Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines: Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo) and Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus)


  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,640 admin

    Not at all familiar with Nandina, although I'm sure I've heard reference to Heavenly Bamboo as a garden plant. Its not listed on my plant atlas so it hasn't escaped cultivation here, yet. It seems to be readily available at south coast garden centres but I doubt any of the species would grow in my area.

    I was surprised to learn that it is a member of the Berberidaceae family, not the Bambusoidea tribe of Poaceae.

    I looked up some pics and its very pretty, especially for fall colours.

    Not sure that I would use it for anything. Best left to the TCM docs.

    We have a Opuntia fragilis here in BC. It can be found beyond 56°N. And another species found in the south Okanagan valley that is being classified as O. x columbiana or Grizzlybear Prickly Pear. It was thought to be O. polycantha for a long time but testing has determined it is a hybrid, probably between O. fragilis and O. polycantha. Because of the variability in size and shape of the pads, it is suspected that there are other sub-species here as well. They sure are beautiful when they flower. I took this picture about an hour from my house in what is classified as the very dry Bunchgrass biogeoclimatic zone here in BC. The buds are so red before they open to the yellow flower. Not sure if you can see it but there is a bee in the centre of the flower. They seem to be quite popular with bees. I bought some honey from an area that has a lot of cactus and I'm wondering now if that is the flavour note I am tasting in the honey. I thought there was something different about it the first time I tasted it but couldn't put my finger on it. So this could be it. I'll have to do more research into cactus flower honey.

    First Nations in my area would cut off the spines and then roast them over a fire like marshmallows as well as using them in pit cooking.

    Works just like aloe for burns. I've found quite a few studies on the hypoglycemic properties of Opuntia.

  • judsoncarroll4
    judsoncarroll4 Posts: 5,461 admin

    Nandina is very common in the sandhills of NC... to the point that it is really hated as it is almost impossible to dig out once it is established. I think it is pretty though, so I would just encourage it to grow as a hedge and mow the edges to keep it under control.

    Prickly pear is one of the wild foods I most often harvest. I use the pads as nopales in tacos, fajitas, etc. The fruit makes good wine.