This South American native has made a serious appearance in the health food industry in recent years—you can find it being touted as a sweetener to replace your table sugar and it seems like it’s cropping up in every detox product you can find on the shelves. The juice of this ally has been used to help heal wounds and the meat of it can be eaten to work with digestive issues.
What is this wonder plant? Why, agave of course!
With over 200 species, it hasn’t been considered “new” in South America for a very, very long time.
The History of Agave
Agave is in the Asparagaceae family—yep, right along with the asparagus you had for dinner and the spider plant growing on your window sill—and is native to the arid parts of the Americas, Mexico in particular.
What we now use as a sweetener or a digestive coolant, was considered a life-giving staple to the traditional natives of these regions. You see, depending on how the agave is processed, it can be used for anything from a healing plant to a sustaining food source. It can be processed to make paper, it has antiseptic properties along with saponins to make an excellent soap. You can pull off the needles and use the thin fibres as a thread thin enough to sew your clothes or boil down the leaves and weave a rope.
Agave is also an important part of the trade economy because it can be distilled into alcohol.
Tequila and Mezcal
The most commonly known use for the agave plant is for distillation into a strong alcohol called mezcal.
All agave fermentation and distillation is a type of mezcal, and although the smoky mezcal flavor is becoming more popular around the world, tequila is the most common. Tequila is made by the same process as all mezcal is, but it’s officially distilled from only one type of agave—the blue agave cactus.
The best mezcal is made by hand with agave plants that are perfectly ripe. Since most agave plants die just after they put their energy into creating their flowers, the perfect age is typically about 7-10 years old. Mezcal goes through a very specific process, including being processed by hand and simmered under volcanic rock, to get that perfect flavor and to preserve the energy of this life-sustaining plant.
We use our own handcrafted mezcal to make our extracts. You can read about our process and see photos by clicking here.
The Healing Energy of Agave
Although agave is primarily used in our products as a vehicle for the other plant allys to create synergy in your body, we chose to distill this plant because it comes with its own healing properties that the both holds the energy of the ancestral Mexico and creates the perfect environment within the body to generate new healing.
While most alcohols are very drying to the body, agave has been used to heal the membranes of the mucosal lining and the digest system for centuries. While the alcohol fermentation isn’t particularly demulcent, it also doesn’t have the intense drying and damaging effect that you’ll find with other alcohols, making it a better vehicle for medicinal plants.
As a food source, the agave plant is richest in carbohydrates just before it flowers (this is also what allows the success in the distillation process and the fibrous parts to be boiled for rope making) and as a food source is balancing to blood sugar.
The sap of the agave plant—more well known in the aloe plant, which is also in the Asparagaceae family—can be used externally to bind powders into pastes that are applied to wounds. This can help to seal off the wound like a bandage and the properties of the plant can have a soothing effect and temporarily help with pain.
Notes on Using this Plant for Yourself
It’s incredible, yes, the effects of the plant. It can be used to sustain almost every part of life and it reproduces by growing “pups,” or little copies of itself, around its base.
But remember, this is a plant that can live in the harshest parts of a Mexican desert, which means that just as it can offer hydration and life sustaining nutrients, it can also cause pain—as evidence by the thorns that grow around it, you don’t want to use this plant without studying it any more than you want to run into it in the dark.
The magic of this plant is in its versatility, and the different ways it heals are due to the different ways it can be processed. Use the plant, absolutely, just make sure to respect the correct process for its intended use. Processing it incorrectly (or not processing at all) can cause sickness.
Do you have a favorite way to use the agave plant? Tell us about it in the comments below!