Agave (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Agave (Sturtevant, 1919)

Agave americana

Agave americana Linn. Amaryllideae. AMERICAN ALOE. CENTURY PLANT. MAGUEY.

Tropical America. The first mention of the agave is by Peter Martyr[1], contemporary with Columbus, who, speaking of what is probably now Yucatan, says: " They say the fyrst inhabitants lyved contented with the roots of Dates and magueans, which is an herbe much lyke unto that which is commonly called sengrem or orpin." The species of agave, called by the natives maguey, grows luxuriantly over the table-lands of Mexico and the neighboring borders and are so useful to the people that Prescott[2] calls the plant the " miracle of nature." From the leaves, a paper resembling the ancient papyrus was manufactured by the Aztecs; the tough fibres of the leaf afforded thread of which coarse stuffs and strong cords were made; the leaf, when washed and dried, is employed by the Indians for smoking like tobacco but being sweet and gummy chokes the pipe; an extract of the leaves is made into balls which lather with water like soap; the thorns on the leaf serve for pins and needles; the dried flower-stems constitute a thatch impervious to water; about Quito, the flower-stem is sweet, subacid, readily ferments and forms a wine called pulque of which immense quantities are consumed now as in more ancient times; from this pulque is distilled an ardent, not disagreeable but singularly deleterious spirit known as vino mescal. The crown of the flower-stem, charred to blackness and mingled with water, forms a black paint which is used by the Apaches to paint their faces; a fine spirit is prepared from the roasted heart by the Papajos and Apaches; the bulbs, or central portion, partly in and partly above the ground are rich in saccharine matter and are the size of a cabbage or sometimes a bushel basket and when roasted are sweet and are used by the Indians as food. Hodge[3], writing of Arizona, pronounces the bulbs delicious. Bartlett[4] mentions their use by the Apaches, the Pimas, the Coco Maricopas and the Dieguenos Tubis.

The agave was in cultivation in the gardens of Italy in 1586 and Clusius saw it in Spain a little after this time[5]. It is now to be found generally in tropical countries. The variety which furnishes sisal hemp was introduced into Florida in 1838 and in 1855 there was a plantation of 50 acres at Key West.

  1. Eden Hist. Trav. 142. 1577.
  2. Prescott, W. H. Conq. Mex. 1:137. 1843.
  3. Hodge, H. C. Arizona 245. 1877.
  4. Bartlett, J. R. Explor. Texas 1:292. 1854.
  5. De Candolle, A. Geog. Bot. 2:739. 1855.

Agave palmeri

Agave palmeri Engelm. Arizona. The central bud at certain seasons is roasted and eaten by the Indians and a spirit is also distilled from it[1].

  1. Newberry Pop. Sci. Month. 32:40. 1888.

Agave parryi

Agave parryi Engelm. MESCAL.

New Mexico and northern Arizona. This plant constitutes one of the staple foods of the Apaches. When properly prepared, it is saccharine, palatable and wholesome, mildly acid, laxative and antiscorbutic[1].

  1. Havard, V. Torr. Bot. Club Bul. 123. 1895.

Agave utahensis

Agave utahensis Engelm. UTAH ALOE.

Utah and Arizona. The bulb of the root is considered a great delicacy by the Indians, who roast and prepare it for food which is said to be sweet and delicious[1].

  1. Case Bot. Index 19. 1880.

Agave wislizeni

Agave wislizeni Engelm. Mexico. The young stems when they shoot out in the spring are tender and sweet and are eaten with great relish by the Mexicans and Indians[1].

  1. Havard, V. Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. 519. 1885.