless Cactus, and Prickly Pear.
It is viewed by some cultures as a symbol of life and hope. Cactus is an amazingly strong plant that survives under the harshest of conditions. The most commercially valuable use for Opuntia Ficus-Indica today is for the large, sweet fruits, called Tunas. Areas with significant tuna-growing cultivation include Mexico, Malta, Spain, Sicily and the coasts of Southern Italy.
In Sicily, where the Prickly Pear fruit is known as Ficudinnia (the Italian name being Fico d'India, meaning "Indian Fig"), the cactus grows wild and is cultivated to heights of 12–16 feet (4–5 m). If you hear food vendors in a Sicilian market shouting 'bastardoni' - big bastards - don’t be offended. They are just selling their autumn prickly pears.
This plant is incredibly versatile and has many human uses. Its fruit (tuna) and pads (nopales) are edible, nutritious, and tasty. Nopales are the pads and are picked when young, before the spines are hard. Their texture and taste has been compared to string beans. Tuna are the fruit and when eaten fresh they taste like sweet watermelon. It can be made into jams, jellies, syrups, and wine. The dried flowers of the cactus can be brewed into a tea.
The fruit, juice, and pads may have anti-diabetic effects, and contain lots of Vitamin C and antioxidants.
Opuntia Ficus-Indica (as well as other species in Opuntia) is cultivated in nopalries (the pads of the plant) to serve as a host plant for cochineal insects, which produce desirable red and purple dyes. This practice dates from pre-Columbian times. It was even used to dye the British army’s famous red coats.
The fruit of Opuntia Ficus-Indica can cause constipation if consumed with the seeds, without the seeds it is laxative. A University of South Florida engineering professor and a team of researchers have found that mucilage from the Prickly Pear cactus works as a natural, non-toxic dispersant for oil spills.
Our “Mediterranean Aloe” comes from the same plant. The aloe ingredient is extracted from the mucilaginous insides of the pads. This extract is used as a key ingredient in our BOA Cleanser and Mask and comes from prickly pear leaves harvested in Sicily. The internal part of the juicy leaves has traditionally been used on the skin as an emollient and anti-inflammatory remedy as well as in wound healing.
Scientific studies have shown these effects are due to the specific polysaccharides in prickly pear leaves that recently have been found to have similar effects to hyaluronic acid.
In terms of beneficial properties, the polysaccharides, mucilage and pectins mainly consist of arabinose, galactose, glucose, xylose and rhamnose as well as other uronic acids that have high molecular weight with amazing antioxidant capacity.
When comparing the performances of these macromolecules with those of hyaluronic acid (HA), during a study regarding the protection/repairing properties, the polysaccharide extract showed higher antioxidant properties compared to HA.
The Indian fig extract and HA had similar performance in being able to speed up the skin recovery processes. These polysaccharides seem to be promising molecules that promote skin defence, fighting oxidative stress (sun burn) and inflammations, as well as keeping the skin healthy and moisturised.
This is why we developed the BOA cleanser and Mask. Leave it on the skin for 5-10 mins or longer and enjoy the beneficial therapeutic properties of this wonderful plant.