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BRIEF: Is Agave americana a poisonous plant or am I allergic to it?


QUESTION:
I was poked in the hand by the pointy end of an agave americana. It seemed like this spike went right into my vein. Immediately my hand swelled up with a large lump and I then became very lightheaded, as though I was going to pass out, and had to lay down. I was wondering if this plant is known to cause such a reaction, or if I just have an allergy towards it.

ANSWER:

Agave americana has several toxic compounds, not all of which have been positively identified. It contains the incrediby irritating calcium oxylate raphides (microscopic daggers of crystaline oxylate) as well as some other really irritating oils in the sap. Just the physical trauma to the hand (the pain, the blood, the hematoma (the lump that swelled up when you hit the vein)) would be enough to make me lightheaded, but when the other pain-inducing compounds are added, a bad stab with agave could make anyone a little shocky. Lying down was probably a good move. Fermenting the Agave americana pulp into pulque and/or distilling that into mescal results in beverages that make you lightheaded when you drink it, but of course, that is another story... I hope you heal well without infection. Sometimes some serious granulmas can form if you get infected, so don't!