The prickly pear promotes the conservation of artworks
Prickly pears are the fruits of ”Opuntia ficus indica”, a cactus of the Cactaceae family that includes about 300 species, widespread in the Mediterranean areas of our country, often used to mark the boundaries between properties, as well as a source of fruits. Brought to Europe around 1500, this plant is native to Mexico and is spread across Central America.
The Nopal is obtained from young opuntia segments. In addition to being used in Mexican cuisine, it has interesting therapeutic properties: particularly rich in soluble dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, it can help reduce overweight and obesity for its satiating action, and has beneficial effects in metabolic disorders when it is necessary to control blood glucose levels and/or reduce cholesterol and triglycerides.
Nopal, however, does not only have therapeutic properties. A joint Italian-Mexican project, promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, currently underway, has been designed to define a scientific methodology for the assessment of the consolidating and antimicrobial properties of the Nopal, so far known and handed down by empirical knowledge.
According to the first results, the Nopal seems to promote the conservation and restoration of artworks. Following an ancient pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition, and by adding Nopal to cement, it was possible to achieve a good conservation of ancient murals and other artworks.
“Nopal extract improves such properties as the plasticity and hardening time of the cement paste, as well as its manageability, durability, waterproofing and fixing properties, given the adhesive and cohesive characteristics of mural painting”, said ENEA researcher Franca Persia.
The activities of the bilateral project, carried out by ENEA in collaboration with the College of Michoacán, were presented in Rome at the workshop “Dalla tradizione empirica all’innovazione tecnologica” (from empirical tradition to technological innovation), organized to offer an opportunity for discussion for a transition to more sustainable conservation strategies based on the use and enhancement of biological resources, in order to obtain products that protect the health of both restorers and artworks, with minimal environmental impact.