Agave americana (Blougaringboom, century plant, umhlaba) is a healing anti-inflammatory, diuretic herb with hormonal and insecticidal constituents. It acts mainly on the digestive system and lowers fever by increasing perspiration.
Ethno Medicinal Uses of Agave americana
Caution: Toxins known in the genus includes haemolytic saponins, acrid volatile oils, oxalic acid, and oxalates. (Hutchings et.al.) Fresh sap may cause skin irritation or dermatitis. (Brown)
Administered to people: The Zulus use A. americana to treat chest pains and asthma. Small glasses of shoot decoctions to which a little brandy has been added are taken twice a day for asthma. Decoctions of dried or burnt leaves are taken in doses of a cupful two or three times a day for stomach or intestinal disorders. Strained, grated root decoctions are taken in doses of one tablespoon two or three times a day for high blood pressure and stress. (Hutchings et.al.)
Agave species are used for coughing and as a snuff for head congestion by the Xhosa. Leaf decoctions are also taken by the Xhosa for high blood pressure. (Hutchings et.al.)
In Western herbalism, it is used internally for indigestion, flatulence, constipation, jaundice and dysentery. Externally for burns and minor injuries. (Brown)
Edible: The sweet, tender plant core is cooked as a vegetable. Sap is fermented in Mexico to make the alcoholic drinks pulque and mescal.
Other uses: A. americana is commonly planted in rows as an effective stock-proof barrier and is used in arid land reclamation. Both A. americana and the related A. sisalana (sisal) are important fibre plants, and sources of hecogenin, used in the manufacture of steroid drugs. Roots are used in soap manufacture, and the coarse fibers woven into ropes, twine, and mats. (Brown)
Genus: The genus consists of about 300 species of perennial succulents, occurring in arid regions from southern USA to South America. Agaves vary greatly in size and can take 5-20 years to reach flowering size. Most are tender, but those with green or grey-green leaves are usually frost-hardy. (Brown)
Agave americana is naturalised in parts of southern Africa, India, and southern Europe. (Brown)
Morphology: A. americana is a large perennial with stout roots and rosettes of thick, hard, grey-green, toothed leaves. Spikes of bell-shaped, white to creamy-yellow flowers appear on about 10-year-old plants in summer.
Agave americana is naturalised in South Africa and is thus not assessed in the Red List of South African plants. It is listed as a category 3 invasive species in the Western Cape but is not on the national list for South Africa. (PlantZAfrica)
This monograph contains details of Agave americana as per the references cited below. If you can provide any additional information, photos or reliable use records, or spot any errors, please leave a comment below or in The Muthi Flora of southern Africa Facebook group
Arnold, T.H., Prentice, C.A., Hawker, L.C., Snyman, E.E., Tomalin, M., Crouch, N.R. and Pottas-Bircher, C. (2002). Medicinal and magical plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 13. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Brown, D. (1995). Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.
Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G., Cunnigham, A.B., (1996). Zulu Medicinal Plants: an inventory. University of Natal
PlantZAfrica – http://pza.sanbi.org/agave-americana. Accessed on 2020/01/14