- Family Agavaceae
- Agave americana
- Century Plant
- Spanish: Maguey, Lechuguilla, Mescal
- Nahuatl: Metl, Tlacametl, Teometl
- Do not use during pregnancy.
- Do not exceed prescribed dose as it may cause digestive irritation and lead to eventual liver damage.
- External use can cause irritation in those with sensitive skin.
Native to the deserts of Central America, agave is a succulent perennial with large rosettes of thirty to sixty fleshy, sharply-toothed leaves that reach a height of six feet. It produces clusters of yellow flowers, growing to three inches across and bloom on a polelike stem after ten years or more. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in tropical and subtropical areas around the world.
Plentiful in the arid areas of Mexico, agave is considered to be one of the most useful plants on earth. For as long as man has travelled the deserts of Mesoamerica, the plant has provided food, drink, and medicine. It is most famous as the source of tequila, pulque, and mescal. Long fibers from the leaves of some species are the source of sisal hemp woven into hammocks, fishing nets, and baskets. The heads, with the leaves trimmed off, are roasted and eaten. The tall stalks are chopped into pieces and chewed like sugar cane and some species are used to make soap.
According to legend, the plant lives for hundreds of years before it flowers, which is why it acquired the name of “Century Plant”. In reality, the plants live no more than thirty years, but the fatal flowering can be spectacular. In some species, a shoot two stories high, will produce an enormous cluster of white or yellow flowers.
Unlike the Europeans at the time the Spanish conquest of the New World, the Aztecs and Maya were very skilled in wound healing. They used the agave sap, often with egg white, to bind powders and gums in pastes and poultices to be applied to wounds.
The Bandianus Manuscript of 1552 was the first herbal to list the plants of the New World, describing an Aztec treatment for diarrhea and dysentery. In it, agave juice, combined with freshly-ground corn and extract of bladderwort was given as an enema, using a syringe made from the bladder of a small animal and a hollow bone or reed.
The 18th century Spanish botanist, Luis Née, was so impressed with the usefulness of the plant that, in his report to the crown, declared that Spain should not be without it. The plant was soon taken there, where it can still be found growing.
The juice was often applied to cuts and knife wounds to ease the pain, but another unusal use was recorded. It was stated that a cowardly (or clever) man was about to be whipped for some crime and had coated his back with the juice in order to lessen the pain of the whip.
- estrogen-like isoflavonoids
- vitamins pro-A, B, C, D, and K
- poultices to treat skin infections and inflammations
- infusions for internal healing
- juice applied to cuts, sores, and wounds
It is used to treat many digestive ailments, including ulcers and other inflammatory conditions of the intestines, stomach, and mouth. Its soothing properties protect the mucous membranes and encourage healing. It is also used for eye inflammations, bronchitis, arthritis, menstrual problems, as well as for cuts and wounds.
In the past, being a fairly close relative of Aloe Vera and with its rosette of sharply barbed spears, the two are often substituted for each other, depending on availability.
Another species, A. sisalana, is cultivated in subtropical America and Kenya as a source of hecogenin, the substance that is the starting point in the production of corticosteroids. Its fiber is also used to make rope and hammocks.
Mixed with a yellow chili and gourd seeds, the mixture was a tonic for those suffering relapses after illnesses.
A beverage made with the juice, called aguamiel, which literally means “water honey,” is prepared by roasting one of the spears until it begins to turn brown. The liquid is then squeezed from it and simmered over a low flame, sometimes with the addition of a cinnamon stick for flavour.