Pick the young, glossy green cactus pads when collecting to eat. The older pads a more fibrous. The pads contain thorns and small hairlike glochids that will irritate the skin. The cactus fruit contain the glochids as well.
The cactus pads taste similar to green peppers with a little sourness thrown in. The peeled pads can also be sliced thin and boiled. The first water is poured off if you want to reduce the sliminess. Then, once cooked in the second water, you can seasoning, if available. The peeled pads can also be baked like squash or pickled.
The fruit is edible raw, with a flavor reminiscent of watermelon, or strawberry/kiwi mix, but with a more granular texture. The fruit is full of tiny seeds which can be chewed and eaten, swallowed whole, or spit out.
The fruit can be red, wine-red, green or yellow-orange. Indians would dry the seeds, and grind them into a type of pastry flour.
Cactus pads can also be used as a hair rinse and conditioner. Take small chunks of the peeled pads, add them to a container of water, and agitate. Strain out the cactus and keep the mucilaginous liquid. This liquid should be massaged into the hair, and then rinsed, resulting in silkier hair.
There has been medical interest in the Prickly Pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol while leaving "good" cholesterol levels unchanged. Among other things, it helps the pancreas to produce insulin.
Although, the prickly pear cactus is about 80-90% water, eating it raw is the best way to obtain the fluids, which are slightly thick. The pads can be peeled and chopped up and then placed in a bandanna or something similar in order to squeeze the thick fluids out, which can then be sipped off the surface of the rag.
Stay Prepared! Stay Alive!