In the lodge area of Lower Dover, we have a mature Nopal tree that has been a favorite among guests. Although not native to Belize, it grows well in the tropical conditions, and has many medicinal uses, including a treatment for hair loss, bladder infections, and high blood pressure.
The following information is taken from Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arvigo, D.N. and Michael Balick, PH.d
“Creole Name: Scoggineal
Spanish Name: Nopal, Tuna
Mopan Maya: Pa’kam
Scientific Name: Opuntia cochenillfera
Plant Family: Cactaceae
Traditional Uses: A fresh Opuntia pad is peeled, sliced and tied around the head to relieve headaches and fever. High blood pressure fever, and malaise are treated by boiling 1 pad in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes and drinking 1 cup of the decoction before each meal. Crushing and soaking 5 fresh pads in 1 gallon of water makes a rinse that is used to prevent falling hair and a tea to drink for bladder conditions. Drinking 1 cup of juice from a fresh pad at onset of childbirth is said to ease delivery. Peeled, steamed, and chilled pads are eaten in salads to alleviate arthritis. For skin ulcers, the pad is sliced in half and applied over the sores until they heal. To alleviate pain in the internal organs, the sufferer cuts out a mold of his or her foot on one of the skinned leaf pads and hangs this over the fire hearth, when the foot mold is dry, the pain will go away.
Scoggineal fruit is used as a hair conditioner, producing soft, lustrous results. A peeled, mashed fruit is spread on the hair; after being covered with plastic wrap for an hour, the hair is then rinsed thoroughly.
The fruit is edible and highly esteemed- the spiny, outer portion is peeled off and the red or yellowish seedy center is consumed. Caution must be taken to avoid eating the small hair-like spines on the outside of the fruit.”
Previous experience at Lower Dover: Thanks to our friend and local guide Edgar, we found out the pads of the Nopal can also be used to treat bruises and sprains. When one of our workers, sprained his foot, we skinned a pad, and wrapped it around the bruised area over night. The next morning, the bruising was gone, and so was his limp, amazing stuff!