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Soap Tree (Yucca elata)

Y. radiosa.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Soap Tree
Yucca elata

The leaves, or a fibre obtained from them, is used for making ropes and mats[82, 169, 181, 257].

The leaves can be woven into shallow or tray baskets[257]. The leaf has also been used as a binding element in coarse coiled basketry[257].

The roots have a red core and have been used to ornament baskets[257].

The roots are rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute for washing the hair, body, clothes etc[82, 181, 257]. Also used as a foaming agent in beer[183]. A slick soap-like fluid in the trunk has been used as a substitute for soap[229].

Wood – light, soft and spongy[82].

  • Medicinal Use

    None known

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked[177, 181, 183]. The fruit is a dry capsule up to 5cm long and 36mm wide[229].

    Seedpods[181]. We are not sure how this differs from the fruit but one report mentions edible fruit as well as an edible seedpod.

    Flowers – raw or cooked[177, 181, 257]. Delicious raw, they can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring[164]. The flowers are boiled and eaten as a vegetable[257]. Used in preserves[183].

    Flowering stem – cooked and used like asparagus[164]. The stems were slow baked for several hours, then dried and broken into pieces to store. They would be soaked in water to soften them before being eaten[257].

  • Cautionary Notes

    The roots contain saponins[222]. Whilst saponins are quite toxic to people, they are poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass straight through. They are also destroyed by prolonged heat, such as slow baking in an oven. Saponins are found in many common foods such as beans[K]. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – sow spring in a greenhouse. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water may reduce the germination time. It usually germinates within 1 – 12 months if kept at a temperature of 20¡c. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and consider giving them some winter protection for at least their first winter outdoors – a simple pane of glass is usually sufficient[K]. Seed is not produced in Britain unless the flowers are hand pollinated. Root cuttings in late winter or early spring. Lift in April/May and remove small buds from base of stem and rhizomes. Dip in dry wood ashes to stop any bleeding and plant in a sandy soil in pots in a greenhouse until established[78]. Division of suckers in late spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is best to pot up smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the following spring.
Thrives in any soil but prefers a sandy loam and full exposure to the south[11, 200]. Plants are hardier when grown on poor sandy soils[200]. Established plants develop a very deep, branching root system and are very drought resistant[82, 200]. Plants are not very hardy in Britain, requiring greenhouse protection according to some reports[1, 200] whilst another report says that they are hardy to about -30¡c[164]. A slow-growing and fairly long-lived plant, some specimens may be 300 years old[229]. In the plants native environment, its flowers can only be pollinated by a certain species of moth. This moth cannot live in Britain and, if fruit and seed is required, hand pollination is necessary. This can be quite easily and successfully done using something like a small paint brush. Individual crowns are monocarpic, dying after flowering[233]. However, the crown will usually produce a number of sideshoots before it dies and these will grow on to flower in later years[233]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Members of this genus seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[233]
Southern N. America – Texas. Arizona, northern Mexico.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.