What is Yucca?
The name yucca applies to as many as 40 species of trees and shrubs found mostly in arid portions of North America. The common names noted above can apply to different species. The Spanish bayonet is Y. aloifolia and Our Lord’s candle is Y. whipplei. Other common yuccas include Y. schidigera (Mohave yucca) and Y. brevifolia (Joshua tree), which grows to 60 feet in height and commonly is found at the bases of desert mountains. Yucca plants are characterized by stiff, evergreen, sword-shaped leaves crowded on a stout trunk. There is a dense terminal flowerhead faintly resembling a candle. The flowers are white or greenish. All yucca plants depend for pollination on nocturnal yucca moths. Each variety of moth is adapted to a single species of yucca.
Yucca also is known as Spanish bayonet, Our Lord’s candle, Joshua tree, and Adam’s needle.
What is it used for?
For centuries, yucca plants have served American Indians for a variety of uses including fiber for rope, sandals and cloth; the roots have been used in soap. The Indians and early Californian settlers used the green pods for food. Indian uses included boiling and baking the fruits, eating the blossoms, chewing the raw leaves and fermenting the fruits to produce a beverage for rituals.
The plant has been purported to be beneficial for treating colitis, hypertension, arthritis, and migraine headaches. One report found that the oral administration of daily doses of a yucca saponin extract was effective and well-tolerated for the treatment of various arthritic conditions. Interestingly, these patients also had significant reductions in blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels, and a reduction in the incidence of migraine headaches from baseline. This limited evidence suggests the extract may be effective in the management of arthritis, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. More clinical research is needed. Yucca also has been used in soaps, shampoos, and food supplements. Yuccas contain saponins that have a long-lasting soaping action. A solid extract is derived from the leaves; the Mohave yucca is the most common commercially used plant. Current commercial uses of yucca extracts include foaming agents in carbonated beverages, flavorings, and for use in drug synthesis research.