"On the rocks near the river we found a great quantity of the prickly pear. Husband knew from experience the effects of handling them, and cautioned me against them, but I thought I could just take one and put it in my india-rubber apron pocket, and carry it to the boat. I did so, but after rambling a little I thought to take it out, and behold, my pocket was filled with its needles, just like a caterpillar's bristles. I became considerably annoyed with them; they covered my hands, and I have scarcely got rid of them yet. My husband would have laughed at me a little, were it not for his own misfortune. He thought to discover what kind of mucilage it was by tasting it - cut one in two, bit it, and covered his lips completely. We then had to sympathize with each other, and were glad to render mutual assistance in a case of extermination." (Narcissa Whitman, 1836)
Can you imagine? His lips covered with cactus spines? A few years ago, while hiking a trail in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, my son fell and skidded palms out into a cluster of cacti. His hands were covered with tiny spines that we spent the next half an hour plucking them from his palms. Ouch.
Click here for more info on how to prepare and cook prickly pear cactus.