Agaves and Aloes, Don’t Eat the Former

On July 3, the London Evening Telegraph published an article bearing the headline, “Chinese vlogger accidentally poisons herself while biting plant on live stream.”

The a popular Chinese YouTube star, who goes by her surname Zhang, was trying to dramatize the health benefits of the plant Aloe Vera. With video camera rolling live stream on YouYube, Zhang bit into what she thought was an aloe. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t an Aloe Vera she was eating, but the leaf of an Agave Americana, what we in the Virgin Islands call century plant, which happens to be poisonous.

Agave Americana, Century Plant
Agave (Century Plant)
Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera

Zhang first says “yum” and “this is great,” but seconds later says“Oh, that tastes bitter. Really bitter” She then cut the Live Stream. She reported that her mouth went numb and her throat felt like it was on fire. She was taken to the hospital suffering from rashes and blisters and needed to have her stomach pumped, but survived the encounter.

It turns out that Zhang was not the first person to publically make the two plants. Christopher Columbus, who considered himself to be among other skills, an accomplished botanist, came across the agave on his first voyage to what he thought to be the China and the East Indies. He identified the plant as a giant aloe. With Aloe Vera being a valuable medicine in Europe in those days, Columbus thought he was on to something big. The next day he sent his men to bring back 1,000 pounds of agave americana to be brought back to Spain for the emperor.

Apparently, and luckily for Columbus, the “aloe” never made it to Spain. The manifest for cargo taken off the vessel Santa Maria, that sunk off of Hispaniola did not mention aloe. It might very well have molded in the ship’s hold and had to be thrown away. I say luckily because it would not have gone well for Columbus if the emperor ate that particular aloe.

Anyone who has ever needed to cut back or remove a century plant will testify that it can be a rather nasty and unfriendly beast. The leaves are thorny and once cut the agave emits a caustic sap that can easily blister the skin if not washed off quickly.

The sailors entrusted with the task of cutting up and bringing the “aloes” to the ship must have had a hard time of it, but not quite as tough a time as was experienced by the modern day vlogger, Zhang.

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