by: Eddie Trapp
Native Americans and early settlers must have had a terrible time just getting by. Many times I have wondered what they ate if they couldn’t kill a deer or some other animal. Recently I studied the fairly common yucca plant and it has so many uses it reminds me of the “Snake Oil” in the old western movies. They guaranteed it to cure anything that was wrong with you. Actually I think it was about fifty percent alcohol and the buyer just got drunk and didn’t worry so much about his ailments.
There are forty nine species of yucca in North America and it is recognized by the sword like, sharp pointed leaves, and white flowers. At first glance you may think it is a type of cactus. Yucca grows in a variety of places, many times in cemeteries where the tall flowers show up by starlight and are sometimes called “the ghosts of the cemetery.” Native to hot dry weather, they are the state flower of New Mexico. Pollination is carried out by a certain kind of moth in a partnership type arrangement called mutualism where both the plant and moth benefit. The moth brings pollen to fertilize the flower but then lays eggs which will hatch out and the larvae eat some of the seeds but leaving enough to form new plants.
Yucca is widely grown as an ornamental since it tolerates heat, cold, and gets by on little water. Many species have edible fruits, seeds, flowers, stems, and roots. While geocaching Saturday near Charleston I ate some of the flowers from a yucca and am still alive as of Monday morning. The roots are high in chemicals called saponins and are used for shampoo by Native Americans. The frothy “shampoo” is used to make the foam on some brands of root beer. Dried leaves have a low ignition point and were widely used by Native Americans to start fire by friction. The sharp pointed and tough leaves were called “meat hangers” because they were poked through meat, tied in a knot, and hung on the wall or ceiling when salt curing or in smokehouses. The tough leaves could be pounded to leave only the fibers to make rope, baskets, sandals, belts, clothes, and mats. Yucca fruit mixed with juniper seeds makes a gravy and when fermented forms a drink.
Medically, and here comes the snake oil part, yucca was used to treat arthritis, skin lesions, sprains, bleeding, asthma, headache, ulcers, gout, bursitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, disorders of liver, kidneys, gall bladder, and prevent blood clots. Today, yucca plants are used to make the foam on root beer, make beer, ice cream, and pet food additives. Yucca concentrate is sold as a tea. Capsules and tablets are sold in doses up to 500 mg and bottles of one hundred cost about ten dollars in health stores. You can see yucca plants growing in many places and usually they have to be placed by humans. There were so many uses they were prized by Native Americans and transplanted at most of their campsites. One of the best places I know of to hunt arrowheads still has yucca and there has never been any houses at the site. So next time you see a yucca plant, give it a little more respect. If times get hard remember all the uses.
Here’s a trick you can play on a good friend. Notice I said a “good friend.” Anyone else might beat you up. When eating out with friends and you all have fountain drinks, if a friend leaves the table for any reason, quickly tear the corner off one of those small containers of mustard, ketchup, taco sauce, or mayonnaise. Take the lid off his drink, stick the straw down in the mustard or whatever, and replace the straw with the container still on the end. When he comes back and takes a drink be sure and watch his face. The first sip will be pure mustard or whatever you used. Get ready to run. Also be prepared to buy him another drink.
Relative humidity is often mentioned as we listen to the forecast. We understand that we are more uncomfortable when the humidity is high since it cuts down on cooling by evaporation. Low humidity increases the risk of fires. We know why we need to know relative humidity. Something I wonder about is why we need to know the dew point. (Sam Falls says, “The things you don’t know would fill up a lot of those Big Chief writing tablets like we had in elementary.”) The dew point is the temperature at which dew forms and is affected by the amount of moisture in the air, temperature, and barometric pressure. Is there any way I can use dew point knowledge? If meteorologists say the dew point is fifty three, do I need to sit out on my porch at night holding a thermometer and at fifty three degrees go out and feel the grass? I’ll just put that question in my files along with questions like “How close to the ceiling does a fly get before he turns over?”
December 2 Jupiter is at its best of the year as it shines brightly all night. Look in the east as darkness arrives for the tiny, blurry group called the Seven Sisters. Beneath them find the cream colored planet. December 5 Regulus, brightest star of Leo the Lion is close to the Moon as they rise late.
Women that hang around truck stops are known as “lot lizards.” (Like a parking lot.) One of the lizards stepped up on the running board of a truck and told the trucker she would do anything for a hundred dollars. He told her to get in the back, shut the door, and he would talk to her in a few minutes. He drove down the road a ways, backed up to a door at a grocery store, opened the door of the trailer, and told the lizard, “Now unload all these sacks of potatoes.”