Agave – Agave americana

Agave
Agave

Consider agave, not a usual suspect,
with its tooth-edged leaves, sharper than a serpent,
hardy as a cactus, source of hemp and mescal,
rope and fever dreams.

By Pat Tompkins

This native of the American southwest and the American tropics was introduced to Europe in about the 16th century. It became widely cultivated for its striking appearance. They have escaped cultivation in Europe and have become well established in the Mediterranean areas of Europe and Africa. It grows at low and medium altitudes on sandy or gravelly soil. Being a desert plant, once established it will survive most droughts.

This interesting plant that so looks like an aloe, is not related in any way to Cacti. But rather is more closely related to the Lily and Amaryllis families. It and its cousin the Yucca are often planted ornamentally outside its natural region. Should you do this and you are not in a Zone that avoids frost in winter you can still grow it, but place it in a pot to bring indoors with the first frost till spring.

Today the agave is used for food mostly for its sap which makes what we know as agave syrup. It is a very effective sweetener often used to replace honey in recipes. It dissolves easily in cold liquids, quite the opposite of sugar! The flower stalk and the heart was roasted and eaten, being sweet it was at one time popular with children. The seeds can be ground into a flour to act as a thickening agent in soups and stews, and also to make bread.

Several Native American tribes would take the core and ferment it making Pulque, which is a drink used in religious ceremony. The developing flower bud is fermented in the same fashion to make Mescal. Tequila is also made in a similar manner, but must be made from a specific type of Agave grown within Tequila, Mexico.

Agave is used in herbal medicine for inflammation (soreness, redness, and swelling), infection, cancer, and high blood pressure. Side effects of using Agave are rash that may itch, burn, blister, especially when using Agave on the skin, breathing problems or tightness in your throat or chest, and chest pain.  

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