Object of the Month
by Amanda Mather
Man, what would we do without the yucca plant? I mean, we eat it, we use it for fiber, we use it for needles and awls, we make sandals out of it, we make soap out of it, we love the stuff! It is also, real dork fact here, the official state plant of New Mexico. Bet you’re glad you know that now!
The fair yucca grows throughout most of the Americas but most notably in the Southwestern United States and into Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. There are about 50 different species of yucca roaming around the America’s but the one here in New Mexico we are most familiar with is the Yucca Baccata with its lovely stabby leaves and beautiful white flowers, they are a sight to behold.
Not only are they beautiful but dang if they ain’t useful. As I mentioned earlier, yucca has been used for all kinds of stuff! For thousands of years Native peoples of the Southwest have harnessed the power of yucca to make all manner of everyday and extraordinary objects.
Plain and simple sandals, to sandals dyed and woven with such intricacy it boggles the mind they were made with yucca fiber. The root can be fried, baked or mashed for a tasty carby treat. The leaves can be used as needles to sew with or paint brushes for delicate line work on pottery. But the thing we came here to talk about is one of yucca’s other magic properties.
Yucca root contains a chemical called “saponin” which naturally causes foam/soapiness to be created when it comes into contact with a liquid. Stick that stuff in water and bam! You got suds! For many many years in New Mexico, really up until the coming of the railroad in the mid 1800’s, people often used yucca root to clean themselves, their wool, their clothing and everything else. I have been told more then once that the only way to clean a rug worth a dang is with yucca root!
So there you have it, the noble yucca, our stabby little friend!