This is probably a really dumb question but I am interested in picking the prickly pear next year when it is in season, and was wondering the best way to get all of the little stickers off of the pear. Also, what is the best way to use them for medicinal purposes.
The easiest way to remove the small fine stickers (called glochids) is to burn them off. The Spring 2005 issue of our magazine, Native Plants has a "How to" article describing the process. We recommend using a kitchen propane torch, the kind you use for making Creme Brulee, for the glochids and using a paring knife to remove the larger thorns. It would also be possible to remove the glochids using the flame on your gas cooking top. Spear the prickly pear fruit (called a tuna) on a barbecue fork and rotate it over the flame until the glochids have burned off. (From painful personal experience I can tell you this doesn't work over a candle. The flame is not hot enough to successfully burn off all the glochids.)
An article from Gourmet Sleuth describes a method for removing the spines from the the tunas and the nopalitos (the cactus pads) that doesn't involve flames. Their method is to peel them—very carefully, of course. This page also talks about the medicinal uses which include lowering LDL cholesterol levels. On the Native American Ethnobotany web page of the University of Michigan you can enter "Opuntia" as the search term and find references to other medicinal and culinary uses for the various parts of the prickly pear cactus.
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