Also called Mescal, Century plant
and Lechuguilla. The pre-flowering Agave looks much like a giant artichoke
with a stalk coming out of the center. When in flower it has several branched
yellow blossom clusters. The leaves are spiny-edged which distinguish
it from the look-alike Yucca plant. And, unlike the Yucca, the agave flowers
only once and then dies. It takes anywhere from 12–25 years for
it to reach maturity. Hence the name Century plant comes into play.
This robust desert dweller was one of the most important plants to the
Indians of the Southwest. It provided food, medicine and fiber. There
is evidence that much reverence and ceremony is associated with this plant.
The gathering and baking of the Agave crowns was an immense undertaking.
Digging sticks, firewood and a roasting pit were all to be prepared before
harvest. Next, the picking and preparation of the plant itself, then the
roasting which would take several days. At this point the sweet pulp was
either eaten right then, or stored for future use.
. Ropes, bowstrings, and many
other utilitarian items were fabricated from the strong leaf fibers. A
needle and thread could be made from the spine of a leaf with the fiber
still attached. Stuffing for recreational balls were made from the leaves
The fresh root was grated and mixed with hot water to create a lathering
shampoo. Compresses were used externally on wounds and local infections.
Chest congestion was relieved with a poultice applied to the chest itself.
The dried leaf tea is still used in Mexico and the Southwest for indigestion,
water retention and arthritis. Please note that the fresh leaves can irritate
the skin, therefore one should always dry the leaves before use.
Of course the most famous use of Agave is in the making of Tequila. It
is made from a species in Mexico, also used to make the beverages pulque
and mescal. It has become so popular world wide that Tequila producers
cannot keep up with the demand. So stock up now if you are a big Tequila
fan because the prices will be going up!