Eating off the land

The rhododendron is a huge bushy plant which sprawls happily in every direction, coloring the world once its blossoms burst.

Not much later another plant flowers, this quite the opposite for it shoots straight up in a spike, buds pouring out from every side. These flowers are white and very showy though I admit I never thought to cut a yucca to bring indoors. (Is that lack of time or lack of thought?) They are definitely lovely and appreciated where they grow in my yard.

I read that it can also be called a Spanish bayonet (okay, I can live with that though it’s hardly lethal) and grows in sandy places which I guess describes much of that which would otherwise be yard. Indeed, though primarily found in the deserts of the southwest, they seem very happy living here with me.

Beneath these flowering panicles (amazing the words one can learn!), are many, many spiked basal leaves which someone compared to an aloe plant. Mine are hardly that robust but you might get the idea if you held, say, fifty palm leaves and then splayed them out from their bases. Like a great green three-dimensional fan.

And I read now that, like the earlier sulfur and molasses tonic, these have been used by Native Americans forever (probably) for medicinal and practical purposes.

Checking, there is indeed a sap running inside the leaf. This can be used for treating everything from headaches, arthritis, skin cancer, open wounds, even PMS. Even gout help is suggested though the same paragraph warns of overdoing it and ending up with diarrhea. (More shades of sulfur and molasses, huh?) Sugar cane . . . yucca . . . yes, I can imagine a similarity there. And one can buy capsules if not eager to take to the road (or my yard) to make an extract from the dried root.

None of which is really what I wanted to talk about.

I was intrigued by an ad (now lost) showing the value of the yucca as a foodstuff. Yahoo this time tells me the root is a very common staple in Central America. For us, it’s suggested we boil it in chicken or vegetable soup or fry it with garlic until browned. Because it does tend to be fibrous, mashing can get to be a chore. A knife might work better than a potato peeler though any port in a storm probably gets the job done. Boil it as one would a potato, testing doneness with a fork and then serve as a side dish with olive oil and garlic. Garlic also seems to be a staple with this root.

Or not.

The Internet offers a great variety of helpful (or not so) ideas for using this plant. One suggests eating the petals, buds or flowers directly after picking or in a salad where they might remind one of snow peas.

However, another site cautions that eating a blossom raw can make one’s throat burn and usually leads to a stomach ache. That writer suggests roasting the seeds or beating them to a pulp to use in a pie.

Another prefers the flowers but warns of the ants and assorted bugs who also like them, warning that “larvae are not good eats.” Good to remember.

Yucca with Garlic Sauce (Yuca Con Mojo) is a Cuban staple which uses the root though somebody else says not to confuse the yucca with the yuca (YEW-ka) which is a cultivated cassava and the only plant which should be eaten for its root.

A lovely picture of blossoms fried in tempura reminds me of the Edible Plants class I took from the RTPI which demonstrated that just about anything is better when fried in batter.

Getting hungry? I’ll go see what I can rustle up.

Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to