Is The Agave Plant Poisonous or Toxic?

The large, spiky, threatening Agave americana grows naturally in desert settings found in New Mexico and Arizona. Smaller varieties exist for use as houseplants.

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

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

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

The heart of Agave americana 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!

Stabbed By Agave Plant? What Parts Of Agave Are Poisonous or Toxic?

It is safest to assume all parts of the Agave leaf are toxic – leaves and flower stalk.

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

Succulent plant with pointed leaves in a garden.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @agave_ed

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 the sap of Blue Agave may cause burning, pain, swelling, and rash. A more common symptom of exposure to agave plants is skin irritation, itching,  or dermatitis. 

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

The primary location for this irritating dermatitis is on the forearm and neck of the distillery workers and the abdomen of those in the plantation fields. 

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

The sharp tip of an agave leaf easily penetrates the skin and immediately releases the irritants that cause sudden pain and long-lasting soreness. 

In a recent incident, a Chinese vlogger mistook an Agave species 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.

Agave plant close-up with red-tipped spines.Pin

The plant’s thorns and the edges of the leaves are quite sharp and threatening and can inflict serious injuries on their own.  The plant has no fragrance at all, neither the leaves nor the blooms. 

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

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 crystals raphides, which consist 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. 

When moving and planting agaves, try sticking wine corks on the spiny leaf tips to prevent accidental injury.

Also, wear heavy gardening gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection when planting them to protect your skin and eyes. 

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

Close-up of succulent leaves with red tipsPin
Photo Credit: Instagram @zigzagpdx
  • 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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