Succulent perennial with large rosette of 30–60 fleshy, sharply toothed leaves that reach a height of 61⁄2 ft (2 m). After 10 years or more, clusters of yellow flowers, growing to 23⁄4 in (7 cm) across, bloom on a pole-like stem 26–30 ft (8–9 m) tall.
Habitat & Cultivation
Agave is native to deserts of Central America. It is now grown as an ornamental plant in tropical and subtropical areas around the world.
Agave sap contains estrogen-like isoflavonoids, alkaloids, coumarins, and vitamins pro-A, B1, B2, C, D, and K.
History & Folklore
Unlike Europeans at the time of the Spanish conquest of America, the Aztec and Maya people were skilled in wound healing. They used agave sap (often with egg white) to bind powders and gums in pastes or poultices to be applied to wounds. The Badianus Manuscript (1552 CE), which was the first herbal text to list the plants of the New World, describes an Aztec treatment for diarrhea and dysentery, in which agave juice, combined with freshly ground maize (Zea mays) and extract of bladderwort (Utricularia species), is given as an enema, using a syringe made from the bladder of a small animal and a hollow bone or reed. Both tequila and mescal, popular Mexican alcoholic drinks, are distilled from the fermented sap or juice of agaves.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Demulcent, laxative, and antiseptic, agave sap is a soothing and restorative remedy for many digestive ailments. It is used to treat ulcers and inflammatory conditions affecting the stomach and intestines, protecting these parts from infection and irritation and encouraging healing. Agave has also been employed to treat many other conditions, including constipation, jaundice, liver disease, and tuberculosis.
Agave is a fairly close relative of aloe (Aloe vera). The two plants have similar medicinal uses. The sisal agave (A. sisalana) is cultivated in subtropical America and in Kenya as a source of hecogenin, the substance that is the starting point in the production of corticosteroids (steroid hormones).
Do not use during pregnancy. Do not exceed the dose as this may cause digestive irritation and eventual liver damage. External use may cause skin irritation.