The term "nopales" is used for the flattened stem segments that are morphologically incorrectly described as cactus leaves.
Traditionally Opuntia cactus plants serve as sources for fruits and vegetables and for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
The dried powdered cactus leaves are used as a nutritional supplement. They are a rich source of minerals, pectins and flavonoids (1). The nopal extract was found in several studies to reduce the glucose plasma level which explains its positive contribution to overall health in diabetes mellitus type II. Saponins are assumed to be responsible for this anti-diabetic effect.
Others studies with Opuntia stem extract showed a general anti-hyperlipidemic effect that most probably comes from the especially high pectin content. There are several scientific publications that report an analgesic action and anti-inflammatory properties of nopal extract.