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Ramyashree. M. et al.

/ Journal of Pharmacy Research 2012,5(8),4554-4558

Research Article
ISSN: 0974-6943

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Ethnomedicinal value of Opuntia elatior fruits and its effects in mice

*1 Ramyashree. M., 2 Shivabasavaiah and 2 Krishna Ram H
Research Scholar,Department of Studies in Zoology,University of Mysore,Manasagangotri Campus,Mysore 570006, Karnataka, India
Professor of Zoology ,Department of Studies in Zoology,University of Mysore,Manasagangotri Campus,Mysore 570006, Karnataka, India
Post Doctoral Fellow,Department of Studies in Zoology ,University of Mysore,Manasagangotri Mysore 570 006, Karnataka, India

Received on:09-05-2012; Revised on: 14-06-2012; Accepted on:22-07-2012

Cactus pear, Opuntia elatior Mill belongs to Cactaceae family is an important plant used as medicine for various ailments due to beneficial health promoting
properties. The present study was undertaken to evaluate the nutritional components present in the cactus pear fruit. The ripened fruits of Opuntia elatior
Mill were collected, authenticated, air dried, powered and subjected for ethanol extraction. The fruit extract was screened for its phytochemical components,
which revealed the presence of alkaloids, carbohydrates, fats, oils, flavonoids, phenolics, tannins, steroids, and saponins. The oral administration of crude
extract exhibited no toxic effect on the external morphology and body weight of the mice. Thus, the present investigation established scientific base for
further use of Opuntia elatior for various pharmacological tests like antibacterial, antidiarrheal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispermatogenic, antimicrobial and antidiabetic properties. The phytochemical research based on ethnopharmacological information is generally considered as an effective approach in
the discovery of new anti infective agents, hence this study focused on the detection of phytochemical compounds present in Opuntia elatior fruits and its
Key Words: Ethnomedicine, Opuntia elatior, phytochemicals, flavanoids, steroids
India is a varietal emporium of medicinal plants and is one of the richest
countries in the world in regard to genetic resources of medicinal plants. The
cactus family is unusual among tropical plants. Cactus pear, produced by
perennial Opuntia cactus, belongs to the Cactaceae family is well adapted to
arid and semiarid climates, where water shall be a limiting factor for cultivation [1 & 2]. Cacti have been exploited as a cheap, alternate source of food
suitable for humans and feed for animals and are cultivated as ornamental
crops. Cacti exhibit many characteristics of a suitable crop model to achieve
productivity and sustainability with minimal ecological or environmental
impact to meet the growing demands for food and as a new source for meeting
nutritional health requirements and thus deserves further investigations [3 & 4].
Due to agricultural problems linked to increasing arid zones and declining
water resources, Opuntia sp. is gaining importance as an effective food
source [5 & 6]. Many species of Opuntia cacti produce edible highly flavored
fruit known as Cactus pear. Cactus pear fruit is a many seeded berry with
a thick peel, enclosing a delicately flavored seedy pulp [7 & 2]. Cactus pear
fruits are rich source of nutrients and vitamins [8 & 9] and are eaten fresh, dried
or preserved in jams, syrups or processed into candy like products [10 & 2].
In recent years, secondary plant metabolites (phytochemicals) previously
with unknown pharmacological activities have been extensively investigated
as a source of medicinal agents. There is increasing evidence that fruits and
vegetables may protect against numerous chronic diseases, including cancer,
cardio, cerebro vascular, ocular and neurological diseases [11, 12, 13 & 14]. The
protective effect of fruit and vegetables has generally been attributed to their
antioxidant constituents including vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, glu-

*Corresponding author.
Ramyashree M
Research Scholar
Department of Studies in Zoology
University of Mysore
Mysore 570 006,
Karnataka, India

tathione, flavonoids and phenolic acids as well as other unidentified compounds [15 & 2]. Antioxidative effects of cacti fruit extract on lipid peroxidation
inhibition in oils and emulsion model systems [16 & 4]. Prickly pear antioxidant
actions could protect mammalian cells and organs and slow the aging process,
illness and disease [2]. It could also lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) and
cholesterol levels helping to check high blood pressure [17]. Concentrated juice
in combination with the fruit is reported to be an aphrodisiac and also believed to be of value in spermatorrhoea and gonorrhea [4]. In Chinese medicine,
cactus fruits are considered as weak poisons and used for treatment of inflammation, pain and detoxification agents for snake bites [18 & 4]. Since use of
natural sweeteners other than sucrose is a priority area for the food industry
In addition cactus fruits have been used as a raw material in the creation of
natural sweeteners [19]. Hence screening of fruit extracts for various enzymes
such as arylamidases, lipases, proteinases and glucosidases has been carried
out. Amongst these enzymes, proteinases are the most important plant enzymes used in food, pharmaceuticals, detergent, leather and wood industries
[20 & 4]
. Generally, cactus pear fruit contains about 85% water, 11 14%
fermentable sugar, 1.8% crude fiber, 0.1% lipids, 0.21 1.5% protein and 0.4
1.6% ash [21]. It also contains calcium and vitamin C upto 60 and 30 mg/100g
and vitamin A 50 IU which are the main dietary essentials [21 & 4]. The phytochemical analysis of the Opuntia fruit showed presence of carbohydrates,
flavonoids, phenolics, betalains; color pigment betacyanin as an active principle and high amount of sugar content. The low acidity of fruit makes it very
sweet and delicious. The fruit juice also showed a haematinic, analgesic and
anti-asthmatic activity [22]. But no information is available on total fruit extract components and its toxicity effect.
The phytochemical research based on ethno pharmacological information is
generally considered an effective approach in the discovery of new anti
infective agents, from plants. The literature study reveals that till today there
is only one record of phytochemical composition and pharmacological study
of the fruit juice of Opuntia elatior [22]. Thus the present study helps to
further investigate about the phytochemical screening of the complete fruit

Journal of Pharmacy Research Vol.5 Issue 8.August 2012


Ramyashree. M. et al. / Journal of Pharmacy Research 2012,5(8),4554-4558

which paves the way to know the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and pharmacological applications of Opuntia elatior Mill fruits. Hence, this study focused for detection of phytochemical compounds present in the fruits of O.
elatior Mill and toxicity effect on model organism mice.

a drop of phenolphthalein was added and heated on a water bath for 1-2 hrs.
formation of soap represents the presence of fats and oils
Test for flavonoids: A portion of crude powder was heated with 10 ml of
ethyl acetate over a stram bath for 3 minutes. The mixture was filtered and 4
ml of the filtrate was shaken with 1 ml of dilute ammonia solution and
observed a yellow coloration.

Experimental materials
Collection and identification of the plant material:
The fruits of Opuntia elatior Mill was collected from the field, Mysore
district and authenticated by the Department of Studies in Botany, University of Mysore, Manasagangothri, Mysore.
Twelve adult Swiss albino mice weighing 30 40 g were obtained from the
Central animal facility, DOS in Zoology, University of Mysore, Mysore.
They were housed in polypropylene cages (3 animals/ cage) containing husk
as the bedding material under 12 h light and 12 h dark schedule at 272C and
70% humidity. The animals had food (mice chow pelletes) and water ad
libitum during the period of experimentation. The protocols of the experiment approved by Institutional Animal Ethics Committee under the guidelines of CPCSEA, Government of India were followed for care and maintenance of animals.
Preparation of the plant extract:
The ripened fruits were shade dried and powdered using an electrical grinder.
This powder was dissolved in 500 ml of ethanol with continuous stirring for
about 5 6 hrs. Then suspension filtered using Whatmann filter paper (No
1). This filtered solvent was subjected to flash evaporator until the contents
of ethanol completely evaporated and collected in receiving flask in the form
of crude extract. Finally the ethanolic extract of total fruit was kept in incubator for drying at 38C for 48 hrs. The resultant fruit crude extract was
stored at 4C until further use.
Phytochemical Screening:
Screening was done to identify the following phytochemicals in the extracts:
alkaloids, carbohydrate, fat and oils, flavonoids, phenolics, saponins, steroids and tannins [23 & 24].
Test for alkaloids:
0.5 g of crude defatted with 5% ethyl ether for 15 minute. The defatted
sample was extracted for 20 minute with 5 ml of aqueous HCL on a boiling
water bath. The resulting mixture was centrifuged for 10 minute at 3000rpm.
1 ml of the filtrate was treated with few drops of Mayers reagent and a
second 1 ml of Dragendroffs reagent and turbidly was observed.
Test for carbohydrates:
0.5 g extract was shaken with Molishs reagent, add conc.H2 SO4 through
sides of the test tube. Purple color appears between the two liquids. This is
the indication of the presence of carbohydrates.
Tests for fats and oils:
a) A portion of the crude extract should be placed on a blotting paper.
Appearance of stains after drying will be the indication of presence of fats
and oils.
b) To 0.5 g of extract few drops of 0.5N alcoholic potassium hydroxide and

Test for saponins:

0.5 g of crude powder was shaken with water in a test tube and it was
warmed in a water bath and the persistent of froth indicates the presence of
Test for steroids:
0.5 g of crude powder was dissolved in 5 ml of methanol. 1 ml of the extract
was treated with 0.5 ml of acetic acid anhydride and cooled in ice. This was
mixed with 0.5 ml of chloroform and 1 ml of concentrated sulphuric acid was
then added carefully by means of a pipette. At the separation level of the two
liquids, a reddish brown ring was formed, as indication of the presence of
Test for tannins and phenolic compounds:
0.5 g of the crude powder was stirred with 10 ml of distilled water. This was
filtered and ferric chloride reagent was added to the filtrate, a blue- black
precipitate was taken as evidence for the presence of tannin and phenolic
Toxicity test for fruit extract was performed using Swiss male albino mice.
To this, animals were kept fasting for overnight providing only water. They
were divided into four groups containing three animals each. One group
maintained as control group and the other three treatment groups were then
administered with the extract.
Control group animals received 0.2ml of distilled water whereas each animal
in 2nd , 3rd and 4th group animals received 200mg (low dose), 400mg (medium
dose), and 600mg (high dose) extract/ Kg body weight in 0.2ml distilled water
respectively. The extract with the vehicle was administered to the animals
through oral intubation by a smooth plastic tube attached to a syringe. The
treatment period was fixed to 30 days. Each day after oral intubation the
animals were observed for first 30mins and were kept for observation like
sedation, convulsions, tremors, lethargy and death.
Statistical analysis:
The results are analyzed as Mean SE. Paired T test was used to determine
the effect of treatment on the final body weight of the target animal.
Medicinal plants have long been used to address human diseases due to their
therapeutic values. In recent years natural products with high medicinal
values are gaining much importance in the light of serious side effects posed
by the medicinal derivatives from chemical origin [25]. Hence the present
study was carried out to assess the important phytoconstituents present in
the fruits of O. elatior, in support of traditional and folkloric use.
Phytochemical screening of the crude extract of Opuntia elatior fruits
The preliminary phytochemical screening of the fruit extract of O. elatior
revealed the presence of alkaloids, carbohydrate, fat and oils, flavonoids,
phenolics, saponins, steroids and tannins (Table 1) for the first time in
ethanolic extract. Where the methanol extract of some flowers of medicinal

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Table 1. Phytochemical components present in the whole fruit extract
of Opuntia elatior

Present/ Absent


Fats and oils


Body weight ()g

Sl No

Toxicity studies



Initial BW


Final BW


Table 2. Initial and final body weight of the control and treatment
group animals.

Low dose (200 mg)
Medium dose (400 mg)
High dose (600 mg)

Initial body weight (g)

Final body weight (g)



Values represented as MeanSE (n=3).P value >0.05, thus considered non

plants belongs to different families also showed the presence of
phytochemicals [26] as reported in the present study.
Alkaloids function with the aid of their defense mechanism act as
phytoprotective agent against invading microorganism [27 & 28] due to analgesic, antisplasmodic and bactericidal activity [29, 30 & 28]. In addition, alkaloids
are heterocyclic compounds which have proved to have pharmacological
properties such as hypotensive activity, anticonvulsant activity, antiprotozoal,
antimicrobial and antimalarial activities [31 & 32]. Some alkaloids are known to
be useful in correcting renal disorders and most effective for managing hypertension and also providing protection for the heart [33 & 28].
The O. elatior fruit with high sugar content make it highly delicious and
sweet in taste. The sugar pattern in the fruit pulp is very simple and contains
glucose and fructose virtually in equal amounts as has been reported by
Feugang et al (2006) in all cactus pears. However, directly absorbed high
glucose concentrations in cactus fruits represents an energy source instantly
available for brain and nerve cells, while ructose being sweeter may enhance
the fruits flavor [34 & 35]. The cactus mucilages are composed of polysaccharides such as arabinose, galactose, shamnose and galactouronic acid. Thus
these mucilages have a high water holding capacity, so they could serve as
thickening or emulsifying agents and form viscous or gelatinous colloids [36].
In addition, the use of natural sweeteners other than sucrose is a priority area
for the food industry. Thus O. elatior one of the cactus fruits can be used for
large scale production of natural sweeteners as has opinied by Shebdakar et al
Cactus pear is a new source of fruit oils as seed and pulp oil consists of
significant amount of neutral lipid (87% of total lipids) and polar lipids
(52.9% of total lipids) respectively. The fat soluble vitamins associated with
the cactus fruit seed and pulp oils helps in preventing the lipid fractions from
oxidative damage [34]. Further study revealed that supplementation with cactus pear oil/ cactus pear seeds are useful in reducing the serum cholesterol
level [37] since they contained mainly unsaturated fatty acids and an appreciable level of fat soluble vitamin wherein, unsaponifiable content found
higher than sunflower which is useful for the consumer and also for the
producer of oils. Hence, the unsaponifiable fraction of vegetable oil has
applications in cosmetics and pharmacology due to its biological properties
, O. elatior shall also be used as a potential material.





Treatment groups (mg/Kg bw)

Figure 1: Effect of Opuntia fruit extract on body weight of mice

Flavonoids are recognised as a very important phytochemical mainly for
their antioxidant activity, metal chelating properties and beneficial role in
variety of cellular processes [38]. According to Gupta et al., (2002) a methonolic
extract from Opuntia dillenii exerted antispermatogenic effects in animal
tests on rats, due to the presence of flavones derivatives, vitexin and myricetin.
Also, flavonoids extracted from the seeds of Vitex negundo showed not only
a significant drop in sperm count but also decreased motility upto 30% [40].
Thus, flavanoids reported from the O. elatior has some pharmaceutical applications.
Epidemiological studies have shown that consumption of food and bevarages
rich in phenolic content can reduce the risk of heart disease by slowing the
progression of the atherosclerosis by acting as antioxidants towards LDL [41,
42 & 43]
. Since, the nutritional and health benefits of cactus fruits are associated
with their antioxidant properties related to phenolic compounds [34 & 44] the
presence of phenolic compounds in the O. elatior prove to be the potential
plant material in the natural medicinal products. The O. elatior being one of
the members of cactus pear family has total antioxidant activity which found
to be two fold higher compared with that of pear, apple, tomato and grape
and similar to that of red grape raisin, orange and grape fruit [45 & 44]. Thus the
presence of phenolic compounds in the fruit extract of O. elatior might have
a positive effect in the redox balance to reduce LDL levels [46 & 44].
Saponins extracted from Albizzia lebbeck and Cestrum parqui reduced the
sperm concentration of testes and decreased sperm motility significantly [47
& 48]
. Thus saponins present in the O. elatior fruit extract might also exhibit
antispermatogenic effect.
Steroidal compounds observed in O. elatior have importance and interest in
pharmacy. Because the leaves of C. rutidosperma are used as vegetable for
expectant or breast feeding mothers to ensure their hormonal balance, since
steroidal structure could serve as potent starting material in synthesis of
these hormones [49]. Steroids in modern clinical studies have revealed their
role as anti-inflammatory and analgesic agents [50 & 51].
Together, alkaloids, flavonoids, phenolics, saponins and tannins have been
linked or suggested to be involved with antibacterial and antiviral activity,
while tannins and flavonoids are thought to be responsible for antidiarrheal
activity. Investigations on the mode of action indicate that tannins and flavonoids increase colonic water and electrolyte reabsorption and other
phytochemicals act by inhibiting intestinal mobility, while some components have shown to inhibit particular enteropathogens [52 & 51].
Thus the presence of alkaloids, flavonoids, phenolics, saponins, steroids and
tannins, in the fruit extract of O. elatior open ample scope for further inves-

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tigations on antibacterial, antiviral, antidiarrheal and anti-inflammatory activity.
Effect of Opuntia elatior fruit extract on mice
Although several herbal preparations have effective medicinal properties,
their use is often dictated by the extent of the toxicity they cause. Reduction
in the body weight is the sign of toxicity of any chemical or herbal compound
. In view of this, the toxicity study of the fruit O. elatior extract was
examined using mice. Interestingly, no variation in the external morphology
and the body weight of mice after the treatment with the extract was observed (Table 1). There was a gradual increase in the final body weight of all
control and treated group animals compared to the initial body weight. The
extract had neither significant increase nor significant decrease in the final
body weight of the treatment group. This clearly indicates that the extract do
not cause any toxic effect on the target animal. Thus it can be used for further
In conclusion, as there is no information available on phytochemical composition of O. elatior and its pharmacological study, the present investigation
was undertaken to know the valuable phytochemical components in O.
elatior and their toxic effect on mice. Interestingly, the cheaply available fruit
O. elatior is a potential source of many phytochemicals of medicinal values
which do not posses toxic effects on the target animal mice. The procedure is
simple and the resources required for the experiment are inexpensive. And O.
elatior shall be used as a potential material for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical
The corresponding author is thankful to the University of Mysore and UGC
for their financial assistance under the RFSMS scheme.
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Source of support: Nil, Conflict of interest: None Declared

Journal of Pharmacy Research Vol.5 Issue 8.August 2012