Herb: Spanish Bayonet

Latin name: Yucca baccata

Synonyms: Yucca circinata

Family: Agavaceae (Century-plant Family)

Medicinal use of Spanish Bayonet:

An infusion of the pulverized leaves has been used as an antiemetic to prevent vomiting. The fruits have been eaten raw as a laxative.

Description of the plant:


90 cm
(2 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Dry slopes usually on rocky or sandy soils.

Edible parts of Spanish Bayonet:

Fully ripe fruit - raw, cooked or dried for winter use. A staple food for several native North American Indian tribes, the fruits are large, fleshy, sweet and palatable. The ovoid fruit is about 17cm long and 7cm wide. Considered to be a luxury by the native North American Indians, the fruits were often baked in ovens. The cooked fruit can be formed into cakes and then dried for later use. Large quantities of the fruit has caused diarrhoea in people who are not used to it. The dried fruit can be dissolved in water to make a drink. Flower buds - cooked. A soapy taste. The older flowers are best, they are rich in sugar. The flowers, harvested before the summer rains (which turn them bitter), have been used as a vegetable. Flowering stems - cooked. Harvested before the flowers open then roasted. Seed - cooked. It can be roasted and then ground into a powder and boiled. The tender crowns of the plants have been roasted and eaten in times of food shortage. The young leaves have been cooked as a flavouring in soups.

Other uses of the herb:

A fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making ropes, baskets and mats. The fibre can be braided into a good quality rope. The leaves can be reduced into fibre and then made into cloth. To obtain the fibre, the terminal spine and a section of the back of the leaf are removed and pounded to free the fibre from the fleshy portion of the leaf. Another method of obtaining the fibre was to fold the leaves into sections about 10cm long. The leaves were then boiled with a small quantity of cedar ashes. When sufficiently cooked, the leaves were placed in a bowl or basket and cooled, then youths and young women would peel off the epidermis and chew the leaves, starting at one end and finishing at the other. After chewing the leaves, the fibres were separated, straightened out and hung to dry. When required for weaving, they would first be soaked in water to soften them. The whole leaf is sometimes split into sections and then tied together by square knots to make a rope. The leaf can be used as a paint brush. Leaf slivers are used, the end being pounded to reveal the fibres. The leaves have also been used to make small brushes for pottery decoration. The leaf is used in basket making. Small roots have been used in making baskets. They have been used to produce a red pattern in baskets. The leaves can be split and then woven into mats. The leaves can be split and used as a temporary string. The leaf fibre has been braided into ropes. The terminal spines have been used as needles. The dried leaves have been boiled with gum, hardened, ground into a powder then mixed with water and used to make baskets waterproof. The roots are rich in saponins and can be used crushed and then soaked in water to release the suds for use as a soap. It makes a good hair wash and can also be used on the body and for washing clothes. A soap can also be obtained from the leaves and stems.

Propagation of Spanish Bayonet:

Seed - sow spring in a greenhouse. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water may reduce the germination time. It usually germinates within 1 - 12 months if kept at a temperature of 20C. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and consider giving them some winter protection for at least their first winter outdoors - a simple pane of glass is usually sufficient. Seed is not produced in Britain unless the flowers are hand pollinated. Root cuttings in late winter or early spring. Lift in April/May and remove small buds from base of stem and rhizomes. Dip in dry wood ashes to stop any bleeding and plant in a sandy soil in pots in a greenhouse until established. Division of suckers in late spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is best to pot up smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the following spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry slopes usually on rocky or sandy soils.

Known hazards of Yucca baccata:

The roots contain saponins. Whilst saponins are quite toxic to people, they are poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass straight through. They are also destroyed by prolonged heat, such as slow baking in an oven. Saponins are found in many common foods such as beans. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.