Name: Yucca (Yucca Filamentosa)
Otherwise known as: Palm Needle, Adam’s Needle, Hairdresser’s Delight
Habitat: An evergreen shrub member of the Agavaceae family growing up to 5m in desert soil and native to the South East United States. It is clump-forming and produces sword-like leaves that grow directly from the soft, thick stems that emerge from a massive root system. At times of frequent precipitation the plant produces spikes of highly aromatic, tulip-shaped white flowers.
What does it do: The medicine men of the southern Native American tribes have used the plant medicinally for centuries. Yucca contains saponins, sarsasapogens, similagens, sapogenin and like yams and vitex is a natural source of progesterone. The hormonal content is used to control cases of bleeding from the uterus and other menstrual disorders: the saponins make the plant a valuable cardiac stimulant and a treatment for calming inflamed blood vessels.
The plains tribes consider the stem and unopened flower a delicacy and regularly serve it at their ceremonies. The Hopi tribe make a demulcent from the roots to use as a cleansing agent for their priests and claim the same mixture will restore sight to blind dogs.
A number of American pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with the plant because there is a claim by the tribal medicine men that it can shrink tumours and prevent clumping in blood cells.
Yucca root, although poisonous, is a staple source of food – when cooked – among desert dwellers.
Care must be taken over the location of a Yucca because the roots will expand to fill the container and can prove extremely difficult to remove from a fixed planter.
Alexander McCowan is the author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants