Growing blue Agave plants. Agave tequilana spacing and pruning needs. Medicinal properties of the tequila plant. What you need to know before consuming blue agave nectar.
The spine-tipped leaves of blue Agave plants are tough and fleshy. Extended drought will cause the leaves of Agave tequilana to shrivel but they will plump back out when watered.
The bluish cast of the leaves gives the plant its common name and makes it a striking focal point for any dry garden.
Its other common name, tequila plant, comes from the fact that the distilled sap of this plant is used to make tequila.
In Mexico, from whence the plant hails, only spirits distilled from Agave tequilana 'Weber Azul' may be legally labeled tequila. Though there are other blue Agaves from which other traditional Mexican beverages are produced.
Plants are large, sometimes growing to 6 feet in height.
When they reach maturity (5-8 years), plants shoot a flower stalk (which is often harvested and cooked) about 15 feet into the air.
This stalk will produce yellow flowers which, if pollinated by a certain Mexican bat, will produce thousands of seeds.
Blue Agave plants in bloom on the island of St. Croix.
The tequila plant is hardy in zones 9b-10. It is best planted in sandy soil that drains quickly as it is vulnerable to rot. It will be its bluest in full sun which will also help to keep fungal diseases at bay.
The most devastating enemy of blue Agave plants is a glossy black beetle-like insect called the Agave Snout Weevil. The adults feed on sap from the leaves which can introduce harmful bacteria. Worse damage is done by the larvae which infest the core and roots of Agave plants causing them to wilt and collapse.
Fortunately, this insect is rarely seen outside of Agave's native range.
These Blue Agave plants have been planted too close to the sidewalk and so had to be pruned.
It is best to allow this plant to grow naturally but this requires a great deal of space as mature specimens are quite large.
Space plants at least 5 feet from each other and any nearby walking paths to prevent them crowding each other and possibly injuring strollers.
If you plant Agave tequilana too close to a walkway you will need to prune it once its pointy leaves begin to extend into the path.
Cut the lower leaves off close to the plant's base using a large, sharp knife.
The leaves are filled with a gel which looks like Aloe vera gel. They have the same ability to heal themselves after being cut.
According to my favorite herbal reference, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: A Practical Reference Guide to over 550 Key Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses, Agave and Aloe are closely related and have similar uses.
It has been used by the Aztec and Maya as a laxative and to treat digestive ailments such as ulcers.
The sap is nutritious containing vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and K but should not be ingested during pregnancy, in large amounts or for protracted periods of time as such use may cause liver damage.
People with sensitive skin should wear leather gloves when pruning the plant.
I bought and used a bottle of so-called "pure" agave nectar when it first appeared on the shelf at my local health food store without knowing much about it.
I decided to research this product before offering it on the site.
I was quite surprised at what I found.
Raw, organic and pure are words often used to market agave nectar. These words inspire a confidence which may not be warranted.
In the course of my research, I discovered a very comprehensive article about the pros and cons of consuming agave nectar.
Here are the highlights:
What is agave nectar?
Agave nectar is a highly processed liquid sweetener made from the roots of various Agave species.
Is agave nectar safe to ingest?
This depends on how you define safe.
I have consumed an entire 16 oz. bottle of the stuff and I'm still here to tell the tale.
If you believe that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are safe then, yes, agave nectar is safe.
Are there benefits to using agave nectar as a sugar substitute?
Only if you are a diabetic.
After reading rather a lot of research on the subject, I have come to believe that sugar is less detrimental to human health (and especially to my waistline) than high fructose corn syrup.
Agave nectar contains more fructose than HFCS.
Apparently, our bodies do not burn calories from fructose as efficiently as calories from other forms of sugar. If, like me, you are concerned about weight gain, agave nectar is not the sweetener for you.
If you have diabetes, read on.
Agave nectar glycemic index:
As far as I can tell, agave nectar's single saving grace is its low glycemic index. This makes it 1 of the few sweeteners that won't raise your blood sugar.
Honey vs agave nectar
Honey is perhaps the only alkaline sweetener. This makes it the sweetener of choice for those of us who are fighting acidosis.
Honey is also thicker than blue agave nectar.
In Debunking the Blue Agave Myth, Dr. Jonny Bowden says "Agave syrup (nectar) is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food."