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Agave (Agave americana)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Agave americana

The plant contains saponins. An extract of the leaves is used as a soap[2]. The roots are used according to another report[238]. It is likely that the root is the best source of the saponins that are used to make a soap[K]. Chop up the leaves or the roots into small pieces and then simmer them in water to extract the saponins. Do not over boil or you will start to break down the saponins[K].

There is a report that the plant has insecticidal properties, but further details are not given[218, 238].

A very strong fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making rope, coarse fabrics etc[2, 61, 92, 238]. A paper can also be made from the leaves[2].

The thorns on the leaves are used as pins and needles[2].

The dried flowering stems are used as a waterproof thatch[2] and as a razor strop[89].

The plants are used in land-reclamation schemes in arid areas of the world[238].

  • Medicinal Use

    The sap of agaves has long been used in Central America as a binding agent for various powders used as poultices on wounds[254]. The sap can also be taken internally in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery etc[254].

    The sap is antiseptic, diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative[21, 218, 240]. An infusion of the chopped leaf is purgative and the juice of the leaves is applied to bruises[218]. The plant is used internally in the treatment of indigestion, flatulence, constipation, jaundice and dysentery[238]. The sap has disinfectant properties and can be taken internally to check the growth of putrefactive bacteria in the stomach and intestines[21].

    Water in which agave fibre has been soaked for a day can be used as a scalp disinfectant and tonic in cases of falling hair[21].

    Steroid drug precursors are obtained from the leaves[238].

    A gum from the root and leaf is used in the treatment of toothache[218].

    The root is diaphoretic and diuretic[240]. It is used in the treatment of syphilis[218, 240].

    All parts of the plant can be harvested for use as required, they can also be dried for later use. The dried leaves and roots store well[238].

  • Edible Use

    The heart of the plant is very rich in saccharine matter and can be eaten when baked[2, 92, 183]. Sweet and nutritious, but rather fibrous[213]. It is partly below ground[85].

    Seed – ground into a flour and used as a thickener in soups or used with cereal flours when making bread[92].

    Flower stalk – roasted[92, 95]. Used like asparagus[183].

    Sap from the cut flowering stems is used as a syrup[177] or fermented into pulque or mescal[183]. The sap can also be tapped by boring a hole into the middle of the plant at the base of the flowering stem[213].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Contact with the fresh sap can cause dermatitis in sensitive people[218, 238]. The plants have a very sharp and tough spine at the tip of each leaf. They need to be carefully sited in the garden.

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – surface sow in a light position, April in a warm greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 – 3 months at 20¡c[133]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of well-drained soil when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a sunny position in the greenhouse until they are at least 20cm tall. Plant out in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts, and give some protection from the cold for at least their first few winters[K]. Offsets can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established[200].
Requires a very well-drained soil and a sunny position[1, 200]. The agave is not very hardy in Britain tolerating temperatures down to about -3¡c if conditions are not wet[260]. It succeeds outdoors on the south coast of England from Torbay westwards[11]. Plants survived lower temperatures during the very cold winters from 1985/1987 and were unharmed at Glendurgan gardens in West Cornwall[K]. A monocarpic species, the plant lives for a number of years without flowering but dies once it does flower. However, it normally produces plenty of suckers during its life and these continue growing, taking about 10 – 15 years in a warm climate, considerably longer in colder ones, before flowering[11]. This plant is widely used by the native people in its wild habitat, it has a wide range of uses. In a warm climate suckers take 10 – 15 years to come into flower. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233].
South-western N. America. Naturalized in the Mediterranean[11].

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.