Also known as century plant, American aloe, and maguey, this succulent plant (agave americana), a relative of yucca and aloe, is native to Mexico and grows abundantly there, as well as areas of the southwestern United States. It has large, long, thick leaves with spiny sharp edges that taper to a sharp point. The leaves sprout out from the root like a green fountain. After a decade of development, the flower majestically sprouts like a tree from the center just once during the plant’s life, hence its pseudonym, century plant. The plant is poisonous if eaten raw, but sweet fruit, sap, or nectar is extracted from the stem.
Native tribes used this sap to make a ceremonial fermented drink called pulque. Pulque is still enjoyed in Mexico, but because it has a short shelf life, it’s rarely seen outside that country. Some canned versions see limited import into the United States, but most agree that pulque is best enjoyed fresh in pulqueria cantinas.
The sap from agave is also distilled into a spirit known in Mexico as Mescal. Mescal is any distillation of agave that is not tequila. To be called tequila, the juice must come from the blue agave (agave tequilana) and be produced under strict guidelines in specific regions surrounding the town of Tequila in the central western state of Jalisco.