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View Full Version : Yucca used by Native Americans as hair cleaner.



citymouse
07-17-2008, 04:55 PM
I'm trying to research personal hygiene among Native Americans living in the great basin / north west area of the US. The time period is early 1900s. Specifically I want to know how they used yucca to clean their hair. Was it refined somehow? Was the sap squeezed out directly onto the scalp and massaged in? Were other products used that didn't require boiling or extraction?

My tribe has had no contact with non-native traders so western soaps of shampoos are not available. In fact my character is alone and after an extended period away from his village finds himself in need of a bath.
There is a river nearby with plenty of river clams. This will feed him and also provide a scraping tool for cleaning his skin, but the hair thing has me stumped. I did a web search where I found the yucca reference but nothing tells me how it was used.
Anyone got any info?
BTW this is a novel so I have some latitude here. Also I have purposely avoided identifying my tribe. I'm using generic NA names, etc.
Thanks for you time.

C

LIVIN
07-17-2008, 05:28 PM
You want Yucca root (from personal experience) at least one foot deep. So, you're MC can dig up a piece of root and on an open end he can grind his fingernails in there a little bit, creating a slight soapy discharge and then just rub the open end against himself like soap.

I had a longer response, but the internet ate it. :rant:

citymouse
07-17-2008, 05:36 PM
Bless you! This is exactly what I needed! So the yucca pulp can be used as a skin soap as well as a shampoo? Is it oily? Does it dry out the skin or does it leave a softening residue?
C




You want Yucca root (from personal experience) at least one foot deep. So, you're MC can dig up a piece of root and on an open end he can grind his fingernails in there a little bit, creating a slight soapy discharge and then just rub the open end against himself like soap.

I had a longer response, but the internet ate it. :rant:

LIVIN
07-17-2008, 05:52 PM
Soap and/or shampoo. Basically, if you were not just doing what the MC is said to be doing, you'd cut root from, say 1-3 ft deep, peel the exterior off, then smash it up... as you smash it, a soapy residue becomes apparent... Don't know exactly what native americans did... but another step in the process could then include baking, but that all seems irrelevant here... If you put some smashed up yucca root in a cloth, you can kind of squeeze it and soapy discharge comes out, like using a soaped up lufa (sp?) or something... I wouldn't call it oily - just soapy really. I'm not aware of the long term affects.

citymouse
07-17-2008, 06:00 PM
This is perfect. My MC is wearing only a woven breechcloth. He can use this to extract the soap and in the process do his skimpy laundry.

Native Americans used yucca as a personal cleanser but as I said non of my sources said how they used it. This is one of those areas that, although this is a novel, I have to get it right or someone is going to call me on it.
C


Soap and/or shampoo. Basically, if you were not just doing what the MC is said to be doing, you'd cut root from, say 1-3 ft deep, peel the exterior off, then smash it up... as you smash it, a soapy residue becomes apparent... Don't know exactly what native americans did... but another step in the process could then include baking, but that all seems irrelevant here... If you put some smashed up yucca root in a cloth, you can kind of squeeze it and soapy discharge comes out, like using a soaped up lufa (sp?) or something... I wouldn't call it oily - just soapy really. I'm not aware of the long term affects.

LIVIN
07-17-2008, 06:37 PM
although this is a novel, I have to get it right or someone is going to call me on it.


I'd say "BECAUSE" not although.

citymouse
07-17-2008, 08:05 PM
LIVIN,
Thanks again for your replies.
C

RJK
07-17-2008, 08:09 PM
Interesting thread. I've used the yucca leaves as a salve for burns. just break off a leaf, then break open the leaf and let the liquid run over the burn. It soothes the pain and is supposed to help heal the injury.

citymouse
07-17-2008, 08:26 PM
That's good to know. My MC fights off a puma and gets a nasty scratch on his arm. I can use the yucca here to help heal the wound.
C


Interesting thread. I've used the yucca leaves as a salve for burns. just break off a leaf, then break open the leaf and let the liquid run over the burn. It soothes the pain and is supposed to help heal the injury.

IceCreamEmpress
07-17-2008, 08:52 PM
Many Native American peoples processed yucca sap and rhizomes (bulbs) to make soap, combining it with other plants (asters, for instance) and sometimes clays.

To use it for washing "in the field", you dig down to the bulb, mash the bulb against a rock , add water, and you'll get a soapy foam.

citymouse
07-17-2008, 09:16 PM
I've just written the scene as you described!
So far my hero has discovered a hidden valley, run into his first white men, fought a puma, experienced shape shifting and sat under a water fall from dawn to dusk while praying for a vision. Now all he has to do is tame a horse he's rescued from a sand bog, get a bath and get home. And do it all in 60,000 words!
C


Many Native American peoples processed yucca sap and rhizomes (bulbs) to make soap, combining it with other plants (asters, for instance) and sometimes clays.

To use it for washing "in the field", you dig down to the bulb, mash the bulb against a rock , add water, and you'll get a soapy foam.

citymouse
07-17-2008, 11:38 PM
One more question about yucca and I'll shut up. What color is the root sap? My guess would be either clear, white, cream to yellow.
C

IceCreamEmpress
07-17-2008, 11:41 PM
It's a warm white color (white with a tiny hint of yellow).

Sargentodiaz
07-18-2008, 03:08 AM
There are also other plants that have medicinal values but I would guess that in the period you're writing in,the most common way to heal a cougare's claw marks would be to auterize it after cleansing. There are also a number of plants that could be used to make a poultice.

It all depends upon where, when and who he is as to the amount of knowledge he has on the healing arts.

Tsu Dho Nimh
07-18-2008, 03:50 AM
You dig up the roots, rinse them, pound them between rocks, then rub the soapy fibrous mess on your skin and in your hair. Rinse well.

Or you can scrub down with a couple handfuls of sand and rinse. It's really "exfoliating".

citymouse
07-18-2008, 03:56 AM
This character is a teen. He's on his first vision quest. The puma's scratch is superficial but troubling since the season is summer. Flies and other insects are present in numbers. I'm not sure how far I want to take this healing thing since it's not the focus of the story.
Currently I'm fleshing out the yucca soap and bath ritual now.

Thanks for the input. I know very little about American Indian culture of the west. As I said, my time period is the early 1900s. My learning curve is straight up!
C


There are also other plants that have medicinal values but I would guess that in the period you're writing in,the most common way to heal a cougare's claw marks would be to auterize it after cleansing. There are also a number of plants that could be used to make a poultice.

It all depends upon where, when and who he is as to the amount of knowledge he has on the healing arts.

Tsu Dho Nimh
07-18-2008, 08:42 PM
The accepted Northern rockies way to clean wounds when there's no better way is to wash them and then spread sticky pine sap on them.

It's actually a good antiseptic - has lots of phenolic compounds to kill the bacteria.

kuwisdelu
07-19-2008, 12:39 AM
I'm trying to research personal hygiene among Native Americans living in the great basin / north west area of the US. The time period is early 1900s. Specifically I want to know how they used yucca to clean their hair. Was it refined somehow? Was the sap squeezed out directly onto the scalp and massaged in? Were other products used that didn't require boiling or extraction?

Hey. I'm American Indian. Zuni, to be specific (New Mexican pueblo tribe). Honestly, I don't have much experience with use of yucca for personal hygiene, so I can't really help you with that. Sounds like others already have you covered there, though.

I have a few things I'm going to nitpick you on, since you've admitted to not knowing much. Just trying to help out ;)

Where exactly do you have this taking place? Yucca is a desert plant, and wouldn't grow very well in much of the Northwest. Here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Yucca_distribution_capsular_fruited_species_ I_southwest%2Cmidwest_USA%2C_Mexico_Baja_Californi a%2C_Canada_overview_I_B.jpg)'s a map of where yucca most commonly grows.


My tribe has had no contact with non-native traders so western soaps of shampoos are not available.

I'd question how likely that is. By the early 1900s most tribes, to my knowledge, have had plenty of contact with non-native traders.


BTW this is a novel so I have some latitude here. Also I have purposely avoided identifying my tribe. I'm using generic NA names, etc.
Thanks for you time.

It being a novel is no excuse for being lazy. Do your research. It will definitely pay off in the end. I'm curious here about what your idea of "generic" Indian names are? I'm sure lots of tribes probably do have rather "generic" names, because I certainly can't tell what tribe a name like "Running Fox" comes from, but I should warn you that not every tribe uses naming conventions like these. For example, my Zuni name is my username here, Kuwisdelu. It doesn't really translate to anything in particular, as far as what most people expect from Indian names.

I think it's probably fine if you don't name the tribe (although in some ways that will make it more difficult for you) but I suggest looking into a particular tribe--even if you never mention them--and mimicking some of their names/beliefs/practices. Tribes differ vastly in terms of many different kinds of religious beliefs and practices, and having one in mind to follow will be better than mixing and matching. There are some similar characteristics and beliefs among tribes, but in every other way, they really are separate, distinct nations. The encroachment of the white man is one of the few things that really united many of them--before that, lots of us were warring enemies.


This character is a teen. He's on his first vision quest. The puma's scratch is superficial but troubling since the season is summer. Flies and other insects are present in numbers. I'm not sure how far I want to take this healing thing since it's not the focus of the story.
Currently I'm fleshing out the yucca soap and bath ritual now.

Thanks for the input. I know very little about American Indian culture of the west. As I said, my time period is the early 1900s. My learning curve is straight up!

I don't know much about vision quests, especially as late as the 1900s, because my people never really did them. All in all, I think you might be better off setting your story a little bit earlier, unless there is something that requires it be in the early 1900s?

I hope I haven't sounded too harsh, or anything, I'm just trying to help you get some things straight ;) Feel free to ask any more questions or PM me.

citymouse
07-19-2008, 01:05 AM
Kuwisdelu,

Thanks for taking so much time to address my questions.
c

kuwisdelu
07-19-2008, 04:09 AM
Kuwisdelu,

Thanks for taking so much time to address my questions.
c

No problem. Like I said, my knowledge is pretty limited to my own tribe when it comes to certain things (and we're from New Mexico...not really the NW), but feel free to PM me or ask any questions here. Can't guarantee anything, but I'd be happy to help if I can.

Sargentodiaz
07-20-2008, 06:53 PM
Just for the heck of it, here's a snipped from the research I've done on cacti --

Americans who prefer their own names for things call them soap-root, when they do not say Spanish bayonet, or Adam’s Thread-and-Needle or just
Soaptree Yucca in Sonora Desert. All three species mentioned have large, thick rootstocks firmly and deeply seated in the earth. so that a pick or crow-bar is needed to uproot them.

Before the white traders introduced the sale of commercial soap, amole was universally used by Mexicans and Indians for washing. purposes, and the practice is not yet obsolete by any means. The rootstock is broken up into convenient sizes and washed free from any adhering dirt and grit. Then, when needed, a piece is mashed with a stone or hammer, dropped into a vessel containing water, cold or warm, and rubbed vigorously up and down until an abundant lather results-and this comes very quickly. After dipping out the fiber and broken fragments, the suds are ready for use. They
answer every purpose of soap, and are particularly agreeable in their effect upon the skin, leaving it soft and comfortable. A shampoo of amole is,
among the long-haired Southwestern Indians, not only a luxury but a prescribed preliminary to ceremonies of the native religious systems. Even whites recognize the efficacy of the root, and an American manufacturer in the Middle West has for years been making a toilet soap with the rootstock of Yucca baccata as a basis. It is put upon the market under the name of Amole Soap.
Certain species of Agave, that is, the Century Plant fraternity, are frequent along the Mexican border and contain saponin in greater or less quantity,
affording a soap substitute as do the Yuccas. Best known, perhaps, is the species that Spanish speaking residents call Lechuguilla (botanically, Agave lechuguilla, Torr.). This is distinguished by a cluster of radical, yellowish-green, spine-tipped, fleshy leaves, few in number (rarely over fifteen) and
barely a foot long, the flowers borne in a close panicle almost like a spike. The short trunk of the plant is, I believe, the part usually used for soap; but Dr. J. N. Rose, in his “Notes on Useful Plants of Mexico,” quotes Harvard as authority for the statement that saponin is found in the leaves of this species. The most used Agave-amoles, however, are plants of Mexico, the discussion of which would not be pertinent here.


And, I found several sites that refer to other "soaproot" plants in the other parts of the country. I know there's one on the east coast and another in the Northwest.
Try a Google search for soap, soaproot or natural soaps.

citymouse
07-20-2008, 08:15 PM
I want to thank everyone in this forum for your input.
The scene where my MC washes is especially significant because one of his vision quest vows is not to have a fire until he returns home. Therefore a sweat bath is not possible, nonetheless he wants to wash before "crying out" to the Great Spirit to hear him. He bathes under a waterfall where he stands from dawn to dusk waiting for his vision. Later he fights and kills a "puma/cougar/great cat/ that which walks silently among the rocks." It isn't until he returns home with the cat's pelt that he realizes that the battle took place during his vision under the waterfall. His vision has been granted.

I'm aware of the derivations for the big cat's name among indigenous peoples. However, if I use the native names e.g. Klandagi or Ko-icto or
Katalgar I lock myself to either the Cherokee, Chickasaw or Cree, to name only a few. I want to be free of specifics which would hem me in.

BTW this is not an historical novel. It is not about the US military/populace versus the natives. It's a romance / adventure novel--a big departure from the contemporary intrigue/mystery genre I usually write.

C

IceCreamEmpress
07-21-2008, 04:59 AM
I want to be free of specifics which would hem me in.

BTW this is not an historical novel. It is not about the US military/populace versus the natives. It's a romance / adventure novel--a big departure from the contemporary intrigue/mystery genre I usually write.


Do please understand that what you're doing is the exact equivalent of writing a novel set in "Europe" where you don't specify what country or culture the protagonist comes from.

There's nothing wrong with doing that (Saramago's work comes to mind) but it might be helpful to keep the analogy in mind. What you don't want is the equivalent of having protagonist Francisco killing a reindeer then offering a sacrifice to Odin the Allfather in the rich Port wine of his homeland.

citymouse
07-21-2008, 06:07 AM
Please let me thank once again for all the valuable input.
C

Tsu Dho Nimh
07-21-2008, 02:41 PM
Good point on the Yucca - it's a dry land plant. You would have to use soaproot (amole) in the wetter areas.

And I didn't notice the time frame. In 1806 Lewis and Clark did their thing. By the 1820s there were trappers and traders all over the place. By 1840s there were missionaries in the Pacific Northwest, many coming in from the Pacific side, and the Jesuits coming up from St.Louis. By 1900 there were no "wild" tribes left who had not had contact with traders.

They were not isolated - they thought nothing of traveling several hundred miles to trade and visit or hunt. The Salish, for example, regularly went from the area of Hamilton, Montana down to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon to fish and trade.

http://www.saintmarysmission.org/history.html

Medical notes: If he is not going to have a fire, he can't eat the clams. They carry a liver fluke and he'll get very sick and perhaps die. He's not going to be standing under a waterfall for long before going into hypothermia and dying ... that's snow melt and it's danged cold water.

A comment on the "generic branded Indian" ... you will find that the readers of romance/adventure novels set in the west are as demanding about accuracy as those who read historicals.

kuwisdelu
07-22-2008, 10:18 AM
Dang, with everything I, IceCreamEmpress, and Tsu Dho Nimh have said, I hope we haven't disheartened you too much! I'm sure you can get everything worked out and write the story you want to tell, though. Don't worry. ;) Just come back here any time you need some fact-checking. Again, best of luck!

novelator
07-22-2008, 06:27 PM
Wondering why you can't simply go back a hundred years to cure the problem with your MC's tribe not having met anyone from the outside world. Note I did not say civilized world...LOL...does something in the storyline preclude doing this?

Mari

citymouse
07-22-2008, 07:29 PM
Mari, Thanks for you post.
I've not been clear--my fault. It is my two MCs (~14yo) not the tribe in general who have not meet a white person. This fact is not the central or even a peripheral issue in the story.

Also I have made a huge error in describing parts of the story (greatly condensed) because it seems, to me, that I have given the impression that I am alternately, unread, uninformed, and perhaps even lazy. For the record, to date have visited and absorbed no fewer than 18 websites devoted to specific parts of my subject. I am in personal contact with a Native American researcher. I live two hours from an NA reservation and I attend their annual pow-wow. I've eaten raw river clams. Please note, I'm well and not dead--yet.

Let me reiterate, this is not an historical novel. It is not an overlay of some European saga set in the American West.

I realize that respondents have had my best interest at heart. If I sound defensive here it's because I feel more than a little at bay. Without setting down the full plot and scope of my story, I can hardly expect anyone to other than draw some of the conclusions expressed here and again that's my fault. In the future I'll remember to ask and not speak.
In fact I've just added this bit of advice in my story. “My son, observe all, listen much, speak little. Do not discard the white men and their ways without first learning from them.”

Thanks again for all your help. I have gained insights in this forum on other books I have written and I hope to continue to come here and learn. One day I may be of assistance here. Usually I contribute in some of the other AW forums.

Thanks again,
C



Wondering why you can't simply go back a hundred years to cure the problem with your MC's tribe not having met anyone from the outside world. Note I did not say civilized world...LOL...does something in the storyline preclude doing this?

Mari