Yucca (Yucca filamentosa and others)

Every part of a Yucca plant is useful.
Every part of a Yucca plant is useful.

Common names: Yucca, Needle Palm, Spoonleaf Yucca, Adam’s Needle and Thread

Taxonomic name: Yucca filamentosa and others

Family: Asparagaceae Sub-Family: Agavoideae

Uses: Food, medicine, shampoo, string, fire starting, stunning fish

Area of origin: America

Warnings: You can get stomach upsets from Yucca when parts are eaten raw and the sap can cause irritation so take care and only consume any part of this plant after cooking. There is a type of Yucca called ‘Red Yucca’ that can be quite toxic so don’t eat that one!

Description

It took me a while to decide where to place Yucca on this website. It’s an excellent plant to forage from but many folks have it in their gardens. It is commonly used in rockeries and dryland gardens around the place So I decided to put it in

with the others on the Other Useful Plants page. The Yucca group of plants are well known for their rosettes of thick, sword-like leaves with very sharp tips. Yucca filamentosa (the variety we’re dealing with here) which is the most common in this area has white thready filaments along the edges of the leaves. That , plus its spiky leaves give it one of its common names ‘Adam’s Needle and Thread’ although it often gets shortened to ‘Adam’s Needle’.

The large clusters of bell shaped white or white/green flowers (called a panicle) are very distinctive as well. They are on stems that can be up to 2m tall in some specimens. The flowers hang downwards.

Varieties of Yucca can get huge in SA, prompting folks who are cutting them back to leave piles of leaves on the footpath and beg others to take them away. If more folks knew how useful they were, I think they would be taken up on their offers more frequently.

Yucca is becoming a common roadside plant.
Yucca is becoming a common roadside plant.

Uses

Yucca stems, trunks leaf bases, flowers, and emerging stalks of most varieties are edible. The berries and seeds are, apparently, edible too but I haven’t tried them yet. The stems store carbohydrates that can be cooked and eaten. Yucca is high in vitamins C, B and A. It is also high in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. has more higher and potassium than a potato. I reckon the flowers taste like cabbage. The stamens in the flower can be a bit bitter and are best removed. Yucca is a plant that is best eaten after cooking because of the presence of compounds that get converted to hydrogen cyanide when eaten raw. There are records of folks eating the fruit raw, but I wouldn’t take the chance.

Yucca has a high content of steroid saponins that can be beneficial to people with osteoarthritis, arthritis and rheumatism. They are precursors to cortisone in our bodies and act against inflammation. These also contribute to other uses of the root and leaves for folks with high cholesterol, liver and gallbladder problems, colitis and stomach problems. A gentle rub for skin conditions caused by inflammation can be made from the green parts of the plant.

The root and leaves are used as diuretics making Yucca also useful to people with blood pressure, migraine headaches and diabetes. They can also be used as emetics to make you vomit, helping with some stomach disorders.

Yucca flowers are kind of sweet and taste like cabbage when cooked.
Yucca flowers are kind of sweet and taste like cabbage when cooked.

The saponins also help Yucca pulp or juice to be an effective shampoo and hair conditioner. The leaves, when dry, can be used to make string and rope. The stem when dry is an excellent fire starter.

If you have any fish that happen to need stunning, crushed up leaves, stem and roots of a Yucca can be used to do just that job.

Some people can get stomach upsets from Yucca when parts are eaten raw and the sap can cause irritation so take care and only consume any part of this plant after cooking. There is a type of Yucca called ‘Red Yucca’ that can be quite toxic so don’t eat that one!