Prickly Pear can be one of a couple species of the Genus ‘Opuntia‘, with the most common local varieties being Opuntia stricta and O. vulgaris.
Prickly Pears are cacti and share things like – spines, large, soft pads, beautiful flowers and edible fruit. In the South of America, both the plant and the delicious food made from it are called ‘nopales’.
The fruit are what foragers look for. The beautiful (and edible) yellow flowers turn into fruit in Spring and early Summer. Bulbous fruit appear on he edges of the pads and ripen until they turn a red/purple. They are a bugger to pick, as they are covered in fine bristles called ‘glochids’, not the good, solid bristles that you can easily see, but those annoying, fine things that get stuck in your skin and are hard to see to remove.
There are several ways to remove the spines before using the fruit. I hit them with a blow torch before picking. That burns off the bristles. Some folks rub them in water with a cloth, others wait until cooking time and roast them over an open flame. that burns the bristles off too.
If I have a lot, I like to steam juice them. They yield a lot of tasty juice and this technique also means I don’t need to worry about the spines. Juice and fresh roasted fruit are heavenly!
The green pads too are edible. Renove the spines and roast slowly. Cut off the skin and enjoy the inner bits. These bits are medicinal too. The mucilage inside the pads can be used similarly to the more effective Aloe vera for sunburn, rashes and stomach complaints. They have traditionally been used to treat symptoms of diabetes too.
Remember also, Prickly Pear is a noxious weed here in Australia and can take over areas easily. Every bit you eat helps to stop its spread!