Herb: Joshua Tree


Latin name: Yucca brevifolia


Synonyms: Yucca arborescens


Family: Agavaceae (Century-plant Family)



Edible parts of Joshua Tree:

Flowers - cooked. The flower buds, before opening, can be parboiled in salt water to remove the bitterness, drained and then cooked again and served like cauliflower. The opened flowers are rich in sugar and can be roasted and eaten as candy. Fruit - cooked. The fruits can be roasted then formed into cakes and dried for later use. Root - raw, boiled or roasted. Seed. Gathered and eaten by the local Indians. No further details are given, but it is probably ground into a powder and mixed with cornmeal or other flours and used for making bread, cakes etc. Immature seedpod. No more details given.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Tree

Height:
9 m
(30 feet)

Flovering:
June

Habitat of the herb:

Arid mesas and mountain slopes, usually at 650 - 2200 metres.

Other uses of Joshua Tree:

A fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making ropes, baskets, sandals, clothing and mats. The whole leaf can be woven into mats etc and it can also be used as a paint brush. The dark red core of the roots has been used as a pattern material in coiled baskets. The core is split into strands, soaked and worked in with the coiling so that the colour is always on the outside. Red and black dyes have been obtained from the roots. The roots are rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute. It makes a good hair wash. Wood - light, soft, spongy, difficult to work. Sometimes cut into thin layers and used as wrapping material, or manufactured into boxes and other small articles.

Propagation of the herb:

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 Joshua Tree:

Arid mesas and mountain slopes, usually at 650 - 2200 metres.

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Yucca brevifolia:

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.