Nagfani (in Hindi) commonly known as Prickly Pear or Opuntia in English is a cactus plant belonging to Cactaceae family. The most commonly used species of Nagfani is the Indian fig opuntia or Opuntia ficus-indica (botanical name). The name Nagfani is because the pad of this cactus resembles the face of a serpent. The plant is called Nagfada in Sanskrit and though not used much in modern medicine, is a very useful ayurvedic herb.
Being a cactus, prickly pear can easily survive in regions with scanty rainfall and extreme weather conditions. The earliest cultivation was in Mexico and surrounding regions, slowly spreading to other parts of the world. The plant has the ability to survive in areas with poor soil conditions too. It bears fruits that are rounded or cylindrical in shape and reddish-pink in colour when ripe.
All-Purpose Uses Of Nagfani
Nagfani is used in numerous forms for myriad functions.
Nagfani is most widely used in Mexico and is a part of many delicacies. The fruits of Nagfani are sweet and have one of the highest Vitamin C concentrations and are mostly eaten raw. The leaves or pads are cooked as just another normal vegetable. The extracts and juices of Nagfani plant also form part of many ayurvedic medicines. Sometimes these cacti are also used as a fodder material for cattle.
Mucilage of the nagfani plant has been found useful in the purification of water.
Prevent Soil Erosion
Prickly pear is often planted, especially in the Mediterranean to prevent soil erosion. It is also grown at places where the vegetative cover is to be restored.
Did You Know?
Mexico has been using Prickly Pear since 2016 for biofuel production.
Nutrition Information And Properties
Prickly pear is an edible plant and is eaten raw, boiled or in the form of juice. It is a nutritious species and has properties which make it useful in the cure of various ailments.
Prickly Pear Nutrition Facts
Prickly pear contains:
- Protein / Amino Acids
- Copper (6%)
- Magnesium (11%)
- Vitamin A (8%) (contains beta carotene antioxidant which converts to vitamin A)
- Vitamin C (8%)
- Iron (2%)
- Vitamin B-6 (5%)
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Apart from this, prickly pear is rich in fibre, polysaccharides, mucilage and flavonoids too.
Prickly Pear Properties
- Anti-diabetic / hypoglycemic
- Blood Purifier
The oil extracted from nagfani is rich in flavonoid compounds like betalains and phenols which are the reason behind this plant’s anti-inflammatory properties. The oil can be applied on swollen areas like insect bites. Not only this, the oil is quite helpful in relieving pain and irritation due to arthritis, gout and psoriasis.
The anti-inflammatory property of nagfani also makes it useful in the prevention of gastric or mucosal ulcers. Application of nagfani oil not only helps in easing out migraine pain but also reduces its frequency and intensity.
Suggested Remedy: In case of any kind of external inflammation like sprains or swellings due to arthritis, cut the Nagfani pad from the middle and clear all the thorns. Apply mustard oil and turmeric on the pad and heat it. Tie it on the affected area for quicker relief.
You can also grind the leaves and apply on the affected area to reduce swelling, irritation and pain.
Nagfani is a miracle herb for anyone looking forward to leaving behind their obese or skinny body and move towards a more balanced weight. Consuming prickly pear fruit ensures intake of adequate amount of fibre which makes one feel full for a longer time. This can help in cutting down unnecessary snacking which is the major reason for the accumulation of unhealthy fats in the body. The fruit helps in eliminating dietary fats along with providing the required nutrition to the body. Thus prickly pear helps in controlling weight and maintaining a healthier body rather than just weight loss or weight gain.
Wonderful For The Digestive System
Being super-rich in fibre content prickly pear ensures a continuous bowel movement and provides relief from chronic constipation. The Mexicans are known to include prickly pear in their regular diet for improved digestion. It also helps in maintaining colon health by eliminating unhealthy fats, free radicals and surplus bile. This reduces undue stress on the colon which is on a rise due to the unhealthy diet pattern followed nowadays.
Suggested Remedy: According to Acharya Balakrishna, when suffering from stomach ailments like constipation, the white milk-like substance that comes out of prickly pear leaves should be consumed with water. Care should be taken to consume in small quantity only. (Consult an Ayurveda practitioner for the right dosage)
Beneficial For Skin And Hair
Nagfani provides wide-ranging benefits for skin and hair.
- The prickly pear seed oil contains moisturizing fatty acids like oleic acid. Regular application keeps skin hydrated and is especially beneficial for people with dry and scaly skin.
- The oil is also rich in Vitamin E and Vitamin K and can help remove unwanted scar, blemishes and dark circles. It is also an excellent anti-ageing agent.
- Linoleic acid present in the oil reduces hyperpigmentation and provides protection against UV rays.
- The seed oil is equally beneficial for hair. It makes the hair glossier and thicker. It not only reduces dryness and prevents damage but nourishes the hair from within.
Provides Protection To The Liver And Purifies The Blood
The major function of the liver is to provide a continuous supply of pure and clean blood. However, due to the rising level of pollution and unhealthy eating habits, there is a manifold rise on the stress being exerted on the liver, thus raising chances of its failure.
Consuming prickly pear in any form, be it juice or jam, can help in freeing the body from free radicals and other carcinogenic agents. This, in turn, means purer blood and reduced liver pressure.
Suggested Remedy: Acharya Balakrishna suggests a remedy for patients suffering from Ascites (a liver disease which causes abdominal swelling due to accumulation of fluids). He suggests mixing 4-5 g Nagfani ras (extract) and 10g gaumutra along with a pinch of saunth and black pepper. Consuming this concoction can provide relief from Ascites.
Vitamin C is known to raise immunity and protect the body from seasonal flu and many major infections. Nagfani being rich in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants ensures a healthy functioning immune system.
For A Healthy Heart
The generous amount of fibre content in nagfani is not only beneficial for the digestive system, but also for the heart.
- It helps in lowering the LDL (Low-density lipoproteins) or bad cholesterol which can otherwise lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, thus clogging them.
- Prickly pear fruit contains betalain, which helps in strengthening the inner walls of blood vessels thus further improving cardiovascular health.
- Being rich in flavonoids, nagfani also inhibits platelet aggregation which is a cause of capillary blockages and poor blood circulation.
- Nagfani contains potassium which helps in lowering blood pressure and provides relief from hypertension.
Controls Blood Sugar
Prickly pear is known for its ability to lower blood sugar level and thus can be beneficial for patients suffering from type II diabetes.
Caution: Do not use without the suggestion of a practitioner.
Good for teeth and bones
Nagfani being rich in calcium helps in maintaining good health of bones and teeth. Consuming one cup of prickly pear fruit can fulfil the FDA recommended daily calcium requirement. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and thus consuming nagfani regularly can keep conditions like osteoporosis at bay.
Nagfani oil not only helps in repairing damaged skin but is equally beneficial when applied on wounds due to its anti-microbial and anti-infectious nature. A study has proven that cold-pressed oil obtained from the seed of prickly pear can aid in faster wound healing.
Nagfani is beneficial in many more ways like:
- The oil obtained from Nagfani seed is rich in fatty acids like oleic acid and linoleic acid. These acids work as moisturizing agents and can help in repairing damaged nails.
- Consuming prickly pear regularly provides the body with flavonoids and antioxidants which can lower the risk of many types of cancer like stomach cancer and breast cancer.
- Rise of prostaglandins is the reason behind Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms like breast tenderness and cramps. Prickly pear suppresses the prostaglandins and provides relief against these unwanted symptoms.
- Alcohol hangovers can be quite uncomfortable and can cause headaches and a dry mouth. Drinking prickly pear juice can help alleviate these effects.
- Nagfani extract can be used as ear drops and provide relief from ear infections.
Nagfani: General Dosage And How To Use?
Nagfani is mostly used in the form of fruit or processed products like juices, jams, jellies and teas. Its pads are often cooked as a vegetable and seed powder is added in flours.
- Juice – 1-2 teaspoons per day
- Extract – 5-10 drops per day
However, Nagfani can be freely eaten as a fruit or vegetable.
DIY Hair Conditioner
Numerous brands have started manufacturing hair conditioners containing prickly pear extracts. Sadly these conditioners still cannot be called all-natural and contain harmful chemicals. However, there is no need to worry as you can make your own nagfani hair conditioner at home with minimum ingredients.
Steps to make your own prickly pear conditioner at home:
- Carefully peel off all the thorns of the cactus and cut it into small pieces. (1 pad will be enough)
- Add the pieces in a blender.
- Add one tablespoon coconut oil and 1 tablespoon olive oil (if available)
- Blend the ingredients together and the hair mask is ready!
- Apply this hair mask for 20-30 minutes before washing your hair.
In case you are in a hurry, just soak the cut cacti pieces in water and rinse your hair with this water.
Prickly Pear Quick Lemonade
With 88% water content, Prickly Pear can keep you hydrated for longer durations. This quick lemonade recipe is a great tasting and highly nutritious drink which will not only help in providing relief in summer months but also in maintaining a healthy profile.
- Take 2 prickly pear fruits, cut them into half and scoop out the pulp.
- In a blender, add the pulp, required amount of water, sugar, a pinch of rock salt and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Blend till everything is mixed properly.
- Strain into a glass with a strainer.
- Nagfani lemonade is ready!
Side Effects And Precautions
As each body type is different, no herb or drug can be called the panacea for all disorders. Thereby every herb can have its own set of side effects which might vary from person to person. Although prickly pear is mostly considered safe, some precautions must necessarily be followed:
- Prickly pear results in hypoglycemia that is lower blood sugar levels. Thereby, it can be dangerous for diabetic patients if they consume it along with their medicines. Also, for people looking forward to surgery must stop its intake at least 2 weeks before the scheduled date.
- Pregnant and lactating mothers must also avoid nagfani due to the lack of clinical studies.
- Excess intake can cause diarrhoea and nausea.
- White milk-like substance present inside the nagfani plant is extremely dangerous for eyes and should be carefully handled.
- While on antibiotics, it is best to consult the doctor whether consuming prickly pear is safe or not as there might be unwanted reactions.