Yucca

yuccaelephantipesPlants from the Yucca genus were used for centuries by Native American tribes for a variety of purposes.

There are some implications that these plants can be helpful in the treatment of hypertension, osteoarthritis and colitis, but there is no conclusive clinical evidence. Today they are mainly used for production of carbonated beverages and synthetic drugs, or as decorative plants.

According to the modern classification, plants from the Yucca genus belong to the subfamily Agavoideae in the Asparagaceae family. Highly adaptable, yucca plants are to be found in diverse ecosystems, from arid regions like deserts to prairies and even subtropical regions. The 49 yucca species are naturally distributed in dry and hot parts of South America and North America, Mexico and Caribbean.

These perennial plants are characterized by evergreen rosettes of thick, fleshy leaves shaped like swords and panicles of white flowers. They are hosts for the caterpillars of the Megathymus genus of skippers and are pollinated only by yucca moths. [1]

Today, yucca plants are highly used by landscape designers as architectural plants and grown in gardens like ornamental plants. Growing and caring for a yucca plant is easy. They require bright, but indirect light and have low water requirements. While indoors, it is best to place them in a partly shaded area and move them outside in late spring or summer. Light fertilization and well-draining heavy soil will optimize the growth. [2]

Native American tribes used fiber from the leaves of Yucca elata or soaptree to make baskets, belts, sandals, mats and ropes. The soap-like substance from inside the root was used to make soap and anti-dandruff shampoo. Other parts of the plant like leaves and blossoms were used for food consumption and beverage production. Ashes of burned yucca leaves were used in the making of so-called blue bread. Yucca plants are part of the American Indian cultural heritage and were used as tools in making arts and crafts. [3]

The yucca root contains steroidal saponins that are responsible for some of the health properties this plant has. Since saponins are precursors in the synthesis of cortisone, yucca can be used as anti-inflammatory and pain relief medicine. Evidence was found that saponins have anti-tumor properties and can be further used in cancer research. Yucca is rich with vitamins (vit. C, vit. A and B-complex), minerals (calcium, copper and manganese) and resveratrol that acts as a powerful antioxidant. [4]

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a plant that goes by the name yuca. It is not related to yucca but since they have similar pronunciation they are often confused and mixed. The root of yuca is rich in carbohydrates and therefore it is used as a major food source in developing countries. It is native to South America and has tremendous economical importance.

On the market, yucca is available in the form of capsules, powder or extract. Some clinical studies show that daily oral administration of yucca saponin extract is effective in the treatment of arthritis and helps lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Little is known about the side effects and contraindications of using yucca plant extracts, except that an overdose can cause indigestion. [5]