Is yucca a cactus

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

For nearly a year, I’d had my eye on a little patch of yucca plants growing in a vacant lot in Fair Oaks, near my house. And for most of that year, the patch looked like nothing more than a living asterisk, a round, spiky blob nestled beneath an oak tree. Every day as I drove to work, I watched it. Waiting.

Then, not too long ago, the little yucca plants each sent up the world’s largest asparagus stalk. Once I saw that, I knew it would soon be time. Sure enough, a couple weeks later, the asparagus stalk sprouted a spray of some of the most beautiful flowers you’d ever want to see: Like upturned tulips, they were creamy, slightly greenish, fragrant — end edible.

Eating yucca flowers is not so strange as it may seem. Most of the plant is edible, actually, and many people eat that asparagus stalk. I might, if I lived in the Southwest, where yucca is everywhere and some, like the century plant, sport stalks 30 feet high. Most of the Native American tribes who lived around yucca used the plant extensively: They ate the flowers, stalks and fruits, used the fibrous, spiky leaves for cordage, and mashed the pulpy root with water for soap.

You do need to watch for ants and other critters in the flowers, as the nectar is irresistible to them, and there is a particular moth that pollinates yucca in return for depositing its larvae on the flowers; larvae are not good eats. But the grubs are rarely on the petals, and it is only the petals you eat.

I thought my little yucca patch was an anomaly, that is was a rarity in Sacramento. It’s not. Once I spotted the flower stalk, I began seeing them everywhere. Then I left town on book tour and was amazed. Everywhere I went, from California to the desert Southwest to Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, I saw yucca in bloom. Such a pretty sight. A huge swath of yucca is in glorious bloom in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles right now; I passed them on the road Thursday.

A quick check of the literature and I found that some form of yucca grows from NorCal across all the southern states, and up into the Great Plains all the way into Alberta, Canada — where it is, apparently, endangered. While I don’t know this as a fact, I would bet money that the heartland of the yucca is the stretch of desert between western New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona — I drove through forests of yucca there.

Enough geography. Why on earth would you want to eat a yucca flower? Well, because they’re tasty! The flavor varies depending on species and on how old the flower is; older flowers can become bitter. But in general, the flower petals — again, you only eat the petals — are firm, slightly crunchy, and taste like a combination of a green bean and the innermost leaves of an artichoke.

Those I’ve eaten raw will make the back of your throat a little scratchy if you eat a bunch of them. Cooking seems to stop this from happening.

Most recipes for yucca flowers involve eggs. They seem to like each other very much. Omelets, frittatas, huevos rancheros, eggs, yucca, tomatoes and chiles, etc. etc. I’ve also seen them sliced and tossed into tomato-based soups. So I guess yucca flowers like tomatoes, too. But that’s not the fate I had in mind when I picked a bunch of flowers recently.

Nope. I had a nefarious plan that involved hot oil.

Everyone loves fried squash blossoms, right? And everyone loves tempura, too. So I decided to tempura-fry my yucca petals, with a twist: Because yucca lives alongside mesquite, I would add mesquite flour to the tempura batter.

Ever eat mesquite flour? It’s some pretty awesome stuff. It’s made from ground, dried bean pods from this desert tree. The flavor is warm, chocolatey and spicy. Almost sweet. More on mesquite flour later.

I happen to be pretty good with tempura batter, and the addition of the mesquite did not screw things up, thankfully. The result was airy, crispy and warm. The yucca blossoms had that hit of artichoke leaf in the center, but I missed it in a few bites — next time I will stack 3 yucca petals together before I dip them in the batter, to get more of the yucca taste.

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Definitely try this recipe. It’s got it all: Crunch, unusual flavor, wild ingredients, and, let’s face it, it’s fried. Depending on where you are, you will need to go out and pillage some yucca flowers soon. They’re only around in late spring, and only in wet years. So gather ye yucca while ye may…

5 from 3 votes

Fried Yucca flowers

This recipe may sound weird, and, well, maybe it is, but the structure of it is easy: It’s a tempura batter over a flower petal, fried for a couple minutes in hot oil. You can serve it with hot sauce, or by itself. The closest flavor substitute for a yucca flower would be the inner layer of leaves on an artichoke — the yellow leaves you can eat whole. You can also use squash blossoms here, too. If you cannot get mesquite flour, which is available online or at Whole Foods, you can skip it and use regular flour instead. Prep Time15 mins Cook Time10 mins Total Time25 mins Course: Appetizer Cuisine: American Servings: 4 people Author: Hank Shaw

Ingredients

  • Petals from 12-15 yucca flowers
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour or rice flour
  • 1/4 cup mesquite flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 cup sparkling water, ice cold
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Oil for frying
  • A chopstick or wooden skewer

Instructions

  • Set out a large wire rack with some paper towels underneath to drain the finished yucca petals.
  • Pull the petals from the yucca flowers and snip off any part of the green base of the petal that might still be attached.
  • Heat your oil in a fryer or a large, heavy pot to 360°F.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together in a large bowl. When you are ready to fry, mix in the egg yolk and then the ice cold sparkling water. Mix only enough to combine the ingredients; a few lumps are fine.
  • Grab three yucca petals together in a stack, and dip them into the batter. Drop them into the hot oil one at a time, maybe 4-5 stacks per batch. Do not crowd the pot. Once they are all in the oil, use the chopstick to dislodge them from the bottom of the pot if the flowers have stuck there. Fry for 2-3 minutes, flipping once with the chopstick.
  • Drain on the rack and finish with the rest of the flowers. Serve immediately with hot sauce.

More Recipes for Foraged Foods

Yucca Uses – Can You Grow Yucca Plant As Food

The difference between yuca and yucca is broader than a simple “C” lacking in the spelling. Yuca, or cassava, is a historically important global food source utilized for its carbohydrate rich (30% starch) nutrients, while its similarly named counterpart, yucca, is at least in modern times an ornamental plant. So, is yucca edible as well?

Is Yucca Edible?

While yucca and yuca are not botanically related and are native to different climates, they do have the similarity of being used as a food source. The two get confused due to that missing “C,” but yuca is the plant you may have tried in trendy Latin bistros. Yuca is the plant from which tapioca flour and pearls are derived.

Yucca, on the other hand, is most notable for its more common use as an ornamental plant specimen. It is an evergreen plant with stiff, spine tipped leaves that grow around a thick, central stalk. It is commonly seen in tropical or arid landscapes.

That said, at one point in history, yucca was used as a food source, although not so

much for its root, but more for its blossoms and the resultant sweet fruit which is high in carbohydrates.

Yucca Uses

Although growing yucca for food is less common than yuca, yucca has many other uses. More common yucca uses stem from the employment of the tough leaves as fiber sources for weaving, while the central stalk and sometimes the roots can be made into a strong soap. Archeological sites have yielded traps, snares and baskets made from yucca components.

Almost all of the yucca plant can be used as food. The stems, leaf bases, flowers, emerging stalks as well as the fruit of most types of yucca are edible. The stems or trunks of yucca store carbohydrates in chemicals called saponins, which are toxic, not to mention taste of soap. To render them edible, the saponins need to be broken down by baking or boiling.

Flower stalks need to be removed from the plant well before they bloom or they become fibrous and tasteless. They can be cooked, or when very newly emerged, eaten raw while still tender and resembling large asparagus stalks. The flowers themselves must apparently be picked at just exactly the right time for optimal flavor.

The fruit is the most desired part of the plant when utilizing the yucca plant as a food source. Edible yucca fruit only comes from the thick-leaf varieties of yucca. It is about 4 inches long and is usually roasted or baked engendering a sweet, molasses or fig-like flavor.

The fruit can also be dried and used thus or pounded into a type of sweet meal. The meal can be made into a sweet cake and kept for some time. Baked or dried, the fruit will keep for several months. Yucca fruit can be harvested before it is totally ripe and then allowed to ripen.

Besides growing yucca fruit for food, it was used historically as a laxative. Native peoples used the sap to treat skin issues or an infusion of the roots to treat lice infestations.

More Yucca Uses: Food, Soap, Fire Starters, and Fishing

In our first post about Yucca plants, we showed how to turn the fibrous leaves into improvised cordage, which is an invaluable skill if you’re going to be trying to survive in a desert environment. However, there are many other Yucca uses, from food to fire-starting. This plant is jam-packed with useful materials and resources.

First of all, Yucca can be made into primitive soap or shampoo. There’s even a variety of Yucca called “soaptree” due to its high saponin content. Just grind and squeeze Yucca roots, as seen in the video below:

Secondly, Yucca plants feature some edible components. Specifically, the white Yucca flowers can be boiled, roasted, or eaten raw (although raw flowers may taste bitter and cause a stomach ache for some). Here’s a recipe for sauteed Yucca flowers with chipotle and garlic, if you want to get all epicurean. The Yucca fruits can also be cooked or eaten raw, and seeds can be roasted, ground, and boiled. Even the young flower stalks are edible.

The white Yucca flower blossoms can be bitter if eaten raw, so boil them to mellow the flavor.

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The dry brown leaves, fibers, and stalks of Yucca plants make for excellent tinder material for starting fires. In fact, the wood in a dry Yucca stalk has one of the lowest kindling points of any type of wood, so it ignites very easily. Just grab some dry Yucca leaves or wood and hit them with your favorite fire-starter—you’ll have a crackling fire going in no time.

Can you spot the Yucca plant? Yeah, it’s kind of hard to miss, actually.

Yucca juice can even be used to stun or kill fish, and has been used for this purpose by many Native American tribes. If you extract the liquid from crushing Yucca leaves or roots (as seen in the soap video above), and then pour it into streams or ponds with a high density of fish, those fish will be temporarily paralyzed and can be collected easily. It’s theorized that this was one of the earliest methods of fish farming in the Americas.

Note: poisoning fish is illegal, so only use this method as a last resort if you need food to survive.

If you can’t craft a fishing line and hook in a survival scenario, Yucca juice can stun fish temporarily.

Finally, here’s some icing on the cake: the Yucca plant (not to be confused with Yuca, a different species also known as Cassava) is a close relative to the Agave, which is the key to creating Tequila. Now, we wouldn’t recommend trying to brew up some Yucca moonshine, but in theory it could be done. Just sayin’.

The Many Uses and Benefits of Yucca

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by Guest Blogger Jenny Holt

The yucca, not to be confused with the yuca or cassava root, is a plant native to the hot dry areas or the Americas and the Caribbean; it adapts to a variety of climates and can, to some extent, resist droughts. There are more than 40 species of yucca in the world and around 24 subspecies, creating an incredible variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

Yuccas are a popular choice as indoor and outdoor design plants and are often used for xeriscape landscapes but they can also be grown in containers while maintaining their beneficial properties. Container gardening can be an excellent choice if you want to grow your own medicinal plants or food but feel limited with regard to space and sunshine.

The Health Benefits of Yucca

Yucca flowers and fruit are nutritious and high in carbohydrates. The root, though not as tasty, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, containing important nutrients such as vitamins B, C, iron and calcium. The plant has also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, colitis, hypertension and migraine headaches. The high amount of vitamin C and antioxidants present in the plant also boosts the immune system and overall health, protecting us from cell mutations and free radical damage. Furthermore, when placed indoors the yucca has notable air cleaning properties and is able to remove toxins from the air.

Yucca can also be used to make an all-natural shampoo and soap which is delicate on the skin and contributes to healing rashes and minor scratches.

How to Care for Yucca Plants

Yucca plant care is very simple, as yucca plants require little water and attention. It is best to place them in an area where there is sufficient but not direct sunlight, as direct sunlight, while increasing growth may cause browning tips or white, necrotic spots on the leaves. A light fertilization will help the plant grow but is not necessary for fully grown yuccas. Soil must be heavy enough to maintain the plant upright and well-draining; a three to one mixture of sand and peat is ideal for effective yucca growth in containers.

Yuccas will germinate quickly from fresh seed held over winter, and they germinate best in 60-70 degree temperatures. The seeds must be black or very dark brown and start to show signs of splitting; if they are still green, they are not ready to be removed from the original plant. Yuccas can also grow from stem cuttings, rhizomes and digging offsets from established plants.

The yucca is therefore a simple to care for but effective and beneficial plant, which every gardener should have in their home garden.

Author: Jenny Holt

Jennifer Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two, who loves nothing more than to play, “where has the cat hidden itself now.”

Yucca Yucca spp

Works Cited

  1. Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects of Yucca schidigera: a review. Cheeke PR, Piacente S, Oleszek W. “, 16571135:PubMed
  2. It has been postulated that saponins may have anti-arthritic properties by suppressing intestinal protozoa which may have a role in joint inflammation. Yucca is also a rich source of polyphenolics, including resveratrol and a number of other stilbenes (yuccaols A, B, C, D and E). These phenolics have anti-inflammatory activity. They are inhibitors of the nuclear transcription factor NFkappaB. NFkB stimulates synthesis of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), which causes formation of the inflammatory agent nitric oxide. Yucca phenolics are also anti-oxidants and free-radical scavengers, which may aid in suppressing reactive oxygen species that stimulate inflammatory responses. Based on these findings, further studies on the anti-arthritic effects of Yucca schidigera are warranted.

  3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Adam’s Needle 2006, Natural Standard Researchers at the Second University of Naples in Italy concluded that the anti-inflammatory properties attributed to Yucca schidigera may be ascribed to both resveratrol and Yuccaols and provide the first evidences of the anti-tumor and anti-invasive properties of these phenolic compounds.

Rich in calories, carbohydrates and vitamin C, plus highly versatile and full of flavor, yucca root is an important dietary component for millions around the world. It can be mashed, boiled, baked or fried and swapped in for potatoes in just about any recipe. It’s also used to make a variety of gluten-free flours and food thickeners, such as arrowroot, tapioca and cassava flour.

With its wide range of micronutrients and antioxidants, adding yucca root into your diet can come with a long list of potential health benefits. Here’s what you need to know about this tasty root vegetable and how it can impact your health.

What Is Yucca Root?

Yucca, also known as cassava, yuca, Brazilian arrowroot or Manihot esculenta, is a type of shrub native to South America. It is often cultivated in tropical regions for its starchy root, which is considered a dietary staple for an estimated half billion people around the world. In fact, after corn and maize, yucca root is considered the third largest source of carbohydrates in the tropics. (1)

Available in both bitter and sweet varieties, the yucca root taste is often compared to potatoes, and it also has a stringy texture reminiscent of pumpkin. It’s usually boiled, fried or ground up into different flours and powders used for baking.

Keep in mind that yucca root is unrelated to the yucca plant, which is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees that produces white yucca flower clusters as well as yucca fruit. Many of these plants are used medicinally and also consumed in many different dishes. Some of the common types of yucca plants include Yucca filamentosa, Yucca gloriosa, Yucca elephantipes, Yucca brevifolia and Yucca schidigera.

Yucca Root Benefits

  1. Protects Against Oxidative Stress
  2. Supports Immune Function
  3. Promotes Skin Health
  4. Relieves Arthritis Pain
  5. Has a Low Glycemic Index

1. Protects Against Oxidative Stress

Yucca is high in antioxidants, which are beneficial compounds that neutralize free radicals to prevent oxidative stress and damage to your cells. Research suggests that antioxidants play a central role in overall health and may be protective against many chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. (2)

Yucca root also contains a concentrated dose of both vitamin C and manganese, two micronutrients that can also help minimize oxidative stress. A study published by the Research Center for Cancer Prevention and Screening National Cancer Center, for example, showed that supplementing with vitamin C for five years significantly reduced oxidative stress and free radical formation. (3) Another in vitro study out of Italy found that manganese was significantly more effective than several other nutrients at scavenging free radicals and preventing oxidative stress. (4)

2. Supports Immune Function

There’s no doubt that maintaining a strong immune system is key to overall health. Your immune system is responsible for warding off foreign invaders and keeping harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi out of the body to protect against illness and infection.

Loaded with beneficial antioxidants and vitamin C, adding yucca into your diet is a simple way to give your immune system a healthy boost. In fact, one study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism showed that getting enough vitamin C was able to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory infections like the common cold. It’s also been shown to improve outcomes for conditions like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea infections. (5) Antioxidants, on the other hand, help fight free radicals and protect against oxidative stress to prevent damage to your immune cells. (6)

3. Promotes Skin Health

Yucca root is a common ingredient found in many natural skin care routines. The peel can be used to exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells while the roots can be mixed with honey or olive oil and applied as a skin mask to brighten the complexion.

Even consuming yucca root in your favorite recipes can help keep your skin glowing. It’s packed with vitamin C, a nutrient involved in the synthesis of collagen that is believed to have anti-aging properties. Vitamin C can also protect against sun damage by scavenging harmful free radicals and has even been shown to suppress melanin production to aid in the prevention of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. (7)

4. Relieves Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a condition characterized by painful swelling and stiffness in the joints. Thanks to its rich content of both antioxidants and manganese, incorporating yucca root into your diet may be especially useful in providing relief from rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Manganese is often recommended as a natural remedy for arthritis, and one study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology even showed that manganese supplementation was associated with a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis in older women. (8) Similarly, the antioxidants in yucca root may also be especially beneficial in alleviating inflammation and reducing arthritis symptoms, with one study from India reporting that people with rheumatoid arthritis had significantly lower serum concentrations of antioxidants than those without arthritis. (9)

5. Has a Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measure of how much a certain food can raise your blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycemic index can shoot up blood sugar levels rapidly, which can lead to diabetes symptoms like fatigue and unintentional weight loss.

Compared to many other starches, yucca has a fairly low glycemic index of just 46. Conversely, boiled potatoes have a glycemic index of 78, and white rice has a glycemic index of 73. (10) For this reason, yucca is often considered a “good carb” and may be a better alternative to many other carbohydrates when it comes to blood sugar control.

Of course, keep in mind that yucca is still high in carbohydrates. If you have diabetes or are on a carb-controlled diet, it’s best to include this starchy vegetable only in moderation and pair it with plenty of healthy fats and proteins to help maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Yucca Root Nutrition

Yucca root is high in calories and carbohydrates, but it also contains a good chunk of the fiber, vitamin C and manganese that you need in a day.

One cup (about 206 grams) of yucca root contains approximately: (11)

  • 330 calories
  • 78.4 grams carbohydrates
  • 2.8 grams protein
  • 0.6 gram fat
  • 3.7 grams dietary fiber
  • 42.4 milligrams vitamin C (71 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligram manganese (40 percent DV)
  • 558 milligrams potassium (16 percent DV)
  • 55.6 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
  • 43.3 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (9 percent DV)
  • 1.8 milligrams niacin (9 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram riboflavin (6 percent DV)
  • 55.6 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
  • 3.9 micrograms vitamin K (5 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)

In addition to the nutrients listed above, yucca root also contains a small amount of vitamin E, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron and selenium.

Yucca Root in Ayurveda

Although not commonly used in holistic medicine, yucca root fits right into an Ayurvedic diet, which encourages eating with the seasons and filling your diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to support better health. Cooked root vegetables like yucca work especially well for those with vata doshas, as they are considered more heavy and anchoring. Historically, yucca was also used by indigenous people to help treat fever and chills, promote female fertility and soothe sore muscles.

Yucca Root vs. Yams vs. Cassava

So what’s the difference between these common root vegetables? Yucca root and cassava are actually the same plant, but the terms “yucca root” or “yuca” are more commonly used in the United States and in Spanish. Yams, on the other hand, are another type of edible tuber but actually belong to an entirely different genus of plants.

While yucca is native to South America, yams are actually widely grown across Asia, Africa and the Americas. They have a rough skin that softens when heated, and they can range in color from dark brown to pink. They can be prepared similarly to yucca and can be swapped in place of potatoes and boiled, mashed or baked in a variety of recipes.

Gram for gram in terms of nutrition, yams are lower in calories and carbohydrates but also contain nearly double the fiber as yucca. They are slightly lower in vitamin C but contain a higher amount of other nutrients such as vitamin B6 and potassium. (12)

Where to Find and How to Use Yucca

You can usually find yucca in the produce section of your local grocery store, right alongside other tubers, such as sweet potatoes and yams. In some cases, you may need to expand your search and check out some Latin or Asian specialty markets to find it. It can also sometimes be found pre-peeled and cut in the freezer section as well. Be sure to look for it under its other names, such as yuca or cassava.

Wondering how to cook yucca to take advantage of the multitude of health benefits that it has to offer? There are plenty of delicious yucca recipes out there, from soups and stews to custards and cakes. It can be used in many of the same ways as regular potatoes. Fried yucca is often used to make yucca root fries, chips or fritters, but it can also boiled and mashed for a healthier twist on mashed potatoes.

In addition to fresh yucca, you can also easily find cassava flour, which is made from yucca root powder, in the baking section of most grocery stores. This popular gluten-free alternative to regular flour works great for baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, brownies and crepes. Tapioca flour (or tapioca starch) is another type of flour made from yucca, but it’s made from starch of the root while cassava flour is made from the entire root. Tapioca flour works well for thickening liquids and making homemade puddings. Arrowroot is another popular ingredient made from a blend of yucca with other roots, which is usually added to biscuits, jellies and broths.

Yucca Root Recipes

Looking for a few creative ways to enjoy the many nutrients and health benefits that this starchy vegetable has to offer? Here are some yucca root recipe ideas that you can start experimenting with:

  • Crispy Baked Yucca Fries
  • Veggie-Based Yucca Pizza Crust
  • Yucca Root Chips
  • Cassava Bacon
  • Yucca and Sweet Potato Soup

History

Native to South America, it’s believed that yucca root was originally domesticated no more than 10,000 years ago, around the origins of human agriculture. (13) However, the oldest evidence of yucca food is from approximately 1,400 years ago at Joya de Cerén, a Mayan farming community in El Salvador.

By 1492, yucca root was already a staple in the diets of the indigenous people of South America, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean and is often featured in many forms of indigenous art, from paintings to ceramics. Following the European occupation of these regions, consumption of yucca root became more widespread, and Cuba even began mass-producing cassava bread.

It was later introduced to other areas, such as Africa and Asia, by European traders and has since become an important ingredient around the world. Today, Nigeria tops the charts as one of the biggest producers of yucca root, followed by Nigeria, Thailand and Brazil. (14)

Precautions

Although yucca root offers plenty of nutrients and health benefits, it’s also high in calories and carbohydrates and should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Add yucca root to your meals as a starch in place of potatoes or grains, but be sure to also pair it with plenty of non-starchy vegetables and healthy protein foods to balance your meal.

Additionally, proper preparation is key when consuming yucca root. The roots of the yucca plant contain a substance that can trigger the production of toxins, such as cyanide, when not processed correctly. Improper cooking can cause yucca root side effects, such as vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness and headaches.

Opt for sweet varieties over bitter whenever possible, and be sure to peel yucca, cut it and cook it thoroughly before enjoying. Some research also shows that soaking it for 48 to 60 hours before cooking can significantly cut down on the potential for toxicity. (15)

Yucca root also contains antinutrients, which are compounds that can interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. For most people who eat yucca root in moderation, this shouldn’t be a major concern, but it can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies for populations who use it as a dietary staple.

Final Thoughts

  • Yucca, or cassava, is a type of shrub native to South America that is widely cultivated for its starchy edible root.
  • Although high in calories and carbohydrates, yucca root also boasts a good amount of important nutrients, such as vitamin C, manganese and potassium.
  • Adding yucca root to your diet may help strengthen your immune system, boost skin health, reduce arthritis symptoms, protect against oxidative stress and keep blood sugar steady.
  • It can be fried, boiled or mashed and added to many different types of recipes, from soups to stews to fries and beyond.
  • To take full advantage of the health benefits of yucca, be sure to cook thoroughly, soak it before preparing, and pair it with a well-balanced and healthy diet.

Read Next: Cassava Flour: The Best Grain-Free Baking Alternative?

Can You Eat a Yucca Plant?

I see them for sale in the fruit and vegetable aisle of supermarkets in Spain. And for sale at my local food market.
A local fruit and veg seller calls it the “Spanish Bayonet.”
So what on earth do you do with a yucca in the kitchen and which part of the plant can you eat?
I have taken advice from those in the know.
Adele writes a blog called The Food We Eat.
She says: “Using a small, sharp knife, make a slit down the middle of the plant, the long way. Using the edge of the knife, edge the blade under the skin and start to move the knife along until the whole skin comes off. Once you get this going a bit, the skin very easily detaches itself, usually in one piece.
“Cut the pieces into 4 sections, the long way. The pieces will look like triangles with one round edge. Use the knife to cut away the tough, stringy little root that is at the pointed edge of these pieces. You may have to cut it out of one of the pieces, or all four, depending on how big it was.
“Put the pieces in a pot, cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool, cover and store in the fridge over night.
“When you are ready to eat the yucca plant, heat a generous amount of oil in a deep fryer or a deep pot with a cover. Submerge the pieces of cooked yucca in the hot oil and fry for a few minutes, turning over once in a while. Remove from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up some of the oil. The outside will be crispy and slightly yellowed, while the inside will be soft and white. Salt and pepper generously the tops of the cooked yucca.”
It is served alone or with vegetables or rice.
But is Yucca good for you, or only something to eat if the cupboard is otherwise empty?
Matthew Austin writes interestingly about food you can survive on, for example if you are lost in the wild. I have no plans to do so, but knowledge is power!
He says: “The roots of the Yucca are high in vitamins and carbohydrates and can be used as an anti-inflammatory to treat the pain and swelling associated with arthritis. They can be cooked and eaten just like potatoes and, in fact, taste quite similar.
“Yucca root is still considered a staple in many countries, but has been ruled out in America because of its high content of a plant compound called Saponin, which can be toxic in large doses.
“Although there have been no reported cases of anyone dying from eating Yucca roots, the threat is still present. Some of that threat can be eliminated by boiling the roots through one change of water. This will remove most of the saponin from the roots and make them more palatable and easier to digest.
“Yucca flowers, meanwhile, have a mild sweet taste to them. You can eat them raw or boil them and add them to soups and stews; however, I recommend cooking everything before eating it. Raw plant material is extremely hard on the stomach.
“I have never liked the taste of the Yucca’s fruits raw or cooked. They have always tasted like bitter squash to me and have an astringent aftertaste that reminds me of raw persimmon. But, in a survival situation you want to use every available food source that you can get your hands on.
“One of the main problems with Yucca fruit is that they have to be eaten at a particular time to be of any use to you. Under-ripened fruits are usually too bitter to stomach and over-ripened fruits are too hard to eat. There is a magical window in between these two stages where the fruit will be white and tender on the inside — those are the fruits that you want to harvest and eat.
“Cook them just like you would the roots to remove some of the bitter taste and eat them right out of the shell or add them to soups and stews.”
Son now you know. And so do I.

3 Uncommon Root Vegetables to Try: Taro, Yucca, and White Sweet Potato

Earlier this spring, I turned my diet upside down. With the guidance of my healthcare professionals, I started a modified version of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) to reduce inflammation in my body. This alternative approach is focused on healing the gut through a very specific diet to calm some of the issues associated with autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, Celiac disease, and lupus.

While following the AIP, I learned how to cook root vegetables that were completely new to my palate. Since white potatoes aren’t allowed during the elimination phase of the AIP, I often turned to sweet potatoes. But, after a while, they got a little boring. So I started eating taro, yucca, and white sweet potatoes. Are you feeling confused? I was too, but then these versatile root veggies became part of my weekly grocery list. For the most part, they can be used in recipes where you’d usually use white potatoes.

Three New Vegetables to Try

Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, author of The Healing Kitchen, says autoimmune disease affects an estimated 50 million Americans, and, although you can be genetically predisposed to autoimmunity, two-thirds of your risk stems from your dietary choices and environment. So, to help soothe these conditions, it’s possible to work with diet, exercise, and mental health to live a healthier life. After hearing this, I was all-in!

Taro

This root is popular in Hawaii, since it’s the base for poi, a regional staple. The tuber looks like a small, hairy potato. When sliced, a light colored flesh with tiny purple flecks is revealed. Taro is popular because it’s hypoallergenic, inexpensive, and very filling. It has three times more fiber than a white potato, which aids in digestion, and ample amounts of iron, magnesium, and potassium.

I like to boil or roast the veggie with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil in a hot oven, much like roasting sliced potatoes. Cooked taro root is starchy, with a similar texture and flavor to white potatoes. But you don’t want to eat taro raw. The uncooked starch contains needle-like calcium oxalate crystals, which may lead to oral irritation or even kidney stones.

Yucca

This Central American root veggie is larger than a sweet potato with a thick, waxy skin. Native Americans have eaten it for years to potentially help with arthritis pain and benefit immune system functioning, thanks to the tuber’s high vitamin C content, antioxidants, folate, and potassium.

I decided I like yucca so much, I created an AIP-compliant (dairy-free) creamy soup with it that mirrors a favorite leek and potato recipe I used to make often. The tubers can also be baked like a giant potato, but be sure to gently remove the tough, rope-like fibers running down the middle of the root after baking.

White Sweet Potatoes

These root vegetables are also known as Cuban sweet potatoes or boniato. The outer skin is red or light tan, while the inside is white. White sweet potatoes are packed with potassium, fiber, and assorted vitamins. I find that these are less sweet than the more common orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, making them perfect for more savory dishes. I like to mash them or cut them into wedges and roast them with a little extra virgin olive oil.

This unexpected health journey has actually been beneficial in so many ways. I’m now more confident in the kitchen, love to experiment with new-to-me produce, and have added unexpected variety to meals. Whether you need to follow a special diet or not, consider picking up an uncommon fruit or vegetable at the grocery store or farmers market on your next visit. You might just discover a new favorite food!

What healthy fruits and vegetables have you been preparing this week? Show us a photo @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Angela Tague

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom’s of Maine.

Delicious yucca flowers foraged from Aurora Colorado.

The yucca around Denver is in full bloom right now, such that when we went to Gregg’s parents’ house a few days ago on June 18, the hillside in the field across the street was covered with spires of the bulbous white and sometimes purplish flowers. Unfortunately, they were protected from would-be foragers by a network of wire and wooden fences, not to mention a small amount of cow traffic.

Gregg’s parents live in a 55-and-over “active adult community” in Aurora. Folks are always out and about—walking, running, swimming, playing tennis and golf. But I figured if we got up early in the morning and headed out there we might avoid a few looks as we scaled a fence I’d scoped out, one that got us to a small 10×20-yard patch of yucca that wasn’t encircled by the second, interior, cow-protecting fence.

The plan worked and we set to harvesting a few yucca flowers from each plant, checking for bugs first and snipping them into our bags while taking care not to get poked by the sharp leaves. In the midst of our foraging, however, an over-55 woman drove up to a town-home on the hillside nearby and demanded to know what we were doing.

Yucca flowers close-up.

I shrunk back, nervous and afraid to get caught in the act. But Gregg—you should have seen him—he stepped right up and explained happily that we were picking yucca TO EAT!”

To which the lady replied, “That’s private property, you know.”

I was ready to make a run for it, but Gregg didn’t skip a beat; he stuck his chest out and communicated, in a friendly but firm manner, that his parents live across the street, followed by a practiced recitation of their home address, so that by the end of it, she practically invited us to stay and pick! I was a little shook up, though, so we took a few more flowers and hit the road.

Yucca Pistils and Stamens—To Eat or Not to Eat?

In Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate (1993), Cathy Wilkinson Barash says that when eating flowers, one should remove the pistils and stamens and eat only the petals. Although I have found numerous sources that say the same thing, I still have yet to find one that explains why.

Here you can see the pistil and stamens.

The claim is repeated by Arlene Wright Correll in her online entry, Please Eat the Daisies and Other Edible Flowers (which is an interesting page, by the way, as it contains a long list of edible flowers and numerous recipes, though not one for yucca). Regarding yucca specifically, she has this information: “Only the petals are edible. Other parts contain saponin which is poisonous. Large amounts may be harmful.”

University of California Master Gardener Dorothy M. Downing (2010) indicates that for those with allergies, edible flowers should be introduced into the diet gradually. “Some sources suggest that if you have asthma or hay fever, you shouldn’t eat flowers at all,” she writes.

Finally, Eat The Weeds blogger, Deane Jordan (aka “Green Deane”) indicates from personal experience that raw yucca petals “usually give a stomach ache, at best throat ache.” Jordan therefore urges readers to try raw blossoms carefully, starting with one petal first and waiting 20 minutes to see if one’s throat feels dry or bitter. “If so these flowers should be cooked,” he concludes. (Incidentally, I’ve just found Green Deane’s Eat The Weeds You Tube channel. I have yet to check it out on my slow, slow internet, but it looks to be very comprehensive.)

Representing the flip side of these arguments is my trusted foraging companion, Best-Tasting Wild Plants of Colorado and the Rockies (1998) by Cattail Bob Seebeck, which indicates that all plants in the Yucca genus are edible, and that the edible parts are “flower buds, flowers, and young fruits” with no mention of removing the pistils or stamens. Similarly, in Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West (1997), Gregory Tilford states regarding yucca that “the flowers of all species are edible and have a delicate, sweet flavor and juicy tenderness that brings the root vegetable jicama to mind.” A quick perusal of the other wild edible plants guides in my possession yielded mixed results; some say to eat the petals; others say to eat the flowers in their entirety.

So here we go again—the deeper I get into my wild plant studies, the more conflicting information I find. Egad.

My Yucca Guidelines May Not Be the Same as Yours

The first time we tried yucca, Gregg dived right in and ate a raw bud even though I warned him not to. From that, he experienced slight discomfort in his throat, similar to what Green Deane describes. So we cook our yucca flowers.

To recap the above arguments, several writers warn not to eat flower pistils and stamens in general, for reasons I have yet to discover. Correll says not to eat yucca pistils and stamens in particular on account of saponin, about which she says “large amounts may be harmful.” Saponin is an ingredient in many commercial foaming agents (Derig and Fuller, 2001). Yuccas contain saponin, which is why native people used yucca roots as soap (Tilford, 1997).

Florescent green Yucca Flower Scramble for breakfast.

That being said, I have eaten small quantities of wild plants that contain saponin before, the most notable of which is soapberry (Sheperdia canadensis). The key here may be to consume in small quantities, and to avoid over-consumption particularly if you suffer from grave health problems. This is certainly the case with other plants—both wild and domesticated—such as those that contain oxalates (see oxalates section in Reconciling Docks).

As for yucca, Gregg and I usually do eat the pistils and stamens, well-cooked. On at least eight occasions if not more, we have eaten the pistils and stamens of our Colorado yuccas chopped fine and stir-fried or boiled whole in soups, and experienced no ill effects. Yesterday, we ate 21 yucca flowers (11 whole & 10 without pistils/stamens, for culinary reasons) between the two of us, as we had Yucca Flower Scramble for breakfast and Szechwan Cabbage and Yucca Flower Stir Fry for dinner on the same day. Furthermore, I have both allergies and asthma (albeit mild asthma), and the yucca treats me just fine.

I say all this not to induce you to gorge yourself on yucca flowers, stamens, and pistils on your first go-around. Inductive reasoning—where you use one experience to create a general (and oftentimes erroneous) rule to apply to all—is indeed a dangerous proposition. Instead, I’ve put forth two sides of the argument, as well as my own experiences, in order to 1) demonstrate that there is some debate over the edibility of yucca stamens and pistils, 2) share that I myself have yet to resolve it, and 3) impress upon you that you should eat them at your own risk, starting small as with any wild plant and working your way up to larger portions only after careful observation.

Yucca Recipes, for Better or for Worse

Without further ado, then, here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently with our yucca flowers. (This is after a good washing, of course, keeping an eye out for the little buggie wuggies who get up in there at the base of the pistils.) The results were mixed, as you can glean from my reports.

Szechwan Cabbage and Yucca Flower Stir Fry

Unless I’m making soup, I always separate the yucca pistils and stamens from the petals because they cook at different rates. So, for this stir fry, I sautéed finely chopped yucca pistils and stamens, ginger, and onions with cubed tofu and broccoli florets, dribbling Szechwan sauce over it occasionally and mixing until the broccoli began to soften and the tofu began to brown. Then I added sliced red cabbage, soy and Szechwan sauces to taste, and finally, the yucca petals, sautéing until they turned bright green. This I served to Gregg with brown rice.

In my opinion, the stir fry was going great until the end, when I doused it perhaps one too many times in soy and Szechwan. I had pictured a beautiful purple (Asian fusion?) dish punctuated with brown-white tofu cubes and bright green yucca petals (they turn bright green when cooked). Instead, my tofu turned pink, the cabbage got soggy, and the yucca petals got lost in the mix.

The idea was there—it just suffered in the execution. Maybe next time I’ll fry the tofu cubes separately and wait until the very end to add the yucca petals, keeping the whole thing on the dry side while sautéing, and not overdoing it on the sauce.

“What did you think of that stir fry?” I asked Gregg.
“I liked it,” he replied, pretty much because he had to. And then: “It was a little strong. It could be diluted with more brown rice.”
“Did the vegetables get lost?” I pressed.
“Not the yucca. I could taste the yucca when I tried.”

White yucca petals prior to cooking.

When he tried? Now I know I went overboard with the flavoring.

Yucca Flower Scramble

“Yucca Flower Scramble” is the name Gregg gave to breakfast earlier the same day, which consisted of scrambled egg whites, yucca flower petals (pistils and stamens removed and saved for another dish), and grated high-quality Parmesan cheese.

This would of course work with regular eggs but we are aiming towards a lower cholesterol diet, hence the egg whites—though I’m not sure how well I did with the Parmesan to that end. The eggs came out bright, practically florescent, green because of the 11 yucca flowers full of petals I used, and because everything else was white. This unusual appearance did not spoil the taste, however.

Yucca petals turn bright green when cooked as you can see in this egg scramble.

“Mmm! I love Yucca Flower Scramble,” Gregg said, eagerly gobbling it down. Later, he added that the hard cheese eliminated the need for salt. All right, then.

Share Your Recipes

So those are my latest attempts. If anyone out there has any awesome yucca flower recipes of their own to share, I and my 300 monthly readers are dying to hear them.

So please, have your way with the Comment field already. I will approve it by and by if you are not spam!

NOTE: For more information on yucca, please see my 2010 entry, Yucca in My Pantry Again.

Depending on where you live, yuccas may be a wild plant in the landscape, a valued ornamental in the garden, or a traditional food. This is no ordinary plant. Most people think of yuccas as denizens of the desert, and they are indeed drought tolerant and tough as nails. But they’re also at home in containers and gardens in many different climates, and they’re lovely to look at all year round, with their stiff foliage and persistent architecture. If you’re lucky enough to find yucca blossoms, either in the garden or in the wild, it’s time to give them a taste.

You’ll read lots of different things about the edibility of yucca blossoms online (and remember, everything you read on the internet is true). Two friends report that eating raw flowers caused them to have an itchy throat, but neither my husband nor I experience that. I’ve read that the pistils and stamens are bitter and/or toxic, and should be discarded, and I’ve also read that the entire flower and fruit are safe and flavorful. In the end, I listen to the sources I trust the most, and you must do the same. But bear in mind that yucca blossoms are a traditional ingredient in many Central and South American cuisines, and there has been no report of yucca blossom-related, mass fatalities south of our border. I feel perfectly confident eating them.

The yucca in my garden is Y. baccata. It’s possible that all species of yucca are edible, but I hesitate to make a sweeping generalization when I haven’t tried them all. I speak from experience when I say that the flowers of Y. filamentosa and Y. glauca are also edible and tasty.

There are lots of recipes for yucca blossoms in eggs, soups, stews, and my favorite: yucca blossom quesadillas. They’re all tasty, but the first time you try the flowers, prepare them simply, so you can get acquainted with their flavor. People describe it as resembling that of artichoke, but I don’t agree. I find it milder than that. There may or may not be a tiny bit of bitterness, depending on how sensitive you are to bitter flavors. Remember, bitter doesn’t mean bad. Arugula, raddichio, and dandelions are all bitter greens you’d pay good money for in the supermarket.

My first year in New Mexico, I was very excited to harvest yucca fruit. Little did I know how unusual that windfall was. Almost four years later, I haven’t found a single one. But last week, when I collected my first flowers of the season, I was happy to see that many of them had already been pollinated. If you’d like to try the fruit, be sure to leave some flowers behind. Fingers crossed for a bountiful fall harvest!

Wash your yucca blossoms well when you get them home. Ants and other insects are quite fond of the flowers. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot against the pale white blooms.

What You’ll Need to Make Sautéed Yucca Blossoms

    • 2 cups yucca blossoms
    • 1/4 cup chopped onion
    • olive oil
    • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
    • pine nuts
    • salt and pepper

What You’ll Do to Make Sautéed Yucca Blossoms

Separate the petals from the pistils and stamens. Chop the pistils and stamens finely, and sauté them in olive oil. When they start to turn green, add the onions and continue to cook over low heat until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add the yucca petals, and a little more olive oil, if needed. These take much less time to cook and will quickly become translucent. They may or may not turn green. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mix and stir, then sprinkle with a few pine nuts, a little pepper, and some fancy salt.

Sautéed yucca blossoms make an excellent side dish. You could also add them to a quiche, soup, or stew. Dress them up with a little cheese, if you like, maybe a smidge of fennel or bee balm, but don’t smother their delicate flavor with too many spices.

sautéed yucca blossoms

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