Yucca root refers to the root of any one of 40 ornamental shrubs and trees in the Asparagaceae family. It's known for its use as a folk remedy but also has several other unexpected uses.
Don't Confuse Yucca With Yuca
Yucca root is frequently confused with yuca. If you do an Internet search on yucca, you'll see that yucca and yuca are often used interchangeably. They should not be because, in fact, they are two completely different plants.
The yucca plant is found in the warmer climates of Central and North America as well as the West Indies. It is a well-known holistic remedy and is known for its saponin content, a substance with a soap-like foaming ability. While its flowers are sometimes considered edible, its root can be toxic when ingested in high doses.
Yuca or cassava is an edible, starchy root vegetable that looks and tastes similar to a potato, although it is higher in fiber. It is often used as a potato substitute in recipes and to make tapioca.
Yucca root is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-fungal properties. It is a popular holistic remedy but few studies have been performed on its effectiveness or safety.
The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) lists the following medicinal uses of yucca root as being used in traditional medicine but having little or no scientific evidence to back up its benefits:
- Osteoarthritis: According to UMHS, a double-blind study found yucca may help relieve osteoarthritis thanks to its saponin content. They indicate that the saponins seem to block the release of intestinal toxins that interfere with cartilage forming normally.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Yucca's saponin content is also believed to relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, although its effects on the disease have not been studied directly.
UMHS mentions that the suggested dose of yucca root for arthritis is up to 2 grams in capsule form per day.
Yucca extract is being hailed by some as a cholesterol reducer. It is believed that yucca's saponins bind to cholesterol and prevent its absorption. However, Dr. Andrew Weil cautions that this theory lacks well-controlled studies and suggests trying other natural ways to lower cholesterol.
Yucca Root Soap/Shampoo
Yucca root's saponins create a soapy, frothy consistency that is ideal for creating homemade soap/shampoo. Native Americans have traditionally used yucca root soap/shampoo to treat hair loss and dandruff and to relieve skin sores.
Mother Earth News provides the following instructions for making yucca root soap/shampoo:
- Choose a small to medium sized yucca root and clean it of all debris.
- Peel off the root covering and break into small pieces.
- Blend the broken pieces into a pulp.
- The soap is ready to use when it turns light amber.
You can use the mixture to wash your hair or body but be sure to do a skin patch test to check for irritation. To do a skin patch test, place a small amount of the soap/shampoo on the inside of your wrist; leave on for at least 24 hours and look for signs of irritation such as redness, rash or itching. If any irritation occurs, do not use.
Foaming Agent and Food Additive
Yucca extract is made from either the root or other parts of the yucca plant (often the stalk). It is used as a foaming agent in carbonated beverages (such as root beer) or a natural flavoring.
The extract earned "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)" status from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It also carries FDA Code of Federal Regulations 172.510 status as a natural flavoring food additive permitted for human consumption.
How to Use
Yucca root is usually consumed medicinally as a tea. Annie's Remedy suggests making yucca root tea by steeping one teaspoon of finely chopped yucca roots to one cup of water; add sweetener as desired.
Yucca root is also found in capsule, powder or extract forms. Because studies are limited, it is not recommended that you use yucca root if you are pregnant or nursing.
Side Effects and Interactions
UMHS states that there are no known drug interactions with yucca root; however, there are some potential side effects when taken in high amounts. These include:
- Diarrhea or loose stools
- Hemyolysis (bursting of red blood cells); this only occurred in test tube studies and there are no known occurrences in humans
To avoid potential problems absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, yucca should not be used for more than three months.
A Versatile Root
Although there are few studies to prove yucca root's efficacy, Native Americans and herbalists have used it successfully for centuries. Hopefully, research on this versatile root will increase and prove that yucca deserves a place in modern medicine.
Before using yucca root or any yucca remedy, please consult your doctor or a natural health practitioner to determine the proper dosage for your specific needs.