Agave Virginica.—False Aloe.
The root of Agave Virginica, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: False aloe, Rattlesnake's master.
Botanical Source.—A perennial, herbaceous, stemless plant, with a premorse, tuberous root. Leaves linear-lanceolate, fleshy, glabrous, and radical, with cartilaginous, marginal serratures. The scape, which is round, and from 3 to 6 feet high, bears sessile, greenish-yellow flowers, scattered in a wand-like spike, emitting a strong fragrance. The root (the part employed) is very bitter, and yields its properties to alcohol and water by infusion.
History.—This plant is common to Pennsylvania and the Southern States, growing on dry or rocky banks, and flowering in August and September. In some parts of the country this plant is considered a valuable antidote to wounds by poisonous snakes, and is termed "rattlesnake's master."
Action and Medical Uses.—False aloe is reputed laxative and carminative, and has been beneficially employed in obstinate diarrhoea, flatulency, spasm of the intestines, etc.
Related Species.—Agave Americana, Linné. American aloe. Nat. Ord.—Amaryllidaceae. Tropical America; naturalized in Florida. Cultivated for centuries in Mexico (A. De Candolle). American aloe, Maguey or Metl, also called Century plant, from an erroneous supposition that it blossoms only once in a hundred years, is the largest of all herbaceous plants; it inhabits the warmer latitudes of the American continent, where it flourishes as an evergreen, and is utilized for hedges in southern Europe, where it is known as aloe. The agaves, from their resemblance to the aloe family, have been called aloes, as false aloe and American aloe; but the agaves differ from the aloe in having entirely different properties, both chemical and medicinal, and also in the relation of the botanical parts, the ovary of the latter being superior; that of the agave, inferior. All agaves are natives of Mexico. The aloe, on the contrary, is an Eastern plant. The leaves of the American aloe are long (4 to 6 feet), lanceolate, thick, succulent, and curved or reflected backward, and beset with marginal and terminal spines. The flowering scape may reach a height of from 20 to 40 feet, the plant blooming in its native habitat about once in a decade.
The Agave Americana and other species, particularly A. pulqué, are employed in Mexico in the manufacture of a spiritous beverage known as pulqué. This is prepared by fermentation of the saccharine liquid, known as aguamiel (honey water), which exudes from the leaves and root when cut. Occasionally this "honey water" is evaporated to a honey-like, or syrupy consistence, and may be resolved into sugar. Distilled pulqué is a brandy-like liquor called mezcal. The fibres of the leaves are made into thread and cordage, and are known as pita.
Gum maguey is analogous to gum arabic, though differing in the amount of calcium salts contained therein. It is partially soluble, the portion dissolving resembling arabin. The insoluble portion resembles bassorin. The pulp of the leaves, locally applied, acts as a rubefacient, somewhat like mustard. The fresh juice is said to act upon the kidneys and bowels, and also to promote menstruation. Dr. G. Perrin considers it a superior remedy in scorbutus, preferring it to lime juice, in doses as high as 2 fluid ounces 3 times a day (N. Y. Jour. Med. N. S. VII., 181).
Agave mexicana, Lamarck;and Agave vivipara, Linné. These two species are closely related to the preceding plants, and are natives of Mexico.