NaturHeals – Wild Weeds 9 - Nagphani – Nopales Ficus-Indica – Prickly Pear
The cactus is a popular plant used for decoration in many homes and offices. However, did you know that some species of cactus have medicinal benefits? Nagphani or prickly pear is one of them. Belonging to the cactus family, Nagphani is a wild plant, also considered as a wild weed, as it grows rapidly and can prove to be a tough competition to carefully cultivated plants. Due to its innumerable health benefits, organically grown Nagphani is in high demand. Here is everything that you know about the wonder plant, Nagphani.
Different Names of Nagphani
Nagphani belongs to the Cactaceae family. It is a thorny plant, which gives its name, Prickly Pear. Some other names of this plant are hawthorn, thornapple, quickthorn, whitethorn, hawberry, Mayflower, and May-tree. Known as Nagtani in Hindi, it has several names in different Indian languages. Nagophenia and Nagophani in Oriya, Chapatigalli and Dabbugalli in Kannada, Nagadali and Nagajemudu in Telegu, Siundi bhed in Nepali, Chittarthohar in Punjabi, Mullukkalli and Nagadali in Tamil, Nagmullu, Kallimullapazham, and Nagtali in Malayalam, and Dindla and Chorhathalo in Gujarati.
Ideal Soil and Climate
The Nagphani plant requires well-draining soil to thrive. The best soil for this plant would be a mixture of dry, sandy, and gravelly. It can also do well in clay soil too, but only if it drains well. As Nagphani is a cactus, the ideal climate for the plant is warm and dry. This is the reason why it is commonly found in arid to semi-arid areas. Although the plant can grow in cooler climates, it blooms and thrives in warm temperatures. Moreover, it does not need much water. The plant was originally found in Mexico, although today you would commonly find it in northern countries of South America, few states of the USA (like Texas), the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. It is also cultivated in Europe and Australia.
The Nagphani plant grows up to the height of 5.5 meters and have large, green leaves. The leaves are large and flat, but fleshy. They are oval-round in shape and grow at odd angles. Each of the pad has tiny spines or thorns, which give the plant its name. The flowers grow on these pads or leaves and are of different colors like red, yellow, white, etc. Each flower bears a fruit that is spherical (like a pear) in shape. The fruits of Nagphani are edible, i.e. they can be peeled and eaten. The flesh of the fruits can be white, yellow, purple, green, red, or yellow. In fact, the entire plant, including the leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds are used for treating various ailments.
While the fruit of Nagphani is eaten in its natural form, the leaves are cooked and eaten like vegetables in South America and Africa as well. Apart from this, it is an important herb in traditional medicine, as it helps to cure an array of diseases. Nagphani has a high nutritional value, as it is packed with amino acids, antioxidants, fatty acids, carbohydrates, proteins, beta-carotene, phenolics, fiber (pectin), etc. It is also home to vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, betaine, etc. It also has minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, zinc, potassium, manganese, copper, fluoride, selenium, etc.
The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, antihistamine, anti-aging, antidiabetic, and anti-viral properties of Nagphani make it an effective medicine in treating a number of diseases. Here are some of the medical benefits of Nagphani.
Hemoglobin: As per Ayurveda, Nagphani is the most potent medicine for treating low hemoglobin levels and anemia. The rich source of iron and calcium in the plant are considered to be the reasons for the same. Apart from this, a study conducted on rats suffering from anemia indicated that the presence of phenolics, minerals, and betacyanin in the juice of prickly fruit are responsible for increase in hemoglobin levels in the blood.
Respiratory Issues: Another use of Nagphani in Ayurveda is to treat chronic respiratory issues like cold, cough, and asthma. Respiratory issues are the result of imbalance of kapha and Vatta in the body. Nagphani has the ability of balancing these doshas and getting rid of unwanted phlegm from the body. Hence, it is a great remedy for treating cold, cough, and asthma.
Cancer: Nagphani has the potential of preventing cancer in the body due to the presence of the numerous flavonoids. These compounds aid in constraining the cancer cells, thus removing the free radicals by enhancing the production of pre-oxidant enzymes in the body. Regular consumption of Nagphani can reduce the risk of different types of cancer, including prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, etc.
Skin Problems: Due to the presence of anti-inflammatory and antiaging properties, Nagphani helps in treating a variety of skin problems. It is a great remedy for scars, blemishes, cuts, and wounds. The phenolic compounds in this herb aid in healing as well as fading these wounds and scars. It prevents the formation of infection and pus in and around the wounds. Along with this, Nagphani aids in reducing swelling and irritation caused by insect bites as well as inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis.
Apart from this, Nagphani is a great ingredient for overall skin health. The essential fatty acids in the herb like linoleic acid, palmitic, and oleic fatty acids help in smoothening the skin, reducing dark circles, and even brightening the skin tone. The presence of vitamins E and K in the plant hydrates and nourishes the skin, and delays the signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines.
Hair Growth: Just like skin, Nagphani is effective for hair regrowth and hair health as well. Nagphani oil is rich in minerals, vitamins, and several fatty acids that nourish the hair and keep it healthy and strong. Applying the oil on the scalp can prevent hair loss and even promote hair growth. Apart from reducing hair loss, Nagphani acts as a conditioner, ensuring that your hair is soft and shiny.
Weight Loss: The high amount of fiber in Nagphani helps in weight loss and weight maintenance. Consuming this herb before meals would make you feel full, thus preventing overeating. The fruit of Nagphani has the ability to make you feel full for a long period of time. Moreover, it works well in removing dietary fat from the body, which is one of the main reasons for weight gain. Nagphani or prickly pear helps in eliminating dietary fat from the body through the excreta, which in turn leads to weight loss as well as weight control.
Digestive Issues: Along with weight loss, the presence of fiber in Nagphani can help digestive issues as well. The fiber in the herb aids in the release of enzymes that break down the food and finally eliminates them from the body. It is a great way of treating constipation, indigestion, etc.
Gastrointestinal Ulcers: The betanin compound found in the fruit of Nagphani has the potential of preventing gastric ulcers. These ulcers are usually the result of physical and mental stress, which causes inflammation that damages the gastric wall. Nagphani helps in reducing the inflammation, and thus preventing the occurrence of gastric ulcers.
Colon Health: Nagphani has the ability of cleaning the colon and maintaining its health. The antioxidants present in the herb help to clear out the unhealthy fats and excessive bile along with the free radicals and compounds that induce inflammation. By eliminating all the harmful compounds, Nagphani cleanses and protects the colon.
Heart Diseases: High cholesterol level and high blood pressure are two of the main reasons for heart diseases, especially heart attack. The high content of fiber (pectin) in Nagphani helps in reducing the level of cholesterol, while the betalain compound aids in alleviating high blood pressure by strengthening the inner walls of the blood vessel. By controlling the cholesterol and blood pressure levels, Nagphani helps in maintaining heart health.
Liver Disorders: The hepatoprotective activity of Nagphani plays a big role in protecting the health of the liver. The antioxidants in this plant help in getting rid of the free radicals that have the potential of harming the liver. The regular consumption of Nagphani helps in boosting the antioxidant activity of the liver.
Diabetes: The hypoglycemic properties of Nagphani are responsible for reducing the blood sugar levels in the body, making this plant a natural way of treating diabetes. The pectin content in the fruit of Nagphani reduces the intestinal absorption of glucose, thus aiding in controlling type II diabetes.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is another ailment that can be prevented as well as cured with the help of Nagphani because of its antiviral, antihistamine, and anti-inflammatory properties. The flavonoids in the plant inhibit the release of compounds that cause joint or muscle inflammation, which happens due to arthritis, gout, allergies, fibromyalgia, etc.
Immunity: The presence of vitamin C in Nagphani gives a boost to the immune system, thus protecting the person from different types of infections. The plant not only helps in increasing white blood cells production but also gets rid of infectious microorganisms.
Apart from the above mentioned ones, Nagphani can be used to cure the following ailments as well:
- The calcium in the plant helps to strengthen both teeth and bones.
- Women undergoing several premenstrual syndrome (PMS) like cramps, breast tenderness, headaches, etc. can find relief by taking Nagphani.
- The moisturizing fatty acids in the plant help to restore the health of dry and damaged nails and cuticles.
- It is effective in reducing the symptoms of a hangover like nausea, dry mouth, etc.
- It helps in curing anemia.
Uses of Nagphani
Nagphani has been used as fruit and vegetable in South America and Africa for several centuries now. The entire plant, along with its flowers, fruits, and leaves, are available in the form of powders, juice, tonics etc.
- 1-2 grams of Nagphani powder can help in relieving constipation and cleansing the stomach.
- The juice of Nagphani mixed with honey is great for relieving cough and asthma. Placing the heated pads or leaves of Nagphani on the chest can help in reducing congestion.
- Eating the ripe fruit of Nagphani can help in treating anemia.
- In case of skin problems like swelling, pain, or burning, applying the crushed or grinded leaves of the plant can bring immense relief.
- Pulp of the Nagphani stems can help in healing wounds, while heated and grinded Nagphani leaves can help in getting rid of boils.
- Consuming the pulp or extract of Nagphani can help in curing digestive issues as well as strengthen the digestive system.
- Supplements (pill or powder) containing Nagphani extract are effective for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart diseases.
- Nagphani seed oil is helpful in treating hair loss and improving skin health.
Apart from health supplements, Nagphani can be consumed in the form of juices, tart, jams, jellies, ice creams, etc. if you want to add it in your daily diet.
Although not quite common, some people may experience certain side effects while consuming Nagphani. Nausea, mild bloating, diarrhea, etc. may occur due to over consumption of the plant. Some people also have reported allergic reactions like chest pain, swelling, skin rash, etc. after taking medicines or products made with this plant. Hence, it is important to consult a doctor before you starting taking it. Also, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children should avoid taking Nagphani, as its effects on these groups of people have not been established yet.
Planting and Harvesting
Nagphani can be planted using two methods: seed propagation, and vegetative cloning, i.e. via cuttings. The latter is more preferred because planting and cultivating Nagphani via seeds can be time taking (several months to even years), while seed cuttings can give you quick results.
To grow a Nagphani plant with the help of a cutting, you must cut a mature leaf or pad that is at least 6 months old. Let the cutting heal for at least a week before you plant it in a potting mixture of sand and soil. You would see saplings for transplantation mostly in a month.
When the saplings are ready for transplantation, you can choose a location that has enough space, so that the roots can spread horizontally. It should also have ample sunlight as well as good drainage. Once planted, the plant does not require heavy maintenance. You need to water the plant once in 2-3 weeks, only when the soil becomes extremely dry. It is best to not use any fertilizer if Nagphani has been used for medicinal purposes.
The plant would be ready for harvesting between September and December. It is best to use a pair of tongs to harvest the plant and its fruits. Do not forget to wear thick gloves to avoid getting pricked by the thorns of the plant.
Jaivik Farms is continuously on the lookout of farmers who are ready to indulge in organic farming for cultivating medicinal weeds or plants like Nagphani. We have a team of experts who would guide you through the entire process of cultivating and harvesting. The only condition we have is that you are not to use any chemicals, fertilizers, or herbicides while growing these plants. This is to ensure that the products that we make using these plants or weeds are in the purest form and not contaminated by any harmful chemicals.