Description: A variety of prickly pear species grow in the Southwest, all with large fleshy pads and dark red to purple fruits.
Dye: Ground up cochineal (a scale insect that feeds on prickly pear) were processed by native peoples to create red or purple textile dyes. In Europe this color of dye was so rare that only royalty could afford it. In some kingdoms the colors “royal purple”(derived from a sea cucumber) and, after discovery of the New World, royal crimson from cochineal, were reserved for the king by law. Cultivation and export of cochineal dye became a major economic activity, and its source was kept secret for many years.
Other uses: Pads and fruit may be prepared as food or beverage by Acoma, Apache, Laguna, Cochiti, Havasupai, Hopi, Isleta, Navajo, Papago, Pima. Isleta have used dried pulp for candlemaking. Also used for medicinal/ceremonial/symbolic purposes by several groups.
Kimberley A. Ryan, Northern Arizona University Anthropology Laboratories