The Versatile Century Plant

Not long ago, all I knew of the agave plant was the printed picture on bottles of tequila. We’ve had a few of those in my kitchen, and the subtleties of varieties is akin to appreciating the nuanced differences in a bottle of wine.

I also believed the tale that the Century Plant was so named because it bloomed only once every one hundred years. At least one part is true: it blooms only once before it dies, but for this versatile plant, a single bloom has multi-use potential.

Aztec Fruit

The Aztecs harvested agave and enjoyed a beverage called pulque. This was alcoholically weak, possibly like beer, and was used for religious and/or medicinal purposes. Colonial Spaniards concocted a much stronger brew. Which brings me to…

When making margaritas, my husband is a purist. Three ingredients of equal measure: tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. Shake with ice and enjoy on hot summer evenings (or any time of year!).

Versatile Plant

Also called maguey, the century plant, or agave, has been used extensively for centuries.

The stalk, which when it arrives can grow as much as twelve inches a day and soar as high as forty feet, was often used to make fence posts.
The plants tough fibers were used to make thread or twine.

Agave syrup is sweeter than honey. I like it poured over my homemade plain yogurt sprinkled with black walnuts. Yum! Or, for a healthy sweet treat, try boiling carrot slices and dressing them with agave syrup and cinnamon.

Steamed agave flowers, young, tender, and mixed with herbs, are nutritious. So are agave seeds!

And the hearts of the plant, usually roasted for at least two days, can be a tender addition to dinner.

What Else?

Bows, baskets, fiber for clothes… including using the thorns to makes needles! 

A Few More…

The dried leaves can be smoked like tobacco.

Fermented, the sap can be made into vinegar.

Or, leaf extract lathered and used like soap.

And if you can find them, maguey leaves can be parboiled, wrapped around meat, and placed into a slow cooker for at least eight hours. Drop some roasted green chiles and pulled beef into a warm tortilla—the result is melt in your mouth magic!

Mission Connection

Finally, Miguel del Barco, a Jesuit priest who served at Mission San Javier in the Sierra de la Giganta (mountain range in Baja California Sur) between 1738 and 1768 documented, among other things, the native peoples’ use of agave. His book is still available: The Natural History of Baja California

There is a lot to say about the versatile agave, but why listen to me when you can watch the movie?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my husband is mixing something up in the kitchen. I think he needs my help!


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