Agave properties

Benefits of agave


Common English Name: Century plant, American aloe, rattlesnake’s master

drawingBotanical illustration of agave (Agave americana)

Spanish / Castellano: Maguey, agave, agave azul, azabara, acibara, maguey pinto, maguey pulquero, pita, cabuya, fique, mezcal, yucatan, henequén.

– French / Français:: Agave, pita, maguey, cabuya

– Catalan / Català: Agave, atzavara, acibara, pitera borda

– Basque /Euskara: Agave, pita, fike, mezka, maguey, cabuya

– Portuguese / Português: Agave, babosa,

– Italian / Italiano: Agave

– Romanian / Română: Agave

– Turkish / Türkçe: Agave

– Dutch /Nederlands: Agave

– German / Deutsch: Agaven

– Polish /Polski: Agawa

– Danish / Dansk: Agave

– Norwegian /Norsk bokmål: Agave

– Finnish /Suomi: Agaavet

– Swedish /Svenska: Agavesläktet

Scientific name: Agave sp. The common name in English of Agave americana (Century plant) refers to the durability of this plant, which, although it does not usually live 100 years, it easily reaches 25 or 30. In general, plants of the genus Agave live for long.

The genus name Agave was given by Linnaeus in 1753. “Agave” is a word that comes from the Greek “agauós” meaning nobleman. Carlos Linnaeus gave him the full name of Agave americana.

Family: Asparagaceae. They were before included in agavaceae (and these, in turn, in the lily family – Liliaceae).

Habitat: In rocky, arid, rocky ground of dry and hot weather. Plants growing naturally in Mexico, southern United States and the Caribbean islands. Its use has spread in Mediterranean areas, where they are grown in gardens and parks in rocky and dry areas.


Agave americana

Century plant (Agave americana)

Plants of the Agave genus are perennial succulent plants that stand out for their leaves grouped in rossetes. Some of these plants have sessile rosettes, that is to say, without stems; others, as they mature, they produce stems looking like tree trunks. (Arborescent stems)

Agave leaves are well adapted to the environment and harassment of animals

Thick, fleshy, usually sword-sized and vertically erect leaves. Most often finished in a strong and very sharp needle, and margins in most cases with teeth or spines. Spiny or toothed formations are an adaptation of these plants against harassment of animals.

Agave leaves, called “pencas”, are adapted to drought conditions where they live. They are thick leaves (succulent) because they store a lot of water inside.

In times of prolonged drought, they lose some of their thickness and even appear wilted, changing its vertical aspect by a drooping one.

To avoid perspiration and the subsequent loss of water, agave leaves are covered with a waxy coating that is what gives them the typical bluish green color.

In addition to its thickening it should be noted that agave leaves are very fibrous. The fibers begin at the base and reach the apex. Some agave species are specially cultivated because of their fibers, such as sisal (Agave sisalana)

Agave flowers

The flowers of these plants are slow to bloom, usually between 5 to 10 years, although some may take up to 40 years. Generally the smaller species usually bloom at 4 or 5 years, while the larger species are wont to do between 10 and 25 years.

Only bloom once in life. The flowers are placed at the end of a scape or flower stem (quiote) that can reach between 2 and 10 meters high. The flowers are arranged in inflorescences branched or simple. (Racemes, spikes or panicles)

Once the flowers are dried plant dies. Most species of maguey only bloom once in life (monocarpic species)

How is agave reproduction?

The maguey can reproduce sexually and asexually. It reproduces sexually by seeds and asexually by shoots springing off the main floor or bulbils that grow in the floral stem.

Sprouts grow from the underground rhizomes around the main stem. Once outside, they produce roots that are inserted into the ground causing a new plant. Thus groupings of different plants that can cover a large area.

The bulblets of the flower stems are separated from them and fall into the ground causing new plants. Sometimes they get stuck in the hair of some animals and are transported away from the main plant.

The flowers are pollinated by a wide range of animals, from insects or birds to birds or mammals. Among the main pollinators we have bats, some of them, such as Leptonycteris nivalis, specialize in a particular type of maguey. Specifically, this species pollinates Agave tequilana.

Other pollinators are mice, squirrels or other rodents; birds, like hummingbirds and parakeets; insects such as flies, bees, wasps, etc.

The flowers produce fruits in capsule. The capsules have elongated oval shapes. Within each capsule, there are the seeds. Each capsule produces many seeds. Some are fertile and have black coloration, while non fertile are white.

The dispersion of seeds is performed by the wind or animals.

Pinas of agave

Pine of agave in OaxacaPine of agave in Oaxaca

Agaves have a big bud or core that is a kind of bulge in the center of the plant, around which grow the leaves. It is called pine because, once released from the leaves, it reminds the shape of a pineapple.

In most species of maguey, it is obtained when the plant reaches seven or eight years.

Right now, the plant is harvested, freeing it from the leaves and the side teeth, and final spine is cut. The core of these plants or pines can weigh up to 100 kg.

Components of agave

Carbohydrates (plant): Fiber,

Steroid glycosides: Hecogenin (plant) Steroidal sapogenins: Clorogenin (Flores), tigogenin, sisalagenin, smilagenin,

Proteins (Plant)

Agave parts used: Root, leaves and sap

Traditional uses of agave

Agave has been traditionally used in Mexico since before the arrival of the Spaniards. It is believed that its consumption dates back to about 7000 BC. When the Spaniards arrived in America, they saw the Aztecs used maguey for many purposes. The most commonly used species was Agave pacifica, with which they made clothing, ropes, baskets, etc.

In Spain it was introduced in the sixteenth century when Hernan Cortez brought the plant and the exploitation and utilization techniques. From here, it spreads along the Mediterranean coast.

Agave was the basis of survival of a resident in New Mexico Apache tribe whose inhabitants were known as “mezcaleros”. They used the leaves to feed and elaborated with its fibers ropes, baskets, sandals, etc. They lit fires with the dry leaves and sewed their clothes with fibers obtained by crushing the leaves. The tips of agave leaves served as their needles.

Driven out of their territories by the United States, currently they are living in Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in southcentral New Mexico.

Agaves have been used mainly for:

Make textile fibers: The leaves were worked to develop fibers with which clothes to wear, blankets, carpets, ropes were fashioned, etc.

Blouses worn by indigenous (huipil) were made with the most delicate fibers of this plant. The huipil was a kind of rectangular canvas with a top opening for the head and two for side arms. Today, it is considered the traditional costume of southern Mexico.

The final thorns of maguey leaves were used as needles.

Currently, some species of agave are cultivated for the production of textile fibers. Such is the case of Sisal Sisal Agave or species, of which there are intensive crops in Indonesia and Africa.

Homemade soap or shampoos.

Industry: The chemical industry uses the leaves, roots or seeds for obtaining saponins. With the pulp left over from the production of beverages, cellulose pulp or ethanol is made. The pharmaceutical industry manufactures drugs.

Develop paper: With the fiber of the huge flower stems, Aztecs manufactured similar paper to the Egyptian papyrus.

Build houses: With the flower stems, in Mexico called quiotes, they made the structure of the houses. Subsequently, they covered the ceilings and walls with maguey leaves. The leaves are also used to form channels to collect rainwater

Separate farms: Plants are planted in rows on the edge of farms to preserve the entry to outsiders. Strong barbed needles and leaves make it almost impossible to pass between the specimens planted as fences.


Oven for roasting agave in Oaxaca (Mexico)Oven for roasting agave in Oaxaca (Mexico)

Food: At the base of the flower stalk all species of agave have very large buds, called pines, some of which in some species can reach half a meter in diameter. These buds are edible and were widely used by the Apaches, as well as by the Aztecs. Normally they baked in ovens or on coals. Often they kept cooked to eat them throughout the year.

Today, they continue to sell once they have been baked in stone ovens. Chunks of this type of food are sold in Mexican markets much. The roasting process increases the sweetness of this product, which is chewed as if it were chewing-gum and then, once all the juice has been exhausted, fiber is discarded.

Agave syrup or agave sweetener: It is obtained from plants of the genus Agave, mainly blue agave (Agave tequilana). Agave syrup has a very high fructose content. By their nature, fructose is sweeter than sugar and absorbed more slowly than this (low glycemic index) so it is especially recommended for diabetics (more)

Agave sap: The agave is a drink which is extracted from different species within the genus Agave, mainly the Giant agave (Agave salmiana Haw), Agave pulquero (Agave atrovirens Karw) and Century plant (Agave americana). It is primarily a sports drink. It helps replenish fluids and electrolytes by its water content and vitamins (especially niacin and riboflavin) and minerals such as potassium. (more)

Agave beverages: Distillation of maguey for making alcoholic beverages is due to the contribution of the Spaniards. The Aztecs did not know the alembic, so that, when this plant was brought to Spain in the early sixteenth century, Spanish distillers used their juice to produce alcohol, following the technique already known for the production of spirits from cereals fermentation.

Later the alembic and its use was brought to America, where the production of distilled spirits from fermented juice of the maguey, such as tequila or mescal, surpassed in quantity and quality to products that were made in the old continent.

It must be stated that the Aztecs already knew what was the maguey fermentation juice. From this sugary liquid, elaborated pulque, a beverage of fermented agave juice with a fairly low alcohol content.



Agave preparations for external use

Skin lesions: Used externally, it has vulnerary properties so it can be used for skin conditions such as wounds, sores, dermatitis, etc. (Poultice of fresh leaf juice on the affected area)

Eyewash: The liquid from the infusion of dried leaves can be used as eye drops to reduce eye irritation. (Infusion for 15 minutes of 5 tablespoons of dried leaves per liter of water. Filter and apply to bloodshot, tired or bruised eyes by means of a gauze soaked in this liquid.)

Hair reinforcer: With the liquid from the maceration of the tender leaves hair can be rinsed after using a natural shampoo. In this way we can revitalize our hair, reduce dandruff or seborrhea and maintain stronger hair, preventing its fall.

Tisanes with agave for internal use

Fluid retention: The agave diuretic properties are due to its richness in steroidal glycosides, both Hecogenin as saponins. These properties can be exploited to increase the volume of urine expelled. Increase urination is a way to cleanse the body of toxins, avoiding edemas.

Moreover, more diuresis may also be useful in conditions such as gout, rheumatism, arthritis, prevention of kidney stones, etc. (Infusion of 5 tablespoons of dried leaves per liter of water. Take four cups with a little honey.)

Similarly, the above remedy can help in the treatment of obesity.

Indigestion: In case of indigestion, you can use the infusion of dried maguey leaves to aid digestion. (Infusion of 5 tablespoons of dried leaves per liter of water. Take four cups with a little honey.)

Liver: In cases of liver failure or liver inflammation, agave helps deflate this body and work better. (Two teaspoons of powder of dried leaves a day, dissolved in water or juice.

Purifying: A good way to purify the blood is to make a decoction for 15 minutes and a half teaspoon of dried root per cup of water. Take the resulting liquid at 4 or 5 doses throughout the day. This remedy is very useful if to cleanse the blood after a season of diets rich in meat, seafood, etc.

It is an appropriate treatment in case of jaundice and has been traditionally used to fight syphilis.

Cancer: The cleansing properties of agave could be useful in preventing the development of cancerous tumors, especially prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. (Infusion of 5 tablespoons of dried leaves per liter of water. Take a couple of cups a day)

Agave toxicity

According to some experts, this plant should not be used as a medicinal home remedy, because it is a species whose juice, in external use, is irritating to the skin and in internal use, it produces digestive problems.

Do not use for pregnant or lactating women.

How many species of agave are there?

Agave america Marginata

Agave americana “Marginata”

There are about 200 species of maguey worldwide. These include the following:

– Agave americana

– Agave tequilana

– Agave attenuata

– Agave angustifolia

– Agave potatorum

– Agave vivipara

– Agave filifera

– Agave bracteosa

– Agave parryi

– Agave fourcroydes

– Agave sisalana

More information on agave.

This article was endorsed by Vicente Martínez Centelles - Founder of the web and director. Teacher of natural sciences, expert in plants, natural remedies and botanical photography.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

26 April, 2022

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