Depending on where you live, yuccas may be a wild plant in the landscape, a valued ornamental in the garden, or a traditional food. This is no ordinary plant. Most people think of yuccas as denizens of the desert, and they are indeed drought tolerant and tough as nails. But they’re also at home in containers and gardens in many different climates, and they’re lovely to look at all year round, with their stiff foliage and persistent architecture. If you’re lucky enough to find yucca blossoms, either in the garden or in the wild, it’s time to give them a taste.
You’ll read lots of different things about the edibility of yucca blossoms online (and remember, everything you read on the internet is true). Two friends report that eating raw flowers caused them to have an itchy throat, but neither my husband nor I experience that. I’ve read that the pistils and stamens are bitter and/or toxic, and should be discarded, and I’ve also read that the entire flower and fruit are safe and flavorful. In the end, I listen to the sources I trust the most, and you must do the same. But bear in mind that yucca blossoms are a traditional ingredient in many Central and South American cuisines, and there has been no report of yucca blossom-related, mass fatalities south of our border. I feel perfectly confident eating them.
The yucca in my garden is Y. baccata. It’s possible that all species of yucca are edible, but I hesitate to make a sweeping generalization when I haven’t tried them all. I speak from experience when I say that the flowers of Y. filamentosa and Y. glauca are also edible and tasty.
There are lots of recipes for yucca blossoms in eggs, soups, stews, and my favorite: yucca blossom quesadillas. They’re all tasty, but the first time you try the flowers, prepare them simply, so you can get acquainted with their flavor. People describe it as resembling that of artichoke, but I don’t agree. I find it milder than that. There may or may not be a tiny bit of bitterness, depending on how sensitive you are to bitter flavors. Remember, bitter doesn’t mean bad. Arugula, raddichio, and dandelions are all bitter greens you’d pay good money for in the supermarket.
My first year in New Mexico, I was very excited to harvest yucca fruit. Little did I know how unusual that windfall was. Almost four years later, I haven’t found a single one. But last week, when I collected my first flowers of the season, I was happy to see that many of them had already been pollinated. If you’d like to try the fruit, be sure to leave some flowers behind. Fingers crossed for a bountiful fall harvest!
Wash your yucca blossoms well when you get them home. Ants and other insects are quite fond of the flowers. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot against the pale white blooms.
What You’ll Need to Make Sautéed Yucca Blossoms
- 2 cups yucca blossoms
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- olive oil
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- pine nuts
- salt and pepper
What You’ll Do to Make Sautéed Yucca Blossoms
Separate the petals from the pistils and stamens. Chop the pistils and stamens finely, and sauté them in olive oil. When they start to turn green, add the onions and continue to cook over low heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
Add the yucca petals, and a little more olive oil, if needed. These take much less time to cook and will quickly become translucent. They may or may not turn green. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mix and stir, then sprinkle with a few pine nuts, a little pepper, and some fancy salt.
Sautéed yucca blossoms make an excellent side dish. You could also add them to a quiche, soup, or stew. Dress them up with a little cheese, if you like, maybe a smidge of fennel or bee balm, but don’t smother their delicate flavor with too many spices.