Forage Friday #49 Adam’s Needle (AKA YUCCA)

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I have to admit that I was surprised to be able to keep Forage Friday going as steady as I have for this long. I knew that in the warm months that I could find plenty of plants to feature and that even the ones that I haven’t really paid attention to in the past that I could do a little bit of research and come up with something interesting to write about. I suppose that it just goes to show that God has provided all of our basic needs in abundance. But today was one of those days when I was down to wire for a forage plant when I spotted this one growing wild on the roadside bear my home. And what’s even better is that it came up in conversation organically a couple of days ago. Tonight’s plant is Adam’s Needle or Yucca as it’s known in other parts of North America.

Yucca isn’t really a native of the Appalachian Mountains. It was brought here by a previous generation as an ornamental plant. It’s bushy appearance and cold hardiness made it desirable for those who wanted something exotic in their garden. And it It’s still used in landscapes today. It’s actually a native of the Southwest if I’m not mistaken.

If cattails are the supermarket of the wetlands then Adam’s Needle is the supermarket of abandoned homesteads and sub desert areas.

The name comes from the single tall flower spike that shoots up from the center in the summer. This is the part that I’ve actually eaten myself. The pedals of the flowers can be eaten raw but you need to get them when they’re freshly opened or they turn bitter.

The root is also edible and high in carbohydrates which is one reason that I’ve never tried it myself. (As a type 2 diabetic I really try limit the carbs so that I can avoid meds. ) Sometimes you can even find the roots in the produce section of your local grocery store depending on the region.

One of the survival tricks that I learned was to make soap from the root by cutting it into small chunks and dropping them into a bottle with little water. It’s not really soap but a compound called saponin which acts like soap and is even antimicrobial.

The leave can also be used to make soap but where they really come in handy is making cordage. A single leaf blade can be used to make fairly strong string without much work but it’s much better with son e processing.

Here’s a closeup of the fibers in Adam’s Needle

The process to get to the fibers is pretty simple. Cut a leaf near the base of the plant but watch out for the single thorn on the very tip of the leaf. Depending on your purpose for the cord you might have a use for the thorn because with a little care it can be function as a pre-threaded needle for sewing. An emergency repair for a torn jacket or pants can make a difference in the quality of life for someone who is without any other system of support. The best way to process it to lay the leaf on a flat surface and gently pound it with a heavy branch. You could use a smooth rock if you have one but a rock with sharp edges could cut the long fibers and create more work. The goal here isn’t to make mince meat out of the leaf but to separate the fibers from the pulp. The byproduct of the pulp can still be used for soap when fresh and because it kills microbes it might be good idea to put it on any minor wounds you might have. When you’re done with the pounding simply use the back of a single edge knife or a stick with a flat side and gently scrape the pulp away from the fibers. The fibers should remind you of a lock of hair at this point. They’ll be strong enough for sewing but if you are using them for rope then you’ll need to twist them. The way I do it is to roll the fibers on my thigh until they’re so tight that they twist back on themselves. Then double the rope and help that action by rolling in the opposite direction on your thigh again. There’s plenty of video on YouTube that shows how this is done and as it happens you add length by twisting in more fibers. Once you gave your cordage it can be turned into nets, baskets and even sandals by weaving.

So here’s one plant that you might find wild or you could even get one from the lawn and garden store and plant as both landscape and emergency use in tough times.

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