Prickly pear: its history and origins

Opuntia Ficus Indica, the other name of the prickly pear

The prickly pear, also called “Opuntia Ficus Indica”, originates from Central America, and more precisely from Mexico. It is from this precious fruit that we have extracted the real prickly pear oil, very popular in the field of cosmetics. We extract from its small seeds the precious oil with exceptional anti-aging and anti-wrinkle benefits. Discover the benefits of prickly pear oil on Ayda’s blog.

The opuntia was imported for the first time on the European continent between the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century. Indeed, it appeared in Europe following the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

Amérique du Sud, source de la figue de barbarie

opuntia ficus indica histoire

The cultivation of the prickly pear would have started about 5000 years ago in South America. At that time, the Aztecs exploited the opuntia for its medicinal virtues and its nutritional characteristics.

In addition, they used this fruit to breed mealybugs. The exploitation of these insects allows the production of a red dye obtained from the carminic acid that composes them. Thus, through the production and trade of mealybugs, some Aztec tribes provided for their needs.

Aztèque portant une tunique en textile rouge

opuntia ficus indica histoire amérique

The sources of the prickly pear’s name

Originally, in South America, the Aztecs had given the name “nopal” to the prickly pear tree.

Later, in Europe, it was first called “ficus Indica”, meaning the “Indian fig tree”. Indeed, at that time, Christopher Columbus was convinced to have discovered this plant on the lands of India. He only discovered later that he had landed on the new continent.

The full name “Opuntia ficus Indica” was then given to the prickly pear tree and there are two possible references to this name:

  • Opuntes or Oponces, people of ancient Greece, and more precisely of the region of Leocride, where plants comparable to the prickly pear tree could be found,
  • Opuncia, name given by Pliny the Elder (writer of the 1st century) to a plant similar to the prickly pear tree that grew in India near the city of Opuns.

The million uses of the Opuntia

The prickly pear tree intrigued Christopher Columbus, particularly with regard to the various uses made by the natives. Thus, to fight against scurvy, Christopher Columbus took with him some cuttings. A deficiency in vitamin C caused this disease, especially observed during long boat crossings.

In the customs of the Hopi Indians, North American Indians currently settled in Arizona, they use it to prepare plant mixtures. These help to heal skin wounds and facilitate healing.

The Mexicans use the prickly pear for culinary purposes as well as for the production of drinks and in traditional medicine. Thanks to its nutritive virtues, the prickly pear helps to reduce the blood sugar level of diabetics.

Indiens Hopis

opuntia ficus indica cochenille

The export of the precious fruit in the world

Since its discovery by the Europeans, the opuntia has spread throughout the world. In Europe, the prickly pear is found mainly on the Mediterranean coast. Indeed, by its ability to acclimatize, the precious fruit could quickly spread on all continents. Thus, mankind & birds allowed to spread the culture of the Opuntia Ficus Indica.

Nowadays, the prickly pear tree grows wildly on all continents and particularly in Mexico, Morocco or Australia. Thanks to this plant, Ayda offers you the precious prickly pear oil.