prickly pear cactus

We grow the spineless variety of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ellisiana) for our sulcata tortoise. This plant is a hybrid, bred to not have large spikes, but they still have little splinters (glochids) that will get in your skin if you aren’t careful.


I knew the pads, flowers, and fruit of the prickly pear are edible because of our sulcata tortoise, but someone posted about it in a Facebook group and I was surprised that it is pretty popular food for people.

tortoise food

Easy to propagate by cuttings

These cactus get so big, that people frequently donate their excess paddles to our tortoise. I’ll feed most to him, then simply throw the rest in the yard to grow.

The new growth on prickly pear cactus do not have spines yet

I reached out to a local gardening group to see how everyone prepares it and this is what I got:

How to eat on a spineless prickly pear cactus

Eat the paddles.

Harvest the new, bright green growth. The larger, older paddles don’t taste as well – they are gritty and have more spines.

  • Slice it into squares and eat it raw in salads
  • Add to stir fry veggie combos
  • Cut into squares, cook with onions, garlic, salt, and water in a pan for 20 minutes until it loses that bright green color. Drain. Then fry in oil under medium heat, add more onions, garlic, cilantro, oregano and salt for 15 minutes.

Eat the purple fruit.

The fruit also has lots of spines on them, so first you have to remove the spikes, and the seeds are hard (and possibly make you sick) so it’s best to spit them out.

How to remove the spikes off a prickly pear cactus fruit

  • A kitchen torch is a popular way to remove the spikes. Hit each spike with the torch for a few seconds and it will quickly burn away.
  • Rinse the fruit really well in a strainer to remove the lose spikes. Then cut off the top and bottom of the fruit, slit the skin, and unwrap it from the fruit.