The yucca plant has a starchy root that has been used as food and recommended by practitioners of traditional herbal medicine for centuries. The root, also called manioc or cassava, has a rough brown exterior and a creamy white or yellowish interior. Yucca root contains a number of phytonutrients such as saponins and resveratrol, which may be responsible for its potential health benefits.
The genus Yucca contains about 40 different species of plants, all members of the genus Agave and native to dry areas of Central and South America, and the West Indies. The root of Yucca schidigera, also called Mohave yucca, is most commonly used in traditional medicine. Yucca contains several biologically active compounds. These include chemicals called saponins, which are compounds that dissolve in both water and oil -- an unusual property. Yucca also contains resveratrol and several types of yuccaols; these compounds are referred to as polyphenols because they contain ring-like chemical structures called phenol groups. Polyphenols are antioxidants that may have significant health benefits.
Compounds in yucca root may help keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range, protecting you from atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular disorders. Its saponins can combine with dietary cholesterol in your digestive tract, potentially lessening its absorption into your blood and allowing some of it to be eliminated with your stool. In addition, the antioxidant activity of resveratrol in yucca might protect you from free radicals, unstable chemicals that can damage blood vessels and potentially raise your risk of heart disease. Free radicals are byproducts of digestion and are also produced after exposure to sunlight or environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke. Resveratrol stabilizes these compounds, making them harmless and helping your body rid itself of them.
For hundreds of years, yucca was used by Native Americans as a traditional treatment for arthritic joints. Modern research supports yucca's potential to help treat arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. A study published in "Journal of Inflammation" in 2006 reviewed evidence that polyphenols and saponins in yucca root might alleviate symptoms of arthritis in human subjects. The authors concluded that yucca might be an effective preventive or treatment for the disorder. However, they also indicated that the exact way in which compounds in yucca provide this benefit is unknown and requires further research.
How to Use
Whole yucca root is available at some specialty stores; it may be boiled and chopped or mashed before consuming. Yucca supplements are also available at health food stores as loose, powdered root or in capsules. Yucca is generally considered safe and without any significant side effects, although consuming large amounts of the root may cause upset stomach or diarrhea. Yucca might interfere with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin E. Do not self-treat for any condition with yucca. Discuss its use with your doctor to decide if it might be helpful for you.
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.