The Opuntia ficus-indica in Latin is a member of the cactus family and is commonly known as the prickly pear, Barbary fig, cactus pear and Indian fig. Also known as the Aknari to the Berber people of Morocco.
The origin of the Opuntia cactus is rather vague, mainly because it has been farmed since days of old for its fruit but it is believed to have originated in the south American country of Mexico and originally imported from the Americas in the sixteenth century. One thing is clear though, that the Optunia cactus has been in existence in Morocco for more than four centuries. Today, the Optunia ficus-indica can be found not just in Africa but also other arid or semi-arid areas of the world such as south Asia, south America, Australia, southern Europe and a number of islands with temperate climates.
The Opuntia cactus is considered to be both miraculous and an affliction in South Africa and Ethiopia. It has been included in the Global Invasive Species Database, but additionally it performs an essential part in supporting people and cattle throughout drought and famine. For this reason, the Opuntia ficus-indica was introduced into northern Ethiopia. This plantation has now increased to cover an estimated area of three hundred and sixty hectares. These Cacti, present a threat to both people and animals, cutting down grazing land, taking the place of indigenous plants and devaluing land.
More recently, the Opuntia cactus has been hailed as a miracle product, not for its pads or fruit, but for the oil that can be extracted from the tiny seeds contained within the fruit, commonly known as the prickly pear. The prickly pear seed oil, is now recognised for its anti-ageing properties and although it is still early days in the industry, many cosmetic companies are showing a strong interest in this precious oil. The small prickly pear fruit also contains numerous effective chemical ingredients that are now being used by pharmaceutical laboratories for medicinal purposes.