Get to Know Yucca: Hardy, Antibacterial & Anti-inflammatory

Two species of yucca, one called "soapweed" and another called "Mojave yucca," are tough plants that have distinct looks and medicinal uses.

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: Shutterstock

One of my favorite plants in our landscape here at the farm is our yucca. In the Ohio landscape it seems like such an impossibility. The sword-shaped, spiny leaves look as though this plant would be more at home in the desert. In fact, quite a few of its relatives do make their home in the desert. Yucca glauca, also called “soapweed,” however, is hardy in zones 4 through 10 and tolerates frost quite well. It is more than a landscape curiosity as well, providing utility and healing benefit.

Over the years I have encountered two species of yucca. I know Yucca glauca the best. This species is noted for the saponins it contains. When the roots are pounded out, they produce soapy suds. These suds come out whether the roots are fresh or dried. The suds also possess antibacterial properties.

If you’d like to use the soapy quality of Y. glauca but you don’t want to dig up your favorite plant, order a bag of dried root. Add ¼ tablespoon to a quart of water and bring everything to a boil. Allow the pot to simmer until you have suds and the resulting soap is your desired thickness. I like to mix this into homemade natural cleaners to use throughout the house.

I came across the second yucca species in an arthritis formula. My father loved this particular elixir and so I promised to re-create it. Yucca schidigera is also called “Mojave yucca” because it loves to grow is the Mojave Desert. Between Y. glauca and Y. schidigera, the latter is the most used medicinally. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to grow where I live. This yucca is only hardy to zones 9 and 10.

Y. schidigera is well known as an anti-inflammatory remedy for arthritic conditions. Studies aimed at understanding this quality have focused on the steroidal saponins as the probable cause. Of course, this probably means that both yucca have something for arthritis, but to date the studies have centered only on Y. shidigera. It is believed that the steroidal saponins also act against protozoa in the gut, providing anti-inflammatory protection by maintaining healthy gut flora.

If you want to grow your own yucca, start with a species that grows in the climate of your region. Once you’ve accomplished that, it can be difficult to harm them. Yucca are pretty tough plants. If you have a friend who grows yucca, ask that person for a cutting. The plants are best divided by splitting the rhizomes. Plant them in well-drained soil in full sun close to your house. We have ours in the bed just off our deck. You can’t beat the fragrance of white yucca blossoms on a warm summer night.

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