Yucca, Adam’s needle
You may have recently noticed a strange plant with a great shaft of fragrant, creamy-white, bell-like flowers held above spiky leaves. Often referred to as ‘Adam’s needle’, the Yucca is native to the Americas – particularly to Mexico and the West Indies, where it has been used for centuries to make a wound wash soap, a soothing skin lotion and a hair and scalp treatment. The roots, seeds and stems are rich in saponins, and the flowers are rich in oils. Those ancient Mexicans pounded the flowers and used them as a paste with a little mutton fat over cracked sore rough fingers and cracked painful heels.
Yucca is an ancient and much respected medicinal plant, comprising of about 40 species. All form spiky rosettes of tough, sword-like leaves tipped with a sharp spine and all bear tall, prolific and exquisite panicles of drooping white flowers. They have a most remarkable method of pollination; at dusk every summer day, the flowers emit a heady fragrance that attracts a certain moth. As the moth darts from flower to flower seeking the exquisite fragrance, it burrows against the stamens in the heart of the flower and so fertilises it all in one go. Round, luscious seeds result, and are the means of propagation.
For landscapers Yucca is a favourite subject, and for gardeners it is a fascinating plant to watch. At all times it is striking – but never more so than when it is bearing the exquisite panicles of creamy flowers in its full blown mid to end of summer glory and, best of all, the flowers are edible! Stuff them with savoury rice, soya, mince, or flaked fish in a cheesy sauce. Chop them into stir-fries, pickles, chutneys and relishes or add them to an exquisite soup like the Mexicans make. For this soup alone it is worth growing Yucca. It’s a tough plant and withstands drought, heat, winds, cold, and long periods of neglect. Yuccas come in all sizes and the new smaller Yuccas make a wonderful show in the border or in big pots. Nurseries offer several varieties and it is worth trying them all. Plant them in full sun in a deeply-dug, richly-composted hole and water well once a week.