Agave americana

Agave americana
Agave americana in bloom. Photo courtesy of Carsten Niehaus.
In 1843, within his work History of the Conquest of Mexico, the noted Hispanic historian William H. Prescott described Agave americana as the “miracle of nature.”[1] Agave received such an impressive title because of its tremendous variety of uses, and incredibly versatile nature. As Prescott observed, this incredibly important plant provided early peoples with a significant resource. Historically, the leaves, flowers, and tubers of A. americana were used by groups such as the Aztecs and Apache as a staple food source.[1,2] Besides being an immensely important food source, A. americana provided a source of paper, soap, and cordage along with sewing needles from the spines and an alcoholic drink from the fermented pulp.[3] Today A. americana continues to provide components for many commercial products, including a substitute sweetener with a low glycemic index.

[1] Reagan, Albert B. 1929 Plants Used by the White Mountain Apache Indians of Arizona. Wisconsin Archeologist 8:143-61.
[2] Castetter, Edward F. 1935 Ethnobiological Studies in the American Southwest I. Uncultivated Native Plants Used as Sources of Food. University of New Mexico Bulletin 4(1):1-44
[3] Sturtevant, E. Lewis. Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants. Albany: J.B. Lyon, State Printers, 1919.