Agave. Agave americana, L. American Agave. American Aloe. Maguey. (Fam. Amaryllidaceae.)—An evergreen succulent plant, indigenous to Florida, Mexico, and other parts of tropical America, and largely cultivated, chiefly for hedges, in the south of Europe, especially in Spain. Although the Agave americana is the best known form, botanists have described fifty species of the genus, which are indigenous to South America and the southern portions of North America, and many of which contribute to the economic products produced in that country from the agave plant. The number of these products is very great. Sisal grass or sisal hemp and Tampico hemp, also known as Pita hemp or Pita fiber, are the most important of the various fibers obtained from the agave leaves, though a number of other forms are locally known in Mexico. From a number of species of Agave, are produced in Mexico, large quantities of fermented liquors, known as pulque, and distilled liquors known as mescal or tequila. All of the pulque agaves have thick leaves. When they are about to bloom the central bud is cut out, leaving a large cavity into which the sap (aguamiel or honey water} exudes, rapidly. At first clear green, yellowish or whitish, this sap soon by fermentation becomes milky and acquires a cider-like taste or, if the process is allowed to go on, is rapidly converted into vinegar. Pulque is said to contain about 7 per cent. of alcohol, and is very largely used as a beverage by the Mexicans, but its odor and taste are disagreeable to unaccustomed palates. The juice has in it an optically inactive reducing sugar, agavose, C12H22O11. The leaves and roots and stocks of the agave contain saponin and are used in Mexico in the place of soap. The fresh juice is said to be laxative, diuretic, and emmenagogue, and in doses of two fluidounces (60 mils) useful in scurvy. The leaves are said to be used as counter-irritants, and Lenoble has found in them an acrid volatile oil. (J. P. C., xv.) Agave Gum has been compared to gum arabic, but differs in containing a much larger proportion of lime, and in being only partially soluble in water, the soluble portions resembling pure gum, but the larger insoluble portions having all the characteristics of bassorin.
Agave virginica, L., which grows in our Southern States, is known in South Carolina by the name of rattlesnake's master, has a very bitter root, which is used, in the form of tincture, in colic.