Herb: Soap Tree

Latin name: Yucca elata

Synonyms: Yucca radiosa

Family: Agavaceae (Century-plant Family)

Edible parts of Soap Tree:

Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is a dry capsule up to 5cm long and 36mm wide. Seedpods. We are not sure how this differs from the fruit but one report mentions edible fruit as well as an edible seedpod. Flowers - raw or cooked. Delicious raw, they can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. The flowers are boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Used in preserves. Flowering stem - cooked and used like asparagus. The stems were slow baked for several hours, then dried and broken into pieces to store. They would be soaked in water to soften them before being eaten.

Description of the plant:


2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Mesas, desert washes, plains and desert grasslands, and in deserts, normally between 500 - 2000 metres.

Other uses of Soap Tree:

The leaves, or a fibre obtained from them, is used for making ropes and mats. The leaves can be woven into shallow or tray baskets. The leaf has also been used as a binding element in coarse coiled basketry. The roots have a red core and have been used to ornament baskets. The roots are rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute for washing the hair, body, clothes etc. Also used as a foaming agent in beer. A slick soap-like fluid in the trunk has been used as a substitute for soap. Wood - light, soft and spongy.

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 Soap Tree:

Mesas, desert washes, plains and desert grasslands, and in deserts, normally between 500 - 2000 metres.

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Yucca elata:

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.