What is Agave?

By | May 17, 2014

What is Agave

Agave Plant

Once you know the difference, it will be easy to tell what is agave and what is yucca with a few inspections. Agave and yucca look similar, but the agave plant has more uses than yucca, including more parts that are edible, medicinal uses and a wide range of utilitarian uses.

Agave and yucca both belong to the Agavaceae family and both contain various amounts of saponins. Saponins can be toxic to people but are not easily absorbed and most are destroyed when the pulp or fruit containing the compound is heated or cooked. Saponins also provide the basic compound for soap allowing the boiled roots of the Agave to be used to create a primitive soap.

The Differences

There are a few distinct traits that allow you to differentiate between agave and yucca including:

  • All agave plants have thorns on their leaf stalks and if old enough flower stalks as well.
  • Yucca have no true thorns although the tips of some species leaf is sharp.
  • Agaves only bloom at the end of the plants life.
  • Yucca plants bloom annually.
  • Agave leaves are thicker with dense pulp.
  • Yucca leaves are thin and have little pulp.

Agave Soothes and Heals

Tribal people found many uses for the agave plant and some of those uses have carried over into the modern world.

Agave sap was once used to help hold primitive bandages in place in part because of its sticky nature with the benefit of antiseptic properties. The whole plant has antiseptic properties allowing soaps and cleansing waters to help reduce infection while cleaning the skin. Salves made with the sap were used for sores, scrapes and other minor skin ailments, and for other external purposes including poultices for bruises and swelling.

Ancient and modern herbalists recognized agave for the saps ability to help reduce the symptoms of dysentery, bacterial diarrhea and other digestive complaints.

Nutritional Values

Comparing the nutritional values, it is easy to see why agave may be important. Just a quarter cup of cooked Agave pulp contains:

  • About 40 calories.
  • 4 grams of sodium.
  • Almost 15% of the daily fiber requirements.
  • About 6 grams of sugar.
  • Less than a gram of fat.
  • Almost 15% of the daily requirement of calcium.

Agave Sweetens

Raw agave pulp contains less sugar due to the fact that when primitive plant based sugars are heated they improve their sugar content. It also contains about 50% less fiber, sugar and more water.

The sap of the plants is naturally sweet and if not refined, is better for diabetics than other sugars. Unfortunately, agave sap is easily refined into high fructose sugars rivaling the sweetness and raises blood sugar levels quickly.

Not all agave sweeteners are the same primarily due to the natural fructose level of each species. The Blue Agave, (Agave tequilana,) from which Tequila is made has an 11 glycemic rate while one of the wild species, Agave angustifolia has a rating of 39. Before adding Agave syrups to your diet be sure to check to see if the syrup is raw or refined.

Cleansing

Soap containing agave sap or a decoction can help reduce or eliminate many irritating scalp conditions while gently cleansing the hair.

Fiber

Additionally the strong and durable fibers contained in the outer part of the plant leaf have been used to make paper, provide a string often called sisal and were used in the southwest, Central and South America as thatch.

Insect Repellant

A mild solution of the boiled roots creates a soap like insecticide that is not harmful to garden plants and less toxic to ground dwelling insects including earthworms. Like all saponins, boiling for extended periods of time breaks down the chemical components. If using agave as a natural insecticide bring the sliced roots to a boil then allow them to steep for a few hours. One cup of the steeped roots added to one quart of water works to repel most destructive garden plant insects.

Knowing about Agave allows you to choose a less refined sweetener, provide a natural alternative for cleaning minor wounds and scrapes and most species can easily be grown in the yard adding to the natural beauty of the landscape.