Arbol de Izote/Adam’s Needle/ Yucca guatemalensis

Yucca Guatemalensis (more widely known by the incorrect name Y. elephantipes) is the tallest of the Yucca species. People call them yuccas, but in their native areas of Central America and Mexico, they are rather known under the names of Itabo, Izote or Daguillo. Their closest relative is the famous Agave from which tequila is made. There are about 40 species of yucca (in the genus Yucca), from southwestern US and Mexico to South America and the Caribbean. Since ancient times, many centuries before the Europeans discovered the Americas, the flowers of Flor de Izote were used in cooking and preparing beverages by the Native Americans such as Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. Flor de Izote is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the agave family, Agavaceae.  Its leaves are pliable and lack the sharp spines on the tips that are so characteristic of most yuccas, getting up to 30 ft tall. With age the trunk becomes rough and thick, and when mature it develops a swollen base and often branches a few feet off the ground. The leaves, which grow in a spiral rosette are shiny green, to 4 ft long and about 3 in wide with serrated margins. Blooms are edible and high in calcium and potassium and can be use in salads, cooked dishes, and in making refreshing beverages.

Yucca Elephantipes is distributed across southwest of the Northern hemisphere, and widely grown as a drought-tolerant ornamental in the South-Western USA. These are the “flor de izote”, or yucca flowers that are considered a delicacy in Mexico and in some  Central American countries. The long, sharp leaves of yucca plants have earned them names such as Spanish bayonet, Spanish dagger, and Adam’s needle. Perhaps the best known of the some 40 species of yucca is the Joshua tree. While many yuccas are small and stem less, the Joshua tree has a trunk that can grow to more than 33 feet (10 meters) high. Yuccas belong to the lily family, which scientists call Agavaceae. The flowering season of the Itabo is between March and April and coincides with the Holy Week religious celebration. Usually the people eat the flowers of the Itabo cooked with eggs. Spineless yucca is often used as a framing specimen at the side of a building or along a walkway. It makes a striking presence in large landscapes, but may be too much for a small yard. Since they lack the sharp spines of other yuccas, spineless yuccas are harmless and can be used where most others cannot. They are grown in containers and sometimes seen in indoor malls.

Miguel del Barco, a Jesuit priest at the Mission San Javier in the Sierra de la Giganta between 1738 and 1768, wrote a detailed account about how the natives used the agaves. They knew exactly when a plant was to flower and used hardwood tools to cut up the plants, favoring the upper part because it was the most tender and juicy for eating. After taking off the top they removed the leaves and then pit baked the plant.

That usually involved digging a hole, lining the hole with rocks, building a huge fire in the pit, and when reduced to ashes, putting the plant in and covering it to hold in the heat then coming back the next day to dinner. That ended up with some partially cooked agave and there is evidence some of them were also eaten raw. In the Tehuacan area of Mexico a traditional way to have agave flowers is boiled and then mix with scrambled eggs. The Indians of Oaxaca also use the outermost leaf layer to make a covering to preserve and protect food.

Flor de Izote picao/ Scrambled Yucca flowers

1 bunch of flor de Izote
1 small onions, coarsely chopped
1 spoon of grapeseed oil
2 eggs
3 small potatoes, diced (previously cooked)
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper

Clean the Izote’s blossoms, removing the stems, if desired, and the small green pistils (unopened flowers) at the base of the stem. Gently wash the flowers in cold water to clean. Carefully twirl to remove most of the water, and then drain thoroughly on paper towels. Set aside. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook onions, thyme and the Izote flowers until tender. Then add the potatoes, the eggs (already beaten) cumin, salt and white pepper. Stir until well blended. Remove from heat, sprinkle in fresh cilantro. Serve with wild rice and your choice of meat, if desired.

You can eat the flower and the pistils, but separately (unless you had previously known the taste) because they are bitter. You can cook them in water for about 15 minutes, put them in a jar with diced onions, diced carrots, jalapeno, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and leave in the refrigerator to pickle.

Bunuelos de Izote/Izote’s Patties

½ pound of Izote flowers
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking power
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon aniseed, crushed
3 to 4 cups vegetable oil, for frying

Remove the pistils, wash the flowers, and cook them in water for about 4 minutes. Then pat them gently dry and set apart.  Sift together all dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, egg, and anise seed until frothy. Combine flour and milk mixtures to make dough. Add Izote flowers and stir well enough to distribute ingredients evenly. Heat oil in a deep frying pan on medium heat.  Using a small ladle, scoop some mixture and slowly drop it into the hot oil. Fry circles until golden brown, turning once. Depending on the size of your frying pan, place only about 4 patties into the pan at a time; that way you will create a lovely crisp crust around them. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mixture. My Grandma used to make these patties for our family on Semana Santa (Easter) for Sunday lunch. Easy and delicious.

About zoom50

“It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease”
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2 Responses to Arbol de Izote/Adam’s Needle/ Yucca guatemalensis

  1. Michael says:

    yeah thats right what you said) i never new that these so called yucca’s grew as a tree i just always thought they just grow like any other flower plant the one in your first picture is what i have by my mailbox outside and these must be a slow grower like some evergreens and cedar trees are but every year these little black or green worms always gets in my seedpods on the yucca’s and they eat half the seeds and im left with only 2 seedpods with 4 rows of seeds in each seedpod my ? is how could i stop the worms from getting in the seedpods.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sorry but Yucca’s the one the Native Americans used in United States is not the same the Izote that grow in Central America, probably are from the same family, the Yucca’s are from arid and hot places and the Native Americans before the Europeans they used the leaves to make rope and from the root soap. The Yucca’s is from the Family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agaboideae. And it looks the way you describe the Yucca’s they eat it in Tehuacan, Mexico.
    I like the article you have a lot good information.

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