Made in Arizona: Tonto Basin Cactus

PHOENIX (FOX 10) - You can't get much more "Made in Arizona" than prickly pear cactus - it's everywhere. You can even find fresh prickly pear products if you know where to look.

Ann Marie Hansel and her husband own Tonto Basin Cactus and they make dozens of prickly pear products.

"It's very healthy for you," said Ann Marie. "[We have] jams and jellies and syrup and salsa [and] I have a pepper jelly that's my best seller."

This is literally a homegrown product. When they bought some land in Tonto Basin, a construction crew asked Ann Marie and her husband if they wanted all the prickly pear cactus removed.

"We had our house and we have some prickly pear on it and when the flowers came out, we noticed how beautiful it was," said Ann Marie. "And the fellow that we had doing the construction said, 'Why don't we knock all this down? Everybody gets rid of it' and we loved the flowers, so we said no, we want to keep as many as we can."

And they turned their prickly pear crop into a business.

"So [I] decided to go into my own business," Ann Marie said. "It was my husband's idea because he was frustrated he ended up working and I wasn't."

And she prepares the prickly pear right in her kitchen.

"You get the product out and it's going to have to cool for a while," Ann Marie said. "I don't cook in water and I don't add water because of all the health benefits."

Ann Marie says the health benefits of prickly pear are well-documented.

"It's been proven to help diabetics not on insulin get off their medicine," Ann Marie said. "[It helps] with high blood pressure, high cholesterol [and] it helps remove toxins from your body, like joint pain, inflammation, arthritis, rheumatism and many more. It's actually given me better eyesight in seven months."

Her only problem? Convincing people they take out the thorns first.

"I give samples to everybody," Ann Marie said. "[And] a lot of them are like, 'Well I don't know if I want to do that with the stickers still in there' they are all worried about it."

"It's just amazing," Ann Marie said. "The people who will come up from out of state, even Canada, Michigan, Minnesota - all over the United States and they don't know anything about prickly pear."

But how do you harvest prickly pear? Ann Marie leaves that up to her husband.

"My husband does the picking the processing, the packaging," Ann Marie said. "We both do the labels and I go out and do the shows."

Now all they need is a cookbook.

"I don't have a cookbook," Ann Marie said. "I should probably get one together, but no, I don't."

Tonto Basin Cactus