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Learn how to grow and eat prickly pear cactus for a healthy Las Vegas lifestyle

Posted 8/8/2007

LAS VEGAS — In Mexico they are called nopal cactus. These cactus pads, when immature, are used as a fresh vegetable and called nopales. The round purple and yellow fruits, called nopalitos, are high in sugar and considered a delicacy. Join University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the University of Sonora, August 20—24, 2007, at Cooperative Extension’s Lifelong Learning Center in joint, bilingual workshops, co-sponsored by the two Universities. These workshops will teach you how to grow these cacti at home and prepare them for meals for a healthier lifestyle.

Workshops will be held Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Two different workshops will be offered: Growing Nopal Cactus in Las Vegas and Preparing Nopalitos and Nopales for home meals.

For more information about these classes in English contact Bob Morris at 702-257-5509 or email morrisr@unce.unr.edu. For classes offered in Spanish, please call Martha Barajas at 702-257-5522 or email barajasm@unce.unr.edu .

Research conducted at the University of California and the University of Sonora in Mexico demonstrated that these cacti show promise in reducing heart disease and have a positive effect on individuals inflicted with Type II diabetes. These cacti love the desert heat and don’t like much water, perfect for our hot and parched desert climate.

The nopal cactus grows natively in the warm, arid regions of Mexico. The University of Sonora has been working for over 20 years in the selection, propagation, distribution and food technology aspects of nopal cactus. In more recent years, commercial production of nopal cactus for fresh vegetable and fruit has spread to Italy, Spain, Israel and other warm arid regions of the world due to the pioneer work developing superior cultivars at several universities in Mexico. They have been experimenting with numerous ways the nopal cactus can be used in the creation of juices, cakes and pastries, fresh vegetable, fresh fruit and preserves, salads, soups, appetizers, and others. Research has demonstrated food from nopal cactus contains significant amounts of protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, simple sugars, ascorbic acid, and carotenes thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.

Two Sonoran selections of nopal cacti have been grown organically at Cooperative Extension’s Research and Demonstration Orchard since 2004 in an international research project. Single pads from these plants will be distributed to participating families for home use. Recipes developed at the University of Sonora will be demonstrated during the workshops. Faculty from the University of Sonora and Nevada will teach workshop participants how to grow these plants in their backyards, supplying an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits during the growing season.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is an outreach arm of the University that extends unbiased, research-based knowledge from the University of Nevada—and other land-grant universities—to local communities. Educational programs are developed based on local needs, sometimes in partnership with other agencies and volunteers. For more information about the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, please visit the website at www.unce.unr.edu or call (702) 222-3130.

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