Eating Yucca Flowers

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Yucca flowers in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

For nearly a year, I’d had my eye on a little patch of yucca plants growing in a vacant lot in Fair Oaks, near my house. And for most of that year, the patch looked like nothing more than a living asterisk, a round, spiky blob nestled beneath an oak tree. Every day as I drove to work, I watched it. Waiting.

Then, not too long ago, the little yucca plants each sent up the world’s largest asparagus stalk. Once I saw that, I knew it would soon be time. Sure enough, a couple weeks later, the asparagus stalk sprouted a spray of some of the most beautiful flowers you’d ever want to see: Like upturned tulips, they were creamy, slightly greenish, fragrant — end edible.

Eating yucca flowers is not so strange as it may seem. Most of the plant is edible, actually, and many people eat that asparagus stalk. I might, if I lived in the Southwest, where yucca is everywhere and some, like the century plant, sport stalks 30 feet high. Most of the Native American tribes who lived around yucca used the plant extensively: They ate the flowers, stalks and fruits, used the fibrous, spiky leaves for cordage, and mashed the pulpy root with water for soap.

You do need to watch for ants and other critters in the flowers, as the nectar is irresistible to them, and there is a particular moth that pollinates yucca in return for depositing its larvae on the flowers; larvae are not good eats. But the grubs are rarely on the petals, and it is only the petals you eat.

I thought my little yucca patch was an anomaly, that is was a rarity in Sacramento. It’s not. Once I spotted the flower stalk, I began seeing them everywhere. Then I left town on book tour and was amazed. Everywhere I went, from California to the desert Southwest to Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, I saw yucca in bloom. Such a pretty sight. A huge swath of yucca is in glorious bloom in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles right now; I passed them on the road Thursday.

A quick check of the literature and I found that some form of yucca grows from NorCal across all the southern states, and up into the Great Plains all the way into Alberta, Canada — where it is, apparently, endangered. While I don’t know this as a fact, I would bet money that the heartland of the yucca is the stretch of desert between western New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona — I drove through forests of yucca there.

Enough geography. Why on earth would you want to eat a yucca flower? Well, because they’re tasty! The flavor varies depending on species and on how old the flower is; older flowers can become bitter. But in general, the flower petals — again, you only eat the petals — are firm, slightly crunchy, and taste like a combination of a green bean and the innermost leaves of an artichoke.

Those I’ve eaten raw will make the back of your throat a little scratchy if you eat a bunch of them. Cooking seems to stop this from happening.

Most recipes for yucca flowers involve eggs. They seem to like each other very much. Omelets, frittatas, huevos rancheros, eggs, yucca, tomatoes and chiles, etc. etc. I’ve also seen them sliced and tossed into tomato-based soups. So I guess yucca flowers like tomatoes, too. But that’s not the fate I had in mind when I picked a bunch of flowers recently.

Nope. I had a nefarious plan that involved hot oil.

Everyone loves fried squash blossoms, right? And everyone loves tempura, too. So I decided to tempura-fry my yucca petals, with a twist: Because yucca lives alongside mesquite, I would add mesquite flour to the tempura batter.

Ever eat mesquite flour? It’s some pretty awesome stuff. It’s made from ground, dried bean pods from this desert tree. The flavor is warm, chocolatey and spicy. Almost sweet. More on mesquite flour later.

I happen to be pretty good with tempura batter, and the addition of the mesquite did not screw things up, thankfully. The result was airy, crispy and warm. The yucca blossoms had that hit of artichoke leaf in the center, but I missed it in a few bites — next time I will stack 3 yucca petals together before I dip them in the batter, to get more of the yucca taste.

fried yucca flowers in appetizer bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Definitely try this recipe. It’s got it all: Crunch, unusual flavor, wild ingredients, and, let’s face it, it’s fried. Depending on where you are, you will need to go out and pillage some yucca flowers soon. They’re only around in late spring, and only in wet years. So gather ye yucca while ye may…

Yucca flowers in a bowl
5 from 5 votes

Fried Yucca flowers

This recipe may sound weird, and, well, maybe it is, but the structure of it is easy: It's a tempura batter over a flower petal, fried for a couple minutes in hot oil. You can serve it with hot sauce, or by itself. The closest flavor substitute for a yucca flower would be the inner layer of leaves on an artichoke -- the yellow leaves you can eat whole. You can also use squash blossoms here, too. If you cannot get mesquite flour, which is available online or at Whole Foods, you can skip it and use regular flour instead.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients 

  • Petals from 12-15 yucca flowers
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour or rice flour
  • 1/4 cup mesquite flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 cup sparkling water, ice cold
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Oil for frying
  • A chopstick or wooden skewer

Instructions 

  • Set out a large wire rack with some paper towels underneath to drain the finished yucca petals.
  • Pull the petals from the yucca flowers and snip off any part of the green base of the petal that might still be attached.
  • Heat your oil in a fryer or a large, heavy pot to 360°F.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together in a large bowl. When you are ready to fry, mix in the egg yolk and then the ice cold sparkling water. Mix only enough to combine the ingredients; a few lumps are fine.
  • Grab three yucca petals together in a stack, and dip them into the batter. Drop them into the hot oil one at a time, maybe 4-5 stacks per batch. Do not crowd the pot. Once they are all in the oil, use the chopstick to dislodge them from the bottom of the pot if the flowers have stuck there. Fry for 2-3 minutes, flipping once with the chopstick.
  • Drain on the rack and finish with the rest of the flowers. Serve immediately with hot sauce.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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37 Comments

  1. Very interesting! I live in Mexico, and yucca flowers are a delicacy here. I’ve had them with eggs and also in stews. I recently made some yucca flower dobladas, which are similar to enchiladas. Yucca flower petals are truly versatile!

  2. My mother, a California girl, loved the yucca so although I grew up in Pennsylvania and never saw one I knew what they were. When she died I saw some growing on the U. of Pgh campus and found a local nursery that sold it. I was living in Vermont at the time but I tried it in my garden there figuring that if it grew in Pittsburgh it would grow in the Connecticut River Valley. I started seeing other yucca plants in various gardens there. When I moved to Maine I brought the Yucca with me. It grows slowly but well and this year there are beautiful blooms. I hope I am not too late reading this information to try eating the blooms. Thank you!

  3. I love this! I’m curious–would using rice flour change the taste or texture? Why not use all mesquite flour?

  4. Yucca even grows wild in NYC. I just got some flowers from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. If any park rangers read this, I only took flowers that the morning rain had knocked off the plants.

    I’m glad I found your recipe. Thanks!

  5. We eat yucca flowers but we boil some of the saponins out first. I see you did not boil them first. Also, regarding the question about mesquite flour. The pods with seeds and all are made into a flour. Currently the best source I have for the flour is from the Seri Indians in Desemboque. Their cooperative now has a hammer mill which makes it possible to make enough to sell. Delicious.

  6. I had harvested the flowers this morning to make a Flower Essence following Dr. Bach’s method. When I was done making the essence I was left with a good amount of flowers still crispy and vibrant…I thought I’d toss them in with my salad or something but then I found this blog and it sounded so good!

    I grew up in Italy eating zucchini flowers stuffed with Parmesan all summer long….so this sounded perfect. I didn’t have the mesquite flour and I just used rice flower…I was a bit nervous because I don’t really get along with the frying pan…but they actually were delicious…I’ll make another batch tonight:)

    Thank you!

  7. The recipe looks scrumptious, Hank. I have to say, though: I eat the whole flower, not just the petals. I’m eating Yucca glauca in Colorado so maybe the reproductive organs of our flowers are less bitter than others… but do you happen to know whether it’s for culinary or safety reasons that some authors recommend not eating them?

    1. They’re downright fibrous (you can floss with the damned things!) in other varieties and don’t always cook down well. I don’t know about other reasons.

  8. I just collected a bunch of yucca flowers this morning. I’m going to have to try this sometime. Yum!!

  9. Hi! Thanks for that thorough explanation about the Yucca flowers. It is just recently that I have learned that there are some flowers considered edible and eaten regularly for quite some time now. I am recently interested with this type of recipes and this sure can be on my list. And I agree, most of this type involve eggs and some cheese. They do taste fine. Thanks!

  10. Hi Hank,

    We have them everywhere here in norhteast Mexico. Used to harvest one or two each year when had the ranch. Mezquites the same, although right here where I live they are a little scarce. In Tamaulipas they use the mezquite pods to make flour or mezquitamal, some kind of candy and even fermented beverages, but have not tried none of them yet, just munched the pods whenever I can find them. Will try to find some.

  11. Cecilia: The whole shebang, pod and seeds together. And it is a great time to harvest, too! I know they are starting harvest in Tucson now.

  12. Hi Hank,

    I don’t mean to sound dim, but when you say you make mesquite flour from the pods, do you mean the pods and beans, just the beans or just the pods? I’d like to give that a try given the abundance of mesquite in Central Texas.

    Thanks!

  13. Oh. I met a man who lived on a reservation out near Hemet- he said that they’d dig up a yucca root, make a barbecue pit in the ground, and roast it underground all night, and that it was delicious. Never tried it though.

  14. I just picked some up yesterday- think I’ll make a syrup for cocktails. I find the smell so unbelievably intoxicating that I’ll have a sniff and then stare into space for about ten minutes. Good lord, I want to bottle this stuff.

    I love mesquite pods, btw. When I lived in the desert, they grew everywhere and we’d just pick them off and munch on them while hiking. But I love the idea of using the two together…

  15. I love this article! I live out in New Mexico and they really are all over, I’ll have to give this a try soon!

  16. That’s the funny thing about foraging: it’s hard to see something unless you’ve already seen it once. I love it though. We think we know everything, but there are so many things right under our noses that we never see.