Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Magic of Tea

     Nothing makes me feel quite as good as making a cup of tea. If I need a bit of energy, need to calm down and relax, need to wake up my mind and get ready, whatever the need, tea can help.  Now, at this stage, it's important that I clarify a bit before moving on. The word “tea” is often used to describe a hot (or cold) beverage made from dried herbs. For the purpose of this post, I am using “tea” to talk about a hot (or cold) beverage made from the dried leaves of the Tea plant, Camellia sinensis. All of the recipes I give you here will have this plant as it's base.

     There are two main varieties of the Camellia sinensis and each are preferred in making specific teas. Camellia sinensis sinensis (Chinese tea) is native to China and grows best in cool temperatures and high elevations so often it is grown on mountain slopes. This variety is known for producing a sweeter, gentler taste and is the preferred variety for both green tea and white tea. Camellia sinensis assamica (Assam tea or Indian tea) grows best in the Assam region of Northern India. This plant grows larger and produces bigger leaves that the Chinese variety, which is why it's often considered more tropical. This variety is used for robust teas like black tea, oolong, and pu-erh.

     Though the varieties grown for each tea are not the only difference between them. There are several processing steps that each tea goes through which gives each variety of tea it's unique flavors. 


White Tea

     This is the most delicately flavored of the teas, with a light, fruity and sweet flavor. The taste profile of this tea is often described as floral. White tea leaves are minimally processed from only the young leaves of the C. sinensis. The leaves are then sun-dried to prevent oxidation.

Several varieties of White Tea exist. These include:

Silver Needle- The rarest and most famous white tea, Silver Needle tea consists only of spring buds. It has a delicately sweet taste and floral aroma.

White Peony- This variety consists of the buds and first few leaves of the stem. It is less expensive than Silver Needle and has a slightly stronger flavor.

Tribute Eyebrow- Consisting of larger leaves plucked after Silver Needle and White Peony has been harvested, this tea has an earthy flavor. "Eyebrow" refers to the curved shape of the leaf.

Long Life Eyebrow- Similar to Tribute Eyebrow, but Long Life Eyebrow has a lighter taste and is less processed.

Darjeeling White- Grown in India, this tea is less expensive and more widely available than many of the above varieties.

Green Tea

     Green Tea leaves are withered in sunlight and then dried by pan roasting, steaming, or frying to prevent oxidation. This drying process allows the leaves to maintain the color of the tea bushes. They are typically rolled before packaging.

There are quite a few varieties of Green Tea and my favorites tend to be from Japan. So here are some of the more popular varieties from Japan: 

Sencha- The most commonly drunk variety of Japanese green tea is known as Sencha.
This tea is grown in direct sunlight, and tends to be harvested in the first or second flush of leaves. Once picked, the tea leaves are steamed, then the leaves are dried out and rolled. Rolling the leaves gives them their needle-like shape and helps release all the juices inside of the leaves, thus intensifying the flavor.

Gyokuro- The process for Gyokuro green tea is similar to Sencha, except that about 3 weeks prior to harvest the tea leaves are hidden from sunlight. This allows the leavs to keep more of the strong-flavored amino acids and gives Gyokuro its fuller taste. After this, the tea goes through the same steaming and rolling process as Sencha, but since the tea is more difficult to shade and cultivate, the production cost and selling price are higher.

Tencha- Tencha is made very similarly to Gyokuro Tea. It is removed from sunlight three weeks prior to harvest, and then after harvest the leaves are steamed, air dried, and removed of vines and stems. A major difference between Tencha and Gyokuro is that after it is harvested and cultivated, the Tencha does not go through the rolling process.

Matcha- Matcha Green Tea is ground up Tencha. After the shading, harvesting, and steaming, the leaves are then air-dried, removed of stems and veins, and then ground into a powder to be brewed.

Fukamushicha- Fukamushicha contains leaves from the several other processes that are deep steamed providing a deeper color and brew. This process provides a richer flavor and surprisingly has soothing effects on the stomach due to its light flavor.

Kukicha- Kukicha is also known as twig tea because unlike most teas, it is made with twigs and stems instead of the leaves. Although more yellow or brown in color, the tea is still made from the stems of leaves that go through the Green tea process. It is known for its yellow brew.

Bancha- Bancha is the second harvest after the first flush has been taken for Sencha, then regrown. Bancha leaves tend to be picked in three periods varying between June and October, with the tea leaves becoming less desirable in each harvest.

Oolong Tea

     Green and White Teas are processed to prevent oxidation. Oolong and Black Teas rely on oxidation during their processing. Oolong Teas fall somewhere between a Green Tea and a Black Tea in oxidation levels, ranging from around 8%-80% oxidized. This allows the flavor of Oolong Teas to varry quite a bit. Some taste more like Green Tea (less oxidation) and some taste more like Black Tea (more oxidation).

China and Taiwan may be where this tea style originated, but now there are several styles throughout the world. Some of the more popular varieties from China and Taiwan include:

Phoenix Tea- The leaves of Phoenix oolong teas are harvested from one single bush of the tea plant. Each bush has a different flavor, meaning this tea tastes different with every batch. Today, Phoenix tea is also used to refer to all oolong teas produced in Guangdong province, not just the ones from a single bush. Phoenix teas are noted for their natural flavors and aromas of flowers and fruits. Phoenix oolong tea has a rich, full-bodied feel. Some Phoenix oolongs offer a floral flavor that is similar to orange blossoms or orchids. Other Phoenix oolongs are fruity or spicy with flavors similar to ginger and grapefruit.

Iron Goddess of Mercy- This type of oolong tea is arguably the most famous Chinese tea. These oolong teas were only used to brew tea for the emperors of China. Today, you can get your hands on high mountain oolong teas reserved for royalty. This oolong tea is light and airy and features hints of flowers and honey. It's often described as smelling similar to orchids and boasts a refreshing finish.

Wuyi Oolong Tea- This oolong is heavily oxidized and dark in color. This tea is revered for its health benefits and legend has it that this oolong tea saved the mother of an emperor in the Ming dynasty.
It has a sharp, smoky flavor that is unique among oolong teas and similar to Formosa Gunpowder black tea. It boats hints of caramel, butter, and toast.

High Mountain Oolong Tea- Also known as Gaoshan, High Mountain Oolong Teas consist of a variety of different oolongs grown at the highest elevations in Taiwan. They are typically seasonal teas due to their production timeline. High Mountain oolongs include Alishan, Wu She, and Yu Shan. These oolongs are grown at altitudes higher than 3,300 feet and tend to grow more slowly than other oolongs. Harvested by hand twice per year, the leaves harvested in October are known as winter  and the leaves plucked in June are known as spring Gaoshan. The leaves are spread out on a large tarp to dry before undergoing oxidation. As the leaves dry, they develop aromas of rose, jasmine, and geranium. Once the tea develops aroma, the leaves are folded and withered for eight hours. Tea masters then oxidize the leaves before they are sorted and packaged for sale. High Mountain Oolong tea is generally crisp and sweet with notes of flowers or pine. The tea features a buttery aftertaste that is smooth and creamy.

Milk Oolong Tea- This tea is also commonly known as Golden Daylily tea or Nai Xiang tea. The tea is named for its creamy flavor that is light and flowery. This tea is grown at higher altitudes and is also produced in Thailand. Milk oolong tea is characterized by a buttery, creamy flavor with a smooth finish. The milky flavor is not produced by infusing it in milk. Instead, the tea leaves naturally produce a milk-like flavor and aroma when oxidized for a certain period of time. There are some artificial milk oolongs on the market, though these are generally labeled as flavored oolongs.

Oriental Beauty- One of the most interesting oolong teas is Taiwan's Bai Hao Oolong. Also known as Oriental Beauty, this tea has a unique appearance and flavor profile which is a direct result of having been infested with leaf hoppers. These tiny insects chew on the soft tea leaves to get access to the sap and nutrients in them. In turn, the plant goes on defense, producing compounds which act as a natural bug repellent. There are two side-effects as a result. First, by chewing on the leaf, these insects cause parts of the leaves to oxidize while the leaves are still on the plant. Second, the compounds released to fend off this infestation of leaf hoppers have a different flavor profile than the tea would normally produce. Oriental Beauty oolong is known for its complex aroma of honey and stone fruits.

Black Tea

     Black Tea is heavily oxidized, giving it more of a bold woodsy flavor that is often described as astringent. Black tea is the most popular type of tea in the West. Many believe that this is due to the bold flavor and long shelf life of black teas. In the East, black tea consumption is less common. In China, black tea is known as "hong cha" (or red tea) due to the reddish color of the infusion. Some of these teas are intended to be served with milk and sugar, others are not. However, serve it the way you want, you are not restricted by how other people say you should serve your tea.

Some of the more popular varieties of Black Tea include:

Darjeeling- Commonly known as the "Champagne of Tea," the region of Darjeeling produces what is often considered to be the world's best black tea. These blends vary substantially by when they are harvested. Each of the harvests is known as a "flush" and the first flush, harvested in spring, is the most famous and the "greenest" of the flushes. In general, Darjeeling teas taste delicate, fruity, floral, and light, and are best served without any milk or sugar added.

Keemun- This tea is from the Anhui Province of eastern China. High-quality Keemun teas are a connoisseur favorite and are noted for their distinctive aromas and flavors, which are often described as smooth, tobacco-like, fruity, floral, piney and reminiscent of wine. This tea is good by itself or with milk and sugar.

Assam- This tea tends to be bold, malty and brisk. It's often used as the base for English and Irish Breakfast Tea, as well as other black tea blends. A bit of sugar and a splash of milk are commonly added to Assamese teas.

Yunnan- This black tea hails from Yunnan, a province in China better known for its pu-erh tea (an aged variety of heavily oxidized tea). Some Yunnan black teas are partially fermented, meaning that they straddle the line between black tea and pu-erh. Their flavors are typically chocolaty, dark, malty, and nuanced. Sometimes, they have notes of spice or a lasting sweetness in the finish. People who love chocolate tend to love Yunnan tea.

Ceylon- These teas come from the island nation of Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka has an immense range of altitude in a limited space, it produces a wide variety of flavor profiles in it's teas. However, Ceylon teas are generally bold, strong and rich, sometimes with notes of chocolate or spice. Ceylon teas are the most common bases for Earl Grey blends and are often served with milk, sugar, honey, or lemon.

Nilgiri- This is a fragrant, floral tea from the mountains of South India. In the 1980s, Nilgiri teas suffered from major quality issues, but in recent years, the teas from this region have vastly improved and earned a spot on the world stage. This tea is particularly good served iced and holds up well to additions such as sugar or lemon.

Bai Lin Gong Fu- This rare tea is a nuanced, flavorful, handmade black tea. It's rare even in its homeland of China. It can be brewed multiple times in the traditional Chinese syle of tea brewing. If you can get your hands on some, it's well worth a try!

Lapsang Souchong- This is a smoked black tea that varies in flavor from delicately smoky (which is more traditional) to an almost ashy flavor that some people describe as similar to that of an ashtray (which is, more commercial). Lapsang Souchong tends to appeal to people who like bold flavors, such as smoked meats, roasted coffees, and bittersweet chocolates. This tea is usually served hot with the occasional bit of sugar. Though these teas also stand up well to being iced.

     The process of brewing tea at home has it's own benefits. Not only is the process itself often relaxing, but the tea leaves and herbs you use can have a great impact on your health and mood. One thing that people don't often think about is how the smell, the aroma, of the tea can effect your mood. The scent of Tea is considered to be soothing and relaxing over all, without being overly sedating.

     Here are some mood enhancing tea blends that I love. All of these recipes are measured in “parts.” Simply substitute the amount you want for the word “part” (i.e. if you want a small amount use teaspoons, if you want a large amount try cups). For any recipe that has a liquid extract, place the extract in the container first and swirl it around to evenly distribute it. Then add in the remaining ingredients. These recipes are “make ahead” recipes, allow them to sit for a few days before using them to allow the extract to be absorbed.

1.  This blend is a great mixture of comforting Cinnamon and Vanilla with relaxing Rose. It's great to drink any time you just feel the need to relax. I prefer this blend as a hot tea and I typically make it with a mixture of Darjeeling and Ceylon, but any Black Tea will work well.

Exotic Spiced Rose

5 parts Black Tea
1 part Rose Buds
½ part Cut Cinnamon or Cinnamon Chips

2.  This soothing tea is one of my favorite late Summer, early Fall blends. It's great either hot or iced. The Lavender can sometimes overpower the delicate White Tea flavors, so feel free to use less Lavender if you want more of those flavors to come through. Sometimes I sweeten this tea with honey, and I occasionally add a little bit of Chamomile. The White Teas I usually use for this are the Darjeeling White or the Tribute Eyebrow, but any White Tea will work.

Lavender Peach

5 parts White Tea
1 part Dried Peaches, diced
½ part Peach Extract
½ part Dried Lavender

3.  This tea is a great pick up when you're low on energy. Not only is there a little bit of caffeine in Oolong, the Citrus and Peppermint help to increase your awareness and boost your energy. I save and dry the citrus peels from all the citrus I eat, so I always have a blend of citrus peels on hand, but you can use whatever citrus you prefer. You can also switch up the extract to any other citrus flavor (I like Grapefruit on occasion), or use a blend of citrus extracts. This tea is great either hot or iced and I often sweeten it with some honey. The Oolong Teas I prefer with this blend are either the Iron Goddess of Mercy or the Phoenix Tea. But any Oolong will work.

Energizing Oolong

5 parts Oolong Tea
1 part Citrus Peels (a mixture is good, but you can use a single citrus as well)
½ part Peppermint Leaves

4.  This tea blend reminds me of long walks through the woods. It helps to balance you mood, bringing a calm and refreshing energy. I prefer this tea blend hot without any aditives, but it stands up well to sweetening and adding a little lemon if you want a more energetic tea. The Green Teas I prefer with this are  Gyokuro and  Kukicha, but any Green Tea will work, though I wouldn't recommend any of the ground teas such as Matcha.

Forest Green

5 parts Green Tea
1 part Pine Needles
½ part Catnip
½ part Tulsi
½ part Juniper Berries

5.  One of my favorite teas has always been Jasmine Green Tea, which is a Jasmine Scented Green tea common in China. This blend takes the concept of a floral scented tea to a whole new level, adding in bits of the flowers and making a calming blend that is reminiscent of a gentle breeze flowing through a flower garden. This tea is great either hot or iced and is perfect to drink while enjoying a relaxing bath. The Green Teas I prefer for this blend are  Fukamushicha and Sencha, but any Green Tea will work well. I don't recommend any of the ground teas such as Matcha, however.

Relaxing Garden Tea

5 parts Green Tea
1 part Tulsi
½ part Chamomile Flowers
½ part Rose Buds

6.  White Tea is great to use in herbal blends when you want other bold flavors to stand out. The White Tea helps to provide a great balance in these teas. This tea in particular is full of bold flavors that help to invigorate you without going overboard into a jittery state like you would from being over-caffeinated. This tea is great either hot or cold and I often sweeten mine with honey. Because it's full of bold flavors, the White Teas that hold up best in this blend are the stronger flavored ones such as White Peony and Tribute Eyebrow, but any White Tea will work well.

Invigorating Ginger Berry

5 parts White Tea
½ part Dried Ginger Root 
½ part Lemongrass 

7.  This tea blend is loaded full of flowers and fruits, giving it a beautiful appearance. It balances your mood and reminds you of a tropical garden, perfect for relaxing. This tea is great either hot or iced and I prefer to sweeten mine with honey. I will occasionally add a bit of lemon to it as well. My favorite Oolong Teas to use for this blend are Oriental Beauty and High Mountain Oolong. Any Oolong will work well in this blend, however.

Back to Eden

5 parts Oolong Tea
½ part Rose Hips, seedless cut 

8.  This blend is a gently invigorating and uplifting one. The zing of the Peppermint is tempered with a hint of Vanilla and Lemon Balm. I prefer this tea hot, but it works well iced too. The Black Teas I prefer to use for this blend include Yunnan and Nilgiri, though any Black Tea will work.

Minty Minx

5 parts Black Tea
1 part Peppermint 
½ part Lemon Balm

     I know I just threw a lot of Tea information you way, I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and want to see more, Become a Patron!


All About The Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis): The Spruce:

Don't Just Drink Tea, Breath It!: Silver Tips Tea:

How Tea Works: How Stuff Works:

Sweet Smell of Tea: Tea Muse:

Tea 101- Camellia Sinensis Tea Plant: Cup and Leaf:

Tea Aromatherapy: Sugimoto Tea:

The 6 Steps of Tea Processing: Red Blossom Tea:

What are the Benefits of Green Tea Essential Oil?: Leaf:

Monday, September 9, 2019

Eating Cacti

     I love cooking and eating unique foods, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I have tried and fallen completely in love with several preparations of Nopales, or Prickly Pears. Not only can you eat the cactus pads, but you can also eat the fruit, and the whole plant makes some delicious dishes. So I figured I'd share with you a variety of Cactus recipes, these recipes are still Gluten Free and Vegetarian, but some of them do include eggs and dairy.

     Before we get into the recipes, here's a quick video on how to clean the cactus pads so you don't eat one of the spines. Nobody wants to do that.

This lovely woman has a YouTube channel devoted to Meatless Mexican Recipes, I encourage everyone to check her out!

But now that you know how to clean your cactus, on to the recipes!

1.  Cactus goes well with eggs? Who knew? But this is such a great dish! And it's super simple, great for breakfast or brunch. My husband and I love to stuff tortillas with this and make a Mexican Breakfast Burrito as well.

Huevos con Nopales

1 tbsp Olive Oil
4 Green Onions, diced (white and green parts are welcome)
3 Garlic Cloves, smashed and minced
1 cup Nopales, diced (blanch them if you want the goo gone, but this step is optional)
1 small Hot Pepper (Serrano is my go-to, but you can use Jalapeno or Habanero as well), diced
4 Eggs, beaten well
1 small Roma Tomato, diced (optional, but I really like this touch)
¼ cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

     In a skillet, over medium-high heat, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil for about 1 minute. Add in the Nopales and Serrano Pepper (or whatever pepper you choose). The Nopales will start to ooze a bit, keep cooking until that liquid is mostly gone (about 3-4 minutes). Add in the eggs and tomatoes, reduce the heat to low and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. Stir in the cilantro, salt, and pepper and serve warm!

2.  Here is proof that I was born and raised in the South. I swear, if we can eat it, we will find a way to fry it. But this recipe is soooooo good I couldn't leave it out! I use all gluten-free flour (my favorite is Namaste Foods Gluten Free Organic Perfect Flour Blend), but it's also super good with a mixture of corn meal and flour. I also like to use coconut oil to deep fry with, it doesn't break down as much at the higher temperature making it a little bit healthier. This is kind of like frying a grilled cheese, it's great comfort food and pairs well with tomato soup!

Stuffed Nopales

6 Nopal Pads, cleaned and blanched
Oaxacan Cheese (or Mozzarella)
3 Eggs
2 cups Milk
1¼ lb Flour, sifted
Salt and Pepper to taste
Coconut Oil (or whatever oil you want to use for frying)

     For the batter, sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the milk while wisking. Whisk until mixture is smooth, then add in your eggs one at a time. Once the batter is mixed well and smooth, cover and chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
     After cleaning your Nopales, pair them together with close to the same size pads per pair. If needed, trim them to equal sizes and shapes. Use them to make “sandwiches” with the cheese slices by layering one Nopal, then some cheese, then a second Nopal. Secure them with toothpicks.
     In a deep skillet, sauce pan, or deep fryer, place enough oil to cover your Nopal sandwiches (one at a time). Bring the oil to a boil. Dip each sandwich into the batter, making sure to cover them well (optionally, if you're having problems getting the batter to stick you can dredge them in flour first), and place them in the boiling oil. Fry them until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place them on a clean kitchen towel to drain. Try to remove the toothpicks before eating.
     Enjoy them, while hot, with Salsa and/or Guacamole!

3.  Speaking of guacamole. I just LOVE avocados, and any excuse to use them is a good one! So of course I had to make some guacamole with Nopales. This version is a little more work because I grill the Nopal, but if you want to skip that step, you can just blanch them to get rid of some of the goo. I also happen to collect cast iron, so I am lucky enough to have a stove top grill (like this one) that I can use which makes this recipe much easier.

Grilled Cactus Guacamole

1 Nopal Pad, cleaned
2-3 ripe Avocados
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 Roma Tomatoes, diced
½ a medium Red Onion, diced
1-2 fresh Jalapenos, seeded and diced (or Serrano for a little more heat)
a little less than ¼ cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
Salt, Pepper, and Garlic Powder to taste

     After cleaning the Nopal, brush it with a little olive oil. Heat up your grill and place the Nopal on the grill to cook. It should take about 20 minutes per side, but if you want a little extra of that grilled taste, you can cook it a little longer. Also, you can toss your peppers on the grill too, before dicing them.
     Cut your avocados in half and scoop them out. Mash them up with the lime juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. After grilling your Nopal, and allowing it to cool, dice it up and combine it with all the other ingredients. Mix well. Chill for 15 minutes and serve cold.

4.  What's better on a hot day than indulging in a fruit sorbet? Well, Prickly Pears make a great sorbet. Be sure to use a real ice cream maker (like this one) for this recipe though, if you freeze it and then blend it later, the chunks won't get as smooth and you'll miss out on the awesomeness that is the smooth texture of this sorbet.

Prickly Pear Sorbet

7-8 ripe Prickly Pears
1 cup Water
Juice and Zest of 1 Lemon
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
½ cup (or a little more) Sugar

     In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, stir together the water and sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool. While you're waiting for this, cut the Prickly Pears in half and scoop out the insides, being very careful to avoid the irritating hairs and spines on the outside. Pulse the pulp in a blender for a moment to separate out the seeds. Strain this through a sieve to fully remove those seeds. Once the sugar mixture is cool, add in all the remaining ingredients, including your strained puree. Place this mixture in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill.
     Once the mixture is chilled, set up your ice cream maker and pour in the mixture, following your factory settings. Serve immediately or put in the freezer for later. If you put it in the freezer, take it out of the freezer before serving to let it soften enough to be able to stir it with spatula and bring back the smooth, velvety consistency.

5.  I have been working in the hospitality industry most of my adult life, and a good majority of that work has been behind a bar. I love mixing new drinks and creating amazing cocktails. So when I heard that Nopals could be juiced, I decided that I was going to make it my next cocktail goal to create a Cactus Margarita. Well, I ended up creating 2! The first one is from the cactus pads, the second is using the fruit. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Nopal Margarita

For the Nopal Lime Mix:
2 Nopal Pads, cleaned and diced
2 cups Water
½ cup Sugar
Juice and Zest of 3 Limes (6 tsp Lime Juice)
For the Margarita:
1.5 oz Tequila of your choice (I prefer to use Silver Tequilas for this recipe, my favorite is Milagro)
.5 oz Triple Sec (or other Orange Liqueur like Cointreau)
2 oz Nopal Lime Mix

     To make the Nopal Lime Mix, combine the Nopal pads, water, and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir while boiling until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep for 1 hour. When the hour is up, strain out about half of the cactus and put the syrup into a food processor. Add in lime juice and zest, blend until smooth.
     For each margarita, combine 1.5 oz Tequila, .5 oz Triple Sec, and 2 oz of the Nopal Lime Mix. Shake with ice and pour into a glass (optional-rim the glass with salt for a great flavor). If you want to make a batch of frozen margaritas, combine ingredients in a blender with ice and blend away. I make the frozen ones in batches of 4, so that's 6 oz Tequila, 2 oz Triple Sec, and 8 oz of the Mix. I also like to use the Nopal Cactus Pieces (from making the Mix) as a garnish.

Prickly Pear Margarita

For the Prickly Pear Syrup:
1 lb Prickly Pears
1 cup Sugar
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
For the Margarita:
1.5 oz Tequila of your choice (I prefer to use Silver Tequilas for this recipe, my favorite is Milagro)
.5 oz Triple Sec (or other Orange Liqueur like Cointreau)
.5 oz Prickly Pear Syrup
1.5 oz Lime Juice

     To make the syrup, cut each prickly pear in half and scoop out the insides (be careful of the irritating hairs and spines on the outside of the fruit). Combine the fruit and sugar in a pot. Put just enough water in the pot to cover everything and bring the contents to a boil over medium-high heat, stiring and mashing the fruit as it boils. When the sugar is dissolved, cover and remove from the heat. Allow to steep for 30 minutes, or until it's cool. Add in the zest and lime juice, give it a good stir, then strain out the pulp and seeds.
     For each margarita, combine 1.5 oz Tequila, .5 oz Triple Sec, .5 oz Prickly Pear Syrup, and 1.5 oz of Lime Juice. Shake with ice and pour into a glass (optional-rim the glass with salt or sugar for a great flavor). If you want to make a batch of frozen margaritas, combine ingredients in a blender with ice and blend away. I make the frozen ones in batches of 4, so that's 6 oz Tequila, 2 oz Triple Sec, 2 oz Syrup, and 6 oz of Lime Juice.

     If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and want to see more, Become a Patron!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Prickly Pear

     Many of you may not be aware of this, but I love succulents and cacti. I think they are astonishingly beautiful and exceedingly unique. Their ability to store water in their stems/leaves is awesome and super helpful in dry areas and drought. Also, while most of us think of these plants in relation to deserts, not a lot of people are aware that the swampy state of Florida has quite a few native cacti as well. So today I figured that I'd introduce you to our most common native Cactus, the Prickly Pear.

     Opuntia stricta (Prickly Pear) is commonly found all throughout Florida, though mainly found in the coastal grasslands, coastal strands, shell mounds, beach dunes, and coastal hammocks. It is, of course, in the Cactaceae, or Cactus, family. This cactus can get quite tall, but often tops out at around 6.5ft, with erect stems that are branched and covered with spines. Most Prickly Pears tend to sprawl and stay close to the ground, but in Florida they have more of a tendency to grow taller. They often grow in clusters or colonies, but can also be found as individual plants. The pads of this cactus are stems that have evolved to hold water and act like leaves by photosynthesizing. The pads also contain an antifreeze compound that allows this cactus to survive in extremely low to freezing temperatures. They can be 2-7 inches (5-17 centimeters) long and 1.5-5 inches (4-12 centimeters) wide. The spines emerge from the center of small dot-like structures called areoles. Each areole contains glochids (small hair like structures that irritate the skin) and some even contain spines. The flowers emerge from the ends of the pads in early summer. These flowers are yellow and quite large. The fruit of this particular species is reddish purple. Other commonly used species have flowers that have orange, and sometimes even some red, in the center and their fruit can range in colors from a light pinkish red to a deep reddish purple. The flowers are pollinated by insects but they also have a unique feature, their stamens move in response to touch. This is to both encourage cross pollination, aid in self pollination, and to discourage pollen and nectar “robbers” (insects that consume the flower's resources without providing assistance in the pollination process). If you want to read more about this fascinating phenomenon, check out Awkward Botany's post here.

     This plant is a staple food of the indigenous peoples of North America. The pads can be found in some supermarkets and are sold as Nopales or Nopalitos. The pads, fruit, and flowers are all edible and can be eaten raw or cooked, though the areoles and spines should be removed before preparing or consuming. The fruit and pads are also commonly juiced. The juice makes a darn good margarita, but is also commonly given to diabetic patients to help control their blood glucose levels. The fruit is sweet, but not as sweet as other species, particularly the Opuntia ficus-indica. Some Mexican restaurants will serve Prickly Pear or Nopales as appetizers, or scrambled with eggs as a breakfast or brunch item.

Medicinal Uses:

Common Names- Prickly Pear, Nopales, Nopal Cactus, Indian Fig, Cactus Pear, Barbary Fig, and Tuna Fig

Scientific Name- Opuntia spp. Commonly used species include Opuntia stricta (our Florida native), O. ficus-indica, O. megacantha, and O. amychlea

Edibility- The pads (Nopales or Nopalitos) are a staple food in indigenous cultures of North America. They are often grilled, sauteed, or even scrambled with eggs, though they are perfectly safe to consume raw as well. The flowers are also edible, as well as the fruits which are often called Cactus Pears. The fruit and pads both have areoles that contain irritating fibers and/or spines, so you should remove these before preparing or consuming. The pads and fruit are also commonly juiced.

Summary of Actions- Appetite depressant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiulcer, antiviral, cardiotonic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, and neuro-protective.

Parts Used- Pads, Flowers, and Fruit.

Traditional Native American Uses- Prickly Pear Cactus has been used in Native American cultures for centuries. The heated cactus pads have served as poultices for rheumatism, and the fruit of the plant is consumed as treatment for diarrhea, asthma and gonorrhea. Indigenous people also consume prickly pear to address high blood pressure, gastric acidity, ulcers, fatigue, shortness of breath, prostate enlargement, glaucoma, and liver disorders.

Diabetes- Not only is this cactus high in fiber, which helps to control blood glucose levels. It also contains compounds that take a more active role in balancing out blood sugar. This plant is highly recommended to both prevent diabetes, and help control blood sugar in those who are currently diabetic.

High Cholesterol- The fiber content of this plant helps to control cholesterol levels, prevents buildup in the arteries, and helps keep the circulatory system healthy in general.

Digestion- The high fiber content of Prickly Pear Cactus helps to move food more efficiently in the digestive tract. It also helps to prevent ulcers, and improve digestion by reducing internal inflammation.

Wound and Burn Care- One traditional use of this cactus that is continued today is for wound and burn care. Much like Aloe, Prickly Pear is a great herb to use in the case of burns. It helps take the “sting” out of them while providing a barrier that helps prevent infection. It's also a great herb to help speed the healing of both wounds and burns.

HIV- Prickly Pear extracts are currently being studied for their antiviral properties in relation to certain viruses. One of particular note is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Research has been limited thus far, but this plant shows promise to help control this virus and others.

Immune Boosting- Prickly pear is full of vitamin C, just one serving contains 1/3 the recommended daily amount. It's also a very effective anti-inflammatory, which helps to improve immunity as well as general health.

Hangovers- Prickly Pear is a folk remedy for hangovers. I usually don't put much stock in hangover remedies, instead I tend to emphasize the importance of hydration when you set out to drink heavily (and I don't recommend doing this, ever). However, in a Tulane University study published in the June 28, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers found that volunteers who took a prickly pear extract five hours before consuming five to 7 alcoholic drinks had significantly less nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite the following day compared to those who took a placebo. (The extract did not prevent hangover-related headaches and dizziness, however.) The researchers suggested that the benefits were related to prickly pear’s strong anti-inflammatory effects.

Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- Generally considered safe, practitioners recommend that people gradually add prickly pear cactus to their diets. Both the edible plant and the dietary supplements can cause negative side effects in some people. Nausea, increased stool volume and frequency, mild diarrhea and abdominal fullness are the most common side effects. While they are not the norm, easing prickly pear into the diet can minimize these effects.

     I only included a basic introduction to Prickly Pear. I hope you have gained a new appreciation for this amazing little cactus. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram or updates on my adventures in Nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! Follow me on Instagram (BatLadyHerbailst). I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and want to see more, Become a Patron!


Florida Wildflowers A Comprehensive Guide by Walter Kingsley Taylor

The Amazing Cacti- 7 Benefits of Prickly Pear: Wide Open Eats:

Cactus, A Medicinal Food: US National Library of Medicine:

Eastern Prickly Pear: US Forest Service:

Food As Medicine- Prickly Pear Cactus: American Botanical Council:

Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere- Prickly Pear Cactus: American Indian Health and Diet Project:

Medicinal Importance of Prickly Pear Cactus: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants:

Prickly Pear: Annie's Rmemdy:

Prickly Pear, A Cactus Cure?: Dr. Weil:

Prickly Pear Cactus Plant Benefits: Herb Wisdom:

What Are the Benefits of Nopal?: Medical News Today:


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     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...