Is The Agave Plant Poisonous or Toxic?

Agave plants make beautiful additions to landscape or when grown as a potted specimen. Have you ever asked – is the agave plant poisonous or toxic?

The desert agave (Agave americana) is a notoriously toxic plant, but it’s also very attractive, and so it is a common landscape plant. 

This large, spiky, threatening plant grows naturally in desert settings found in New Mexico and Arizona.

The attractive Agave plant - isome say it is poisonous - is it?The attractive Agave plant - isome say it is poisonous - is it?

In addition to being a very attractive plant, it has also been very useful throughout history. 

Its fibers have been used traditionally to make a wide variety of textiles. 

The heart of the plant is an important food source when prepared by roasting. 

Several types of beverages are made from the sap (including tequila and pulque) when it is properly prepared. 

And if you are so inclined, use the sap in its unadulterated form to poison your arrows. 

Just be careful not to poison yourself when you do!

What Parts Of The Plant Are Poisonous or Toxic?

It is safest to assume all parts of the Agave are toxic. 

The only part of the Agave plant which is not toxic without preparation is the flower. 

Flowers eaten raw are said to be quite tasty. 

All other parts of the plant must be carefully handled, harvested, and prepared if they are to be eaten or otherwise used. 

With this said, when correctly prepared, most parts of the plant are edible and beneficial, but you must know exactly what you are doing. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?

Contact with Agave sap may cause burning, pain, swelling, and rash. 

The moment you are exposed to Agave sap, your skin will begin to blister, and thereafter, the areas having been exposed may be sensitive to sun exposure. 

If you accidentally ingest the raw sap of the Agave plant, you may suffer liver and kidney damage and even death.

In a recent incident, a Chinese vlogger mistook Agave for aloe vera and consumed a few bites raw in a video. 

She immediately became ill and had to be rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped and undergo treatment for liver damage. 

It’s also important to note you don’t necessarily have to have contact with the sap to experience severe consequences from an encounter with an Agave plant. 

The plant’s thorns and the edges of the leaves are quite sharp and threatening and can inflict serious injuries on their own.

In addition to physical trauma, you may also experience a severe allergic reaction if you are stabbed by an Agave plant. 

Puncture wounds caused by Agaves have been known to swell up rapidly and bring on lightheadedness.

The compound causing these serious reactions is called calcium oxalate raphides, which consists of extraordinarily small (microscopic) sharp shards of crystalline oxalate, which can cause a great deal of pain in your skin. 

Very irritating oils (saponins) contained in the sap cause even more burning sensations. 

How To Protect Yourself While Handling The Agave 

The fact Agave is such a valuable plant for producing a wide variety of useful products attests to the possibility of handling it safely. 

If you have an Agave in your yard or garden, it’s possible to care for it without harming yourself. 

  • Always wear sturdy clothing covering your arms and legs. 
  • Put on gloves and eye protection. 
  • Make sure your pruning implements are sharp and sturdy. 
  • For large plants, you’ll need a long-handled cactus saw. 
  • When your Agave maintenance task is complete, wash your clothes and take a shower (not a bath) immediately. 
  • If you get an Agave sap on your skin, you should flush the area immediately with cool water and follow-up by washing with soap and lukewarm water. 
  • If you get a puncture wound from an Agave thorn or are slashed by the edge of a leaf, wash thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
  • If your symptoms don’t resolve within twenty-four hours, see your doctor.
  • If you (or a pet) ingest the sap or get it in your eyes, flush with cold water, call the poison control center, and see a doctor right away.

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