Herb: Soapweed

Latin name: Yucca glauca

Synonyms: Yucca angustifolia

Family: Agavaceae (Century-plant Family)

Medicinal use of Soapweed:

A soap made from the crushed roots is said to be an effective treatment for dandruff and skin irritations. A cold infusion of the root has been used to expedite the delivery of a child or the placenta. The root is poulticed and applied to inflammations, wounds, bleeding cuts, sprains etc. The rotten root can be crushed and boiled to make suds. Drinking these suds is said to induce the menopause in women, thereby rendering then infertile.

Description of the plant:


150 cm
(5 feet)

July to


Habitat of the herb:

Dry plains and sandy hills.

Edible parts of Soapweed:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Dry, with a bitter skin. The fruit can be baked and either eaten immediately or formed into cakes and dried for later use. The raw fruit can be dried for winter use. The immature fruits are peeled, boiled and served with seasonings. The soaked, cooked fruit can be made into a syrup and used like hot chocolate. The fruit is up to 8cm long and 12mm wide. Flowers and flower buds - raw or cooked. Delicious raw, they can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. A delicious addition to the salad bowl, or used as a potherb. Flowering stem - raw or cooked. It can be cooked and used like asparagus. The white inner portion of the stem is eaten. Seedpods - cooked. They can be boiled or roasted and used as a vegetable. The plant crowns have been roasted and eaten in times of food shortage.

Other uses of the herb:

Both the leaves, and a fibre obtained from the leaves, can be used for making cloth, ropes and mats. The leaves can be split and used to make baskets. The leaves are used as paint brushes and brooms. The leaves can be split and used as a temporary tying material. The sharp points of the leaves have been used as needles. The roots are rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute. The soap obtained from the root makes a good hair shampoo, it is said to be effective against dandruff and also to act as a tonic to stop the hair falling out. The shampoo also rids the body of lice and other parasites.

Propagation of Soapweed:

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 plains and sandy hills.

Known hazards of Yucca glauca:

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.