Britton, N. L., and A. Brown. 1913 Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 512.
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
|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:
- Yucca Yucca sp.
- Narrowleaf Yucca, Yucca angustissima Engelm. ex Trel.
- Banana Yucca, Yucca baccata Torr.
- Navajo Yucca, Yucca baileyi var. navajoa J.M. Webber
- Soaptree Yucca Yucca elata Engelm.
- Small Soapweed Yucca glauca Nutt.
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.
- Fiber made into string to tie hoops, prayer sticks, chant arrows and other ceremonial equipment (Vestal 1952:21)
- Many objects are tied with yucca fiber. e.g. skunkbush Sumac wood tied with yucca and used to make circle prayersticks (Elmore 1944:60)
- Suds and ashes used to wash new born babies (Elmore 1944:34)
- Suds made from Banana Yucca root used for ceremonial purification baths (Vestal 1952:21)
- Plant used to stir the water for the ceremonial baths (Elmore 1944:33)
- Roots, pollen and leaves used during many different ceremonies (Elmore 1944:32,34; Lynch 1986:31
- Leaves used to make ceremonial drumstick (Vestal 1952:21)
- Leaves stuck into snowballs, mixed with red clay and used to stop the snow and rain (Vestal 1952:21)
- Leaves used to make ceremonial and utilitarian baskets (Vestal 1952:21)
- Soaptree yucca made into scourges and used in the Night Chant (Elmore 1944:33)
- Leaf juice mixed with powders and applied to shields (Elmore 1944:34)
- Pitch used to cover bullroarers for some of the ceremonies (Elmore 1944:34)
- Fiber used to string cakes baked for Fire God & attached to his right arm on 9th day of Night Chant (Elmore 1944:34)
- Leaf strips intertwined with sprigs of fir and used to make necklaces and wristbands for ceremonies (Elmore 1944:34)
- Used to make the 102 counting sticks for the moccasin game (Elmore 1944:33)
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
- Leaves made into brushes used for cleaning baskets. Leaf slivers made into paint brushes. Leaf fiber made into string or rope and used for temporary or emergency purposes (Vestal 1952:21)
- Leaves used as jewelry - bracelets worn by scouts (Elmore 1944:34)
- Stout leaves used as drumsticks (Bell and Castetter 1941:36)
- Folded leaves used as drumsticks to beat basket drums (Elmore 1944:34)
- Leaves made into a ball thrown into the air for archery target practice (Vestal 1952:21) - a game Elmore (1944:34) calls "shooting the yucca."
- Leaf pith braid woven into a basket (Elmore 1944:34
- Leaf juice used as a medium for pigments of pottery paints and slips (Vestal 1952:21)
- Leaf juice mixed with pottery paste as glue (Vestal 1952:21)
- Juice mixed with yellow soil for a black dye or boiled alone for a red dye (Vestal 1952:21)
- Leaf pitch used for waterproofing baskets (Elmore 1944:34)
- Fiber used to make knitted leggings, moccasin uppers and dresses Elmore 1944:34)
- Fiber used to secure the butts of the first twigs around a small stick at the bottom of the basket (Elmore 1944:34)
- Used to make a brush to apply colored clays to pottery (Elmore 1944:34)
- Fiber used to make a ring for a game similar to "ring toss" (Elmore 1944:34)
- Roots used for soap for washing wool, hides or clothing, shampooing the hair and bathing the body (Elmore 1944:32-33; :21;Lynch 1986:31)
- Roots made into ball for shinny game, played at night (Vestal 1952:21)
- Wood tied to stalk with shallow holes and used at the hearth to hold a fireset (Elmore 1944:34)
- Plant considered poisonous (Elmore 1944:34)
- Compound containing leaf juice used to poison arrows (Vestal 1952:21)
- Plant used as a delirifacient a drug which produces delirium (Hocking 1956:164)
- Plant used as a laxative (Hocking 1956:164)
- Antiemetic - infusion of pulverized leaves taken for vomiting (Elmore 1944:32)
- Plant used for heartburn (Elmore 1944:32)
- Poultice of plants applied to the head for sore throats (Elmore 1944:34)
- Narrowleaf Yucca used in childbirth. The roots are soaked in water, the liquid strained and given to a woman having a long labor. A cupful of yucca suds and sugar is given to the mother to help deliver the afterbirth (Mayes and Lacy 1989:117)
- Juice used to lubricate midwife's hand while removing retained placenta (Vestal 1952:21)
- Rotten root used to make suds taken to induce menopause (Vestal 1952:21)
- Cold infusion of root used to expedite delivery of baby or placenta (Vestal 1952:21)
- Soap is made from the crushed root and used for washing hair, Sometimes sagebrush is added as a perfume, to make the hair grow long and soft and to prevent it from falling out (Mayes and Lacy 1989:117)
- Flower buds roasted in ashes and leaves boiled with salt and used for food (Vestal 1952:21)
- Buds foraged by sheep (Elmore 1944:34)
- Fruit eaten when picked or cooked (Castetter,1935:54: Bell and Castetter 1941:20; Elmore 1944:32-33)
- Fruit eaten raw or baked in hot coals, dried for winter use (Vestal 1952:21; Lynch 1986:31)
- Fruit sliced and dried for winter use (Elmore 1944:33)
- Ripe fruits dried, ground, kneaded into small cakes and slightly roasted. Fruits dried and stored for winter use (Castetter,1935:54)
- Baked or dried fruits ground, made into small cakes and roasted again, mixed with cornmeal & made into gruel or stored for winter use (Elmore 1944:32)
- Fruit boiled in water with or without sugar and eaten as a dessert (Steggerda 1941:221)
- Fruit used to make preserves (Vestal 1952:21)
- Ripe fruit, with seeds removed, boiled down like jam, made into rolls and dried for winter use (Steggerda 1941:221; Elmore 1944:32)
- Pulp made into cakes, dried and stored for winter use (Bell and Castetter 1941:20)
- Fruit pulp made into cakes and mixed with water to make a syrup eaten with meat or bread (Bell and Castetter 1941:20)
- Fruit molded into foot long rolls (Vestal 1952:21)
- Dried fruit rolls soaked in hot water and eaten with corn mush (Castetter 1935:54; Steggerda 1941:221; Lynch 1986:31)
- Dried fruit cakes mixed with water to make a syrup and eaten with meat and bread (Lynch 1986:31)
- Dried fruit eaten by warriors at war (Bell and Castetter 1941:20)
- Fruit dried and carried, when at war, with grass seeds and jerked venison (Elmore 1944:32)
- Fiber used to tie butt and tip of corn husks filled with dough (Elmore 1944:34)
- Bailey 1940:286
- Bell and Castetter 1941:20
- Castetter 1935:54
- Elmore 1944:33-34
- Franciscan Fathers 1929:194, 371-73, 417-18
- Hocking 1956:164
- Kluckhohn and Leighton 1946:207, 218
- Lynch 1986:31
- Matthews 1886:777
- Mayes and Lacy 1989:116-117
- Sandstead et al., 1956
- Standley 1912:452
- Steggerda and Eckardt 1944:221
- Vestal 1952:21
- Wyman and Harris 1941:21, 37, 53
- Young 22,35-36, 39