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yucca

Yucca glauca Nutt.

Britton, N. L., and A. Brown. 1913 Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 512.

Yucca, Narrowleaf Yucca, Soapweed   

Navajo Name: Tsá'ászi'ts'óóz, “narrowleaf yucca”

Talawosh, “water suds,” name for root; Nidoodloho, “the green fruit”; Nideeshjiin, “stalk black,” name for young, dark stalk; Nideesgai, “stalk white,” name for taller stalk

Family Taxon Genus
Agavaceae Yucca sp.  Yucca L.

Classification: Yucca L. contains 30 Species and 45 accepted taxa overall

Species: Several different species of Yucca are identified in the ethnobotanical literature:

Primary Use: fiber

Ceremonies: Evil Way, Mountain Chant, Night Chant, Snake Chant, Wind Chant, War Chant 

Ritual Use: Yucca is used in almost every ceremony, yucca fiber is used to tie ceremonial equipment - hoops, prayer sticks, unravelers and chant arrows. It juice is used to make paint and varnish for ceremonial objects (pipes, figurines, prayer sticks etc.) and the bristles for brushes to apply it. Leaves from a yucca that a deer has jumped over are heated in coals. When they are soft, juice is wrung from the leaves onto small flat stones that hold paint pigments (Mayes and Lacy 1989:117).

Probably the most important ceremonial use is bathing in suds made from the yucca root. Most ceremonies include a ceremonial bath of yucca suds for the patient as well as the singer, along with other cleansing rituals (Mayes and Lacy 1989:117).

Prior to the introduction of sheep, the Navajo wove mats with yucca, the inner bark of juniper and with cotton. Weaving is associated with Spider Woman in the Origin stories.

Other Uses: The range of other uses is very wide:

Paul Vestal, in the Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho (1952:16-17), discusses several different kinds of material tied with yucca fiber to make various implements. These include Idaho Fescue, Prairie Junegrass, or Sand Dropseed about a foot long, tied with yucca fiber, used as a brush for cleaning metates. Also wooden slabs tied together with yucca fiber used as snowshoes (Vestal 1952:13).

Francis Elmore, in the Ethnobotany of the Navajo, records that spruce twigs were used as beaters to make a high, stiff, lasting lather of yucca roots and water, yucca strands used to tie rolled skins into a rabbit skin blanket, and yucca fiber and pith twisted with mountain grass and used to make roofing, mats for sleeping mats, bedding, blankets and rugs, also to make leggings and shoes (Elmore 1944:21,34).

Harold Colton, in Hopi History and Ethnobotany, documents the use by the Hopi of Navajo Yucca. They used Navajo Yucca as a fiber and fastener to make basketry, bind twigs used to make snow brooms, used leaf fibers for paint brushes and the whole plant as an anchor for bird traps. They crushed roots used for soap, and took infusions as a laxative. Ceremonially, the Hopi used yucca fiber to make kachinas masks, used the juice as varnish on kachinas and leaf fiber as whips in a variety of ceremonies (Colton 1974:370).

Tools and Toys

Medicine:  

Food 

References: