Lechuguilla is one of the most widespread of the agaves, also known as Agavaceae Plant. Nick named the “Yucca Whipplei” which is named after Amiel Weeks Whipple (1818–1863), a surveyor who oversaw the Pacific Railroad Survey to Los Angeles in 1853. But long before Amiel, native peoples used this native southwest cacti in many forms, including pounding the roots in water to create a soapy lather used as shampoo, also baked cookies, clothes, and more! The Lechuguilla is found in our desert and desert mountains of Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico, West Texas, Nevada and North Baja California.
As a small plant the succulent yellow-green rosettes of lechuguilla are 1-2 feet tall. Widely suckering thick leathery leaves are tipped with a strong spine like needle. The Lechuguilla requires 12–15 years to store up enough food for the production of the large flower stalk which then grows amazingly fast up to 15 feet tall.
Clusters of yellow to pinkish-white flowers occurs on a 6-9 ft. stalk which rises from center of what is called a rosette.The stalk is unbranched and somewhat flexible, meaning that it often bends when it is heavy with fruit or flowers making it top heavy and arching. After baring fruit the entire plant will die. This particular agave is usually cultivated in rock gardens and is tolerant to poor acid soil and needs little water. Lechuguilla is a much less bulky plant than sotol and can be easily harvested and processed more efficiently, making it a more important food source.
Native Habitat: Desert Plains, Mountains
Bloom Color: Pink, Yellow, White
Bloom Time: May , June , July
Soil Moisture: Dry
Cold Tolerant: Yes
Use Food:The hearts are not safe to eat, but through a five step process and use of an “Earth Oven” you can cook out the high concentrations of saponin toxins into a chewy like molass made from the stems and hearts or inner stalk. The molasses wad is then pounded into patties. or chewy cookies. Pulque (Tull), mescal, and tequila are also known to be made from the fermented sap of the flower stalk. Lechuguilla when properly cooked can be an edible delight!
Only the leaf bases (attached to the stem) are potentially edible. Only when cooked the trimmed leaves are eaten somewhat like an artichoke leaf and are a little bit tough and chewy. When cooked the lower leaves and central stalk are sugary sweet and no longer contain toxins and soapy compounds. The taste is intensely sweet and a bit smoky.
Once trimmed Lechuguilla stalks are amassed, they are cooked in a 5-step process in an earth oven.
2) Burn until only hot coals are left. The heat by now should have transferred from the burning wood to the rocks, which act as a heating element which is how we will cook the Lechuguilla.
3) The rocks are very hot at 700-900° F, and are very dangerous. Place a few prickly agave cactus pear pads on the hot rock with the Lechuguilla laid over. It is has to be done very quickly or the prickly pear cactus pads may burst because they contain lots of water and oxalic acid. Once hot enough the oxalic acid in the water and the heat of the rocks produce a natural steam which helps break down the toxins in the Lechuguilla plants to make them edible.
(4) Cover the food with prickly pear pads, leaves or a mat, then cover everything with a thick layer of dirt, making certain that the oven is completely sealed.
5) Open the oven after 48 hours and remove the cooked Lechuguilla. The smell and texture is usually described closely to molasses. Now take the chew wads of leaf bases and stems and pound the wads into flat cakes. Dry the cakes in the sun. Baked, pounded, and dried, a “Lechuguilla Cake” can be stored for months when kept in a dry area. You can also add mixed nuts in with dried fruit and reconstitute with water to make it softer if it is too dry. Similar to Sotol it can be used as an important winter survival food.
Nature’s Natural Cleansers
Many People look for commercial products with promises of bouncy, perfectly balanced hair that smells great and makes your hair feeling soft and clean. Nature is the best natural supply of ingredients to clean your hair and body. So how do I make homemade shampoos from herbs and natural plants like Lechuguilla? Some quick and easy DIY recipes are simple enough that you should be able to do with stuff right at home! Check them out below.
Saponins are nature’s natural sudsing agents and they can be found in many herbs. Saponin-rich herbs come from specific fruit trees, roots, flowers and mineral packed weeds such as the Lechuguilla pictured above. Most herbs do not produce frothy soapy lather but the idea particularly is to cleanse gently without stripping hair of sebum (natural oils).
* Yucca Whipplei – also called “soap root” and “amole” and used in traditional rituals and rite of passage ceremonies in Mexico, by the Hopi and other southwest indians. ”Yucca” is also used to deter dandruff, baldness and thinning hair. “Yucca” needs to be beat and pulverized and soaked before using. See Below.
* Pulverizing: Agave Lechuguilla are used to make shampoo, soap and clothing detergent. To prepare, peel a young root so that only the white inside remains. Pound this in a large mortar and pestle, with a mallet or hammer.
* Mashed root: Put bruised root inside a piece of muslin. Tie shut with rubber band or a piece of natural cotton string. Place in hot water. Work the root between your hands until the soapy substance is released into the water.
Weaving and other uses of fiber. When green lechuguilla leaves are pounded, the plants fibers can easily be separated and used for weaving and sewing mats, sandals, cord, baskets, bow strings, blankets and more. In Mexico, the fibers of Lechuguilla are known as ixtle, a term also applied to the fibers of other agave and yucca species.