4 Uses of Soapweed Yucca, a Blessing on the Plains

In a land that may seem bleak, knowing the uses of soapweed yucca is a must.

One of the most alluring aspects of learning about skills of the past is the new perspective you develop about the world. You’ll see things you never saw before, and begin to see abundance where you once saw only barrenness. Where once you saw a forest, you start to see a multitude of individual treasures scattered all about. Some food here. Some fire starting material there. The more you learn, the more incredible a few simple acres of woods becomes.

The same can be said for the expansive grasslands of our prairie lands. Our great prairie is where I call home at the moment. Historically, this area has always been one of low human population. For good reason too. There is an obvious lack of timber and running water, two things that have always been vital for human settlement. Prior to the migration of European Americans, Native American societies called these grasslands home. They were also sparsely settled and many had adapted a nomadic life well suited to this vast land. When the first European Americans came through this land in large numbers, it was only to pass through our Great American Desert. The thought of actually staying didn’t even cross their mind.

The misconception of our Great Plains as a vast wasteland is a myth that some still hold today. In truth though, our great grassland can in fact be a difficult place to scratch a living from the land. This is especially true when you talk about primitive living. Although difficult, there are a variety of plants and animals available that humans have been using for millennia to subsist in this exapansive land. One plant that people of the plains have traditionally found very useful is the ever-so-common soapweed yucca.

Soapweed yucca is one of the many varieties of yucca on the North American continent. It is characterized by the same features of many species. It has thin green leaves that terminate with a sharp needlelike point. Soapweed also has a woody center from which the plant’s flower blossoms grow. Chances are, if you’ve been through the Great Plains, you’ve seen this prolific plant.

Although soapweed is not a plant that will keep you alive for an extended period of time, it is a plant that can provide a variety of materials we can benefit from. That being said, here are the 4 uses of soapweed yucca that you can begin to experiment with.

Cordage

The first way that I came to realize the utility of yucca, was when I started making cordage from the leaves. Yucca has strong and fibrous leaves that make it ideal for that sort of use. For an in-depth explanation of how to turn yucca into stout cordage, reference this article I penned for Offthegridnews.com. Within an hour you can make a good amount of cordage for future use.

Yucca cordage

Yucca makes a natural needle and thread.

Another way to use yucca as cordage is to put the naturally spiked end of the plant to work. Anyone who has walked across the yucca covered plains will testify to the prickly nature of the plants. However, what we classify as a nuisance, can quickly be turned into a benefit with a change in perspective. To use the natural needle on each yucca leaf, you still have to get the outer layer off the leaf to bare open the fibers. To do so, pound the leaf between two pieces of wood. As you do so you’ll begin to notice the outside beginning to flake off. At that point you just need to scrape off the waste to access the fibers. Pound the entire leaf except the last 2 or 3 inches. You can separate the fibers to make them more flexible, decrease the number to decrease the diameter, or leave them as they are.

After the quick process you’ll be holding an all-natural needle and thread in your hand. The point is strong and sharp enough to punch through denim, and can sew up nearly anything. This quick and easy cordage surely wasn’t lost on the ancestral people of this land.

Fire

Yucca hearthboard.

Soft yucca hearthboard.

Another of the many uses of soapweed yucca to start friction fires. It has one of the lowest combustion temperatures of any wood, which makes it a great wood choice. The portion to use is the woody stalk at the center of the plant. As with any wood, make sure to select dead and seasoned stalks. Personally, I’ve had the best luck using yucca as a hearth board and a mullein spindle when practicing my hand drill. That being said, many people out there can quickly bring a coal to life using yucca as the spindle and hearth board. It was one of the favored woods of people in the past for starting friction fires.

Soap

Perhaps the most well-known use of soapweed yucca is where it derives its name; making soap. The natural soap yucca provides has been used for eons on this continent, and still cleans just as good as it ever has. Within the root of the plant there is a compound called saponin. This compound is the agent that you need to get at to make soap.

To make soap you’ll first have to gather some yucca root. When digging, give a fairly wide berth around the plant to get as much of the root as possible. Once the plant is removed from the soil, take a few minutes to shave off the woody exterior of the root. Next, dice the root into smaller portions. The smaller you make the pieces, the easier making soap will be.

Yucca soap

All natural yucca soap and shampoo.

With your yucca root chopped into smaller pieces, drop them into a sturdy container and add a small bit of water. Don’t overdo it on the water. You can easily add more water, while removing it once you start the process can cause you to lose some of the soap. Once your water is added, begin to mash the roots. You can use stones, wood, or whatever tool you can devise. As you mash the roots you’ll begin to notice a small bit of saponin secrete from them. Mix this with the water and soon you’ll have a very foamy soap you can use as needed. You can also use it as both a soap and a natural shampoo. Before you dive into using it though, you may want to do a skin test. Some people are allergic to the saponin that creates the soap.

Like all primitive skills, if you give making yucca soap a try, you’ll not only better understand our natural world, but you’ll have a better grasp of the past as well.

Food

The final use of soapweed yucca is its value as a food source. While this prolific plant doesn’t provide us with copious amounts of calories, at certain times of the year it does offer a small snack. What you’ll need to search for are yuccas in bloom. The flowers of soapweed yucca are a crisp and tasty treat if you catch them at the right time of year. Be sure to shake them out, as the creases of the flower are a great place for insects to roost. I’m sure you can cook the leaves somehow, but enjoying them off the plant provides a refreshing snack on a hot day.

As you can see, soapweed yucca is a very useful plant. Although it can’t be regarded as an abundant food source, it can provide other necessities that can add to your knowledge of primitive skills. It is a very useful plant in regards to cordage, and is one of your only option for fire on the grassy plains. You can also make a fine soap if you want to experiment with primitive skills. As with all primitive skills, it is one thing to know about the process. It is another thing entirely to practice it. By actually putting the ancestral knowledge into action, we can continue to keep our most ancient knowledge alive.

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Thanks for reading this article on the 4 uses of soapweed yucca.  If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. For those interested in learning more about the uses of different plants, you might find this article useful about the 8 uses of cattail from hunting to dinner plate.

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