There are dozens of species of prickly pear cactus growing in a variety of ranges and elevations of the American Southwest Deserts. They all have the round flat pads that serve several functions. The pads can store water, produce flowers, and perform photosynthesis. This cactus is laden with the edible red fruit used to make jellies, candies, and nectars. The flat, fleshy pads are also edible and sometimes are cooked in stews and other Native American dishes. There are ongoing studies of the medicinal benefits of this fruit producing cactus. It is believed that the fruit pulp helps to lower bad cholesterol while leaving good cholesterol levels stable. In another study, it is thought that it helps to lower the need for insulin in some diabetics.
I’ve had the jelly and the candies made from the fruit and found it very sweet and quite good. I have never tried the cooked cactus pads. Obviously, harvesting the cactus requires some extra special care to keep from getting stuck by the needle-like spines on the fruit and the round pads.