Saturday, March 5, 2011
There are certain species of plants that just totally amaze me with their multiple and astounding uses. Agave is one of those plants. Part of the Agavaceae family, all of the more than two hundred species of Agave originated in the Americas. By the time the Spaniards invaded the highlands of Mexico, indigenous Americans had used wild agaves for food and fiber for at least 9,000 years! Aztecs used agave for food, fiber, paper and beverages for several centuries. Mexicans use the flowering stalks for fishing poles and building materials. The fibers weave blankets, nets, cloth and paper. Also it was once used as a valuable source of water and nutrition in isolated areas. Today it is still used commercially to produce hard fibers: rope and twine. Residue from the fiber production yields a commercial wax and of course let's not forget Mescal and Tequila! Agave when slightly fermented produces a mild intoxicant which the Aztecs heavily regulated and used only ceremoniously. However, it was not until the indigenous people were introduced to distillation process that we got the highly intoxicating beverages. Agave is sometimes called Century plant because it only blooms once a year in its final year in life. The folklore is it bloomed only once every 100 years but in truth the life span of the species ranges from 8 - 30 years. It can be difficult to distinguish one species from another. Pictured above is Agave tequilana, blue agave used for beverages including Agave nectar or syrup, often used as a substitute for sugar. Yucca, which is often grown as an ornamental plant in many gardens is also a member of the Agavacae family. Only the creamy white flowers and fleshy fruit of the Yucca are edible but the roots, trunk and heart are not. My good ole Joy of Cooking Cookbook provides a recipe for frittered Yucca flowers. Yucca root provides an amazing laundry soap or shampoo! Yucca will bloom early and most every year. Yuccas also have a needle point on the end of the sword like leaves. Yucca is not to be confused with Yuca (cassava) which we will discuss later.