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Herb Lesson - Yucca

December 1, 2006

Guardian of The Desert

Botanical Information

Other Names: Spanish Bayonet, Guardian Of The Desert, Needle Palm, Soapweed, Lord’s Candle, and The Joshua Tree. The common name “Yucca” includes the species Yucca glauca, Yucca baccata, and other Yucca species, which are used interchangeably with Yucca filamentosa.


There is a town on the Navajo Reservation, surrounded by desert sand and red rock sculptures of nature, that has discovered the secret of beautiful hair. I often drive by the local high school just as the students are sauntering down the sidewalks heading home. If you’ve never seen beautiful hair, you should come to Gallup, New Mexico just to see this sight. Navajo girls in jeans and T-shirts with heavy black hair blowing behind them in the wind make the red rock mountains in the background become a reasonable setting. Not a barrette, clip, or bangs could tame the heavy masses that shine blue-black in the sunlight. I want to pull over, roll down the window, and personally thank the shy teenagers for not cutting off the glorious cascade I so admire.

According to Navajo lore, the secret of thick healthy hair is a tough, spear-like plant that grows just about everywhere. Traditionally the women made combs and “pins” from the spiny leaves, shampoo from the root, and could later weave baskets from the carefully split spines. Tomorrow I’m going to find and dig up a yucca plant and make my own shampoo. *Fingers crossed!*

Interesting Facts

Yucca has long been used by the Athabaskan people groups to make thread, rope, and baskets from the leaves, waterproof sealant from the pitch, paint/dye from the blos-soms, and food from the fruit and seeds. The root is made into salves or poultices for healing sores, wounds, skin diseases, sprains and broken limbs. Yucca plant juice was also used topically to soothe painful joints. Hair shampoos were prepared for treating dandruff and baldness.

Yucca, a member of the lily family, grows in abundance throughout the Southwestern United States and Mexico, but is now commonly found in many eastern states. The name “Yucca” comes from the Caribbean name for “cassava”, which was once considered part of this genus.

About Yucca

Yucca roots contain the compound saponin, which contains foaming properties that are particularly beneficial on hair fiber. It is the saponin found in the yucca plant that creates foamy suds when agitated in water. Saponins, which help to bind toxins in the intestines and prevent their release, are also produced naturally in the body by the adrenal glands. Saponin is a cleanser - inside and out.

In a totally different application, yucca is widely used at sanitation plants. In this situa-tion, the saponin accelerates the breakdown of organic waste. This happens when saponin directly influences the development of microscopic plants (bacteria) which are vital to the waste disposal process.

Because of the saponin’s ability to “clean” externally, and the fact that it can be consumed internally, people began to try yucca as an internal cleansing agent. There is a theory that some forms of arthritis, as well as allergic reactions, migraines and other stressful ailments, are caused by harmful bacteria and toxins in the colon. This made yucca a natural choice for relief from these ailments. In fact, veterinarians were using it to successfully treat digestive and arthritic problems in dogs and horses before it came into use by human subjects.

There has been substantial evidence that saponin not only improves digestion and decreases the tendency to develop toxic waste in the colon, it also can reduce stress and swelling. Further testing has shown the absence of any evidence of absorption through the intestinal wall or of harmful side effects.

A number of commercial uses for yucca extract have been found, including adding it to root beer and other beverages as a foaming agent. The bittersweet dark brown extract is also used as an additive in ice cream and other foods.

Traditional Usages

Yucca is used for:

  • Anti-inflammatory (swelling, stress)
  • Baldness, Dandruff
  • Bone and Joint Conditions (fractures, sprains, arthritis)
  • Cellular Regeneration
  • Cleansing (internally and externally)
  • Detoxifying
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Headache
  • High Cholesterol reduction
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Skin Conditions, Wounds (externally)

What's in it?

Yucca contains Vitamin A, B-complex, and Vitamin C, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and phosphorus. The primary chemical constituents of yucca are the saponins which have natural steroid properties. Yucca also contains antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that contribute to cleansing of the colon, purifying of the blood, and helping to keep the kidneys & liver free of toxins.

Where to find Yucca

Check at your local nursery for a plant of your own or take a road trip out west with a shovel and several five gallon buckets. Yucca grows everywhere in the desert, and can survive without any care at all. The root grows very deep in the dry desert soil, and dig-ging up a yucca plant can be a long, hard process. Did I mention that yucca also teaches patience?

Yucca Root Shampoo

Dig up (or buy at the grocery store) a fresh yucca root and peel the brown outside off of the root until you have exposed the white root inside. Once clean, take a hammer and smash the yucca root until it breaks in pieces. Wet the yucca root while holding it over a basin of warm water, rub the root pieces like a bar of soap to get mounds of lather from it. Wash your dampened hair with the lather for a few minutes, gently massaging the scalp. Rinse well in luke-warm water. Sun dry, and gently comb out any remaining particles with a wide-tooth comb. Repeat as often as desired.

Simple Yucca Extract

Chop a fresh yucca root up in pieces and stuff into a quart jar until the jar is 2/3 full of root. Cover with vodka and screw on a lid. Set jar in a cool dark place and shake every day or so for 3 weeks. Strain out the root, and use remaining extract as desired to treat gastrointestinal problems.

Yucca Tea

Boil chopped root for 5 minutes, turn off heat and let steep until cool. Strain out the root and use remaining tea as an external wash for skin conditions, or drink for internal healing.


Yucca has rarely been studied in a scientific setting, so be careful in experimenting with this herb. There have been minor reported cases of nausea and diarrhea with the consumption of large amounts of yucca extract. Also, make sure to get your yucca some distance from any public road where it may have been sprayed with commercial herbicides.

Yucca Quiz:

  • What are four other names for yucca?
  • Yucca is a member of what plant family?
  • Where is yucca most commonly found?
  • Name five different ways that yucca was used by Native Americans.
  • What is the primary and most used property of the yucca?
  • What do saponins do to toxins?
  • Name some other ways yucca or saponins are used.
  • Write a short story about the ways you are going to use yucca.


Recommended reading:

  1. (Rebekah’s health and wellness forum)

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