Welcome back to Nature’s Medicine All Around Us. In this edition, we’ll look at one of the most revered plants of our region, agave.  Also known as century plant or American aloe, the agave has been used by people of what is now Mexico and Southern United States for thousands of years and played a central role in Aztec and Maya cultures.1,2,3 Notably, the Pima people depended on it to avoid starvation.4 It is held in such high regards, it has been part of ceremonies for many millennia. 

There are over 300 species of this succulent plant, with more than 250 species residing in Mexico alone.5 For purposes of botanical description, Agave americana will be discussed here. Its large blue-green fleshy leaves have serrated edges and are arranged into a rosette shape. The average lifespan is 10-15 years, which is also when it produces its extraordinary bloom. The flowering stalk only happens once and grows upward from the center reaching heights of 20-30 feet. The stalk produces branches that end in terminal clusters of yellow flowers;3,4,6 the presentation is quite the grand finale!

Agave leaves have long fibers which can be made into rope, coarse fabric, paper, brushes and other useful tools. In fact, it is known as nature’s “needle and thread” because fibers are attached to the terminal spine at the tip of each leaf. By separating the spine and attached fibers from the fleshy part of the leaf, you will have your own needle and thread. It is also used to create boundaries or fences as its sharp serrated edges can also deter predators.  

Agave has been used for soap, fuel, shelter and fertilizer and historically was one of the most important food sources for native people. The leaves, tubers, flower stalks, roots and fruit can all be roasted; the Pima ate the leaves and flower stalks as greens.4 Boiling the juice makes agave syrup, which packs a sweeter punch than regular table sugar, and last but not least, agave is the source for tequila, mescal and pulque (agave wine). These drinks have been used ceremoniously throughout history and are sought after commodities throughout the world today.3,4,5,7,8

Historical medicinal uses do not disappoint, including reducing inflammation (particularly of the digestive tract), healing ulcers, reducing flatulence and relieving constipation.3,5,7,9 Research shows it has  anti-edema affects in the in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd hour of the acute inflammatory process comparable to aspirin.11 Gum from its root and leaves can be used for a toothache. It also has been used for treatment of cancer, scurvy, male-pattern baldness and syphilis.5,8 Additionally, a poultice of the sap can be used as an antimicrobial/antiseptic for wounds, and these are just a few of its applications.3,5,7,8 A paper published in 2020 showed A. americana to have antibacterial effects against the harmful pathogens S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, and S. thyphi comparable to gentamycin (a prescription antibiotic).12 Now that’s impressive!  

This is by no means a complete account of agave’s uses, properties and scientific support. Please take a moment to acknowledge all that nature provides, and take a longer look next time you see the agave plant, appreciating it for its abundant uses and all we have yet to learn.

Dr. Jainuddin is a naturopathic primary care doctor at One Life Naturopathic and also offers biofeedback training and craniosacral therapy. This article is intended to be informative and is not provided as medical advice. For more information, call (442) 256.5963 or visit www.onelifenaturopathic.org

Sources available upon request.  

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