Yucca

Scientific Name(s): Yucca spp. Family: Agavaceae

Common Name(s): Yucca , Spanish bayonet , Our Lord's candle , Joshua tree , Adam's needle , Mohave yucca

Uses

Yucca has been used historically as a fiber, a soap, and a traditional remedy. In vitro experiments suggest that yucca constituents may exert anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant, antiplatelet, and antiproliferative activity. Clinical trials are lacking.

Dosing

Whole yucca plant powder is available in tablet form; however, there are no clinical trials upon which to base dosing recommendations.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been determined.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Information is limited. Yucca powder and yucca extract derived from Yucca schidigera possess US Food and Drug Administration GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Ornamental use of yucca plants is associated with a high frequency of allergic rhinitis.

Toxicology

Information is limited.

Botany

The name yucca applies to as many as 40 species of trees and shrubs found mostly in arid portions of North and Central America. The common names can apply to different species: Spanish bayonet refers to Yucca aloifolia , and Our Lord's candle refers to Yucca whipplei . Other common yuccas include Yucca schidigera (Mohave yucca) and Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree), which grows to 20 m in height and is commonly found at the bases of desert mountains. Yucca plants are characterized by stiff, evergreen, sword-shaped leaves crowded on a stout trunk. They have a dense, terminal flowerhead (panicle) faintly resembling a candle. The flowers are white or greenish. All yucca plants depend on pollination from nocturnal yucca moths ( Tegeticula yucca sella ). Each variety of moth is adapted to a single species of yucca. 1 , 2 , 3

History

Yucca plants have served indigenous people for centuries for a variety of uses, including fiber for rope, sandals, and cloth; the roots have been used in soap. Traditional uses also include boiling and baking the fruits, eating the blossoms, chewing the raw leaves, and fermenting the fruits to produce a beverage for rituals. More recently, yucca has been used in soaps, shampoos, and food supplements. Yuccas contain saponins that have a long-lasting soaping action. The plant has been purported to be beneficial for treating hypertension, arthritis, migraine headaches, and colitis, as well as a variety of other disorders. A solid extract is derived from the leaves; the Mohave yucca is the most common commercially used plant. Yucca extracts are currently used commercially as foaming agents in carbonated beverages, as flavorings, and in drug synthesis research. 2 , 3

Chemistry

The roots and flowers of the yucca are rich in saponin steroidal glycosides consisting of a sapogenin and 1 or more sugars. Saponins are characterized by their bitter taste and their ability to foam when shaken with water. Most species contain sarsasapogenin, tigogenin, furostanol, and spirostanol. 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 Y. aloifolia leaves contain up to 1.4% tigogenin, a compound that can be used in the commercial synthesis of steroidal hormones. Phenolic compounds (novel yuccaols and gloriosaols) and spirostane aglycones are numerous in yucca species. 7 , 11 , 12 , 13 Interest has centered on identification of tetrahydroxymethoxystilbene and reservatrol, a phytoalexin with antioxidant properties also found in the skin of grapes, mulberries, and peanuts. 6 , 7 Liquid chromatographic techniques for the identification of phenolic content have been described. 14

Uses and Pharmacology

Anti-inflammatory action

Earlier studies attributed anti-inflammatory activity to the saponin content of the plant. 12 Antioxidant activity of the phenols in yucca may also be responsible for an anti-inflammatory effect because they inhibit inducible nitric oxide synthetase (iNOS), as well as influence arachidonate metabolism and inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. 11 , 12

Despite the addition of yucca extracts to equine joint supplement preparations and their use in human arthritis treatment based on a few poor-quality studies from the 1970s, no clinical trials exist to support this use. 12 , 15 , 16

Antimicrobial activity

Yucca leaf protein has been found to inhibit herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 and human cytomegalovirus. 17 Steroidal saponin glycosides from the stems, leaves, and flowers of Yucca gloriosa and related species have demonstrated antifungal effects against a number of human pathogens in vitro. 9 , 10 , 18

Antioxidant activity

In vitro antioxidant activity has been evaluated for extracts of whole plant yucca as well as for phenolic and stilbene constituents. 6 , 7 , 19 , 20 Free radical scavenging assays and other techniques have demonstrated antioxidant activity greater than the reference quercetin. 7 Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and nitrogen oxygen generation has been demonstrated. 6 , 7 , 19 , 20 In rats fed yucca extract, a protective effect against nitrate-induced oxidative stress was observed. A decrease in methemoglobin and tissue nitric oxide levels, as well as increases in glutathione and positive histological findings, were shown. 21

Antiplatelet action

Reservatrol and yuccaols reduced thrombin-induced platelet aggregation in vitro. 11 , 22

Cancer

Reservatrol-derived gloriosaols have shown anti-proliferative and apoptotic-inducing activity in solid tumor and leukemia cell lines. 13 Aqueous alcoholic extracts of Yucca glauca flowers have exhibited antitumor activity against B16 melanoma in mice. Analysis of these extracts has identified 2 galactose-containing polysaccharides effective against B16 melanoma but ineffective against L1210 and P388 leukemias in mice. 23

Other

A study evaluating the anti-inflammatory effect of yucca extracts observed reductions in blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels, and a reduction in the incidence of migraine headaches from baseline, although the study was not powered to evaluate such effects. 12 , 16

Dosage

Whole yucca plant powder is available in tablet form; however, there are no clinical trials to determine dosing recommendations. 12

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented. No clinical implication of antiplatelet action of reservatrol has been described.

Adverse Reactions

Information is limited. Yucca powder and yucca extract derived from Y. schidigera have been given GRAS status by the FDA. 7 , 20 Ornamental use of yucca plants is associated with a high incidence of allergic rhinitis. 24

Toxicology

Little is known about the toxicity of yucca saponins, and the effect of long-term ingestion is not well defined. Saponins are generally considered to be poisonous to lower forms of life, but are nearly nontoxic to humans when taken orally. However, their injection into the bloodstream causes hemolysis, even at extreme dilutions. 3 A 12-week feeding study in rats found Mohave yucca extract to be essentially nontoxic. 25 Studies evaluating the hepatoxicity and nephrotoxicity of steroidal saponins in sheep found major adverse renal effects, including tubular necrosis and hemorrhage, with increases in serum creatinine and urea. On histological examination, biliary crystals attributed to unhydrolyzed saponins were found in the liver and bile ducts. 26

Bibliography

1. Yucca. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database ( http://plants.usda.gov, August, 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Tyler VE. The New Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies . 3rd ed. Pharmaceutical Products Press: New York, NY; 1992.
3. Leung AY. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics . New York, NY: Wiley; 1980.
4. Dewidar AM, el-Munajjed D. The steroid sapogenin constituents of Agave americana , A. variegata and Yucca gloriosa . Planta Med . 1970;19(1):87-91.
5. Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy . 13th ed. London: Balliere Tindall; 1989.
6. Piacente S, Montoro P, Oleszek W, Pizza C. Yucca schidigera bark: phenolic constituents and antioxidant activity. J Nat Prod . 2004;67(5):882-885.
7. Piacente S, Pizza C, Oleszek W. Saponins and phenolics of Yucca schidigera Roezl: Chemistry and bioactivity. Phytochem Rev . 2005;4(2–3):177-190.
8. Skhirtladze A, Plaza A, Montoro P, et al. Furostanol saponins from Yucca gloriosa L. rhizomes. Biochem. Syst Ecol . 2006;34(11):809-814.
9. Kemertelidze EP, Benidze MM, Skhirtladze AV. Steroid compounds from Yucca gloriosa a L. introduced into Georgia and their applications. Pharm Chem J . 2009;43(1):45-47.
10. Favel A, Kemertelidze E, Benidze M, Fallague K, Regli P. Antifungal activity of steroidal glycosides from Yucca gloriosa L. Phytother Res. 2005;19(2):158-161.
11. Wenzig EM, Oleszek W, Stochmal A, Kunert O, Bauer R. Influence of phenolic constituents from Yucca schidigera bark on arachidonate metabolism in vitro. J Agric Food Chem . 2008;56(19):8885-8890.
12. Cheeke PR, Piacente S, Oleszek W. Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects of Yucca schidigera : a review. J Inflamm (Lond) . 2006;3:6-13.
13. Nigro P, Bloise E, Turco MC, et al. Antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic activity of novel phenolic derivatives of resveratrol. Life Sci. 2007;81(11):873-883.
14. Montoro P, Skhirtladze A, Bassarello C, et al. Determination of phenolic compounds in Yucca gloriosa bark and root by LC-MS/MS. J Pharm Biomed Anal . 2008;47(4-5):854-859.
15. Williams CA, Lamprecht ED. Some commonly fed herbs and other functional foods in equine nutrition: A review. Vet J . 2008;178(1):21-31.
16. Bennett CC. Public Information Memo . New York: The Arthritis Foundation, Feb 22, 1977.
17. Zhang Y, Zhang YJ, Jacob MR, Li XC, Yang CR. Steroidal saponins from the stem of Yucca elephantipes . Phytochemistry . 2008;69(1):264-270.
18. Hayashi K, Nishino H, Niwayama S, Shiraki K, Hiramatsu A. Yucca leaf protein (YLP) stops the protein synthesis in HSV-infected cells and inhibits virus replication. Antiviral Res . 1992;17(4):323-333.
19. Bassarello C, Bifulco G, Montoro P, et al. Yucca gloriosa : a source of phenolic derivatives with strong antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem . 2007;55(16):6636-6642.
20. Olas B, Wachowicz B, Nowak P, et al. Comparative studies of the antioxidant effects of a naturally occurring resveratrol analogue – trans-3,3-,5,5-tetrahydroxy-4- methoxystilbene and resveratrol – against oxidation and nitration of biomolecules in blood platelets. Cell Biol and Toxico . 2008;24(4):331-340.
21. Cigerci IH, Fidan AF, Konuk M, et al. The protective potential of Yucca schidigera (Sarsaponin 30) against nitrite-induced oxidative stress in rats. J Nat Med . 2009;63(3):311-317.
22. Olas B, Wachowicz B, Stochmal A, Oleszek W. Inhibition of blood platelet adhesion and secretion by different phenolics from Yucca schidigera Roezl. bark. Nutrition . 2005;21(2):199-206.
23. Ali MS, Sharma GC, Asplund RO, Nevins MP, Garb S. Isolation of antitumor polysaccharide fractions from Yucca glauca Nutt. (Lilliaceae). Growth . 1978;42(2):213-223.
24. Mahillon V, Saussez S, Michel O. High incidence of sensitization to ornamental plants in allergic rhinitis. Allergy . 2006;61(9):1138-1140.
25. Oser BL. An evaluation of Yucca mohavensis as a source of food grade saponin. Food Cosmet Toxicol . 1966;4(1):57-61.
26. Wisløff H, Uhlig S, Scheie E, Loader J, Wilkins A, Flåøyen A. Toxicity testing of saponin-containing Yucca schidigera Roetzl. juice in relation to hepato- and nephrotoxicity of Narthecium ossifragum (L.) Huds. Toxicon . 2008;51(1):140-150.

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