Agave Americana
Agave plants are seen in desert mountains south of Palm Springs, California where agaves were harvested for the annual traditional agave roast on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California, April 11, 2015. Getty Images/ David Mcnew

A Chinese vlogger who went by the name Miss Zhang recently mistook the desert plant agave americana for aloe vera during a live video stream and it had near-fatal repercussions. What was supposed to be a fun way of teaching the viewers about the beneficial properties of aloe vera, on YouTube live, turned out to be a nightmare for the vlogger who had to be hospitalized.

Agave americana is also known as century plant or American aloe, in the arid areas of Central America, Mexico, India, Africa and Southern Europe. It has gray-green or gray-blue leaves lined with tiny spikes that reach up to 1.75 meters in height and 20 cm in width in the tropical countries. The desert plant can take up to 50 years to produce flowers which are of pale, yellow color, the Herbal Resource reported.

The juice of the of the plant has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and hence, can be used to treat burns, bruises, minor cuts, injuries and skin irritation caused by insect bites. Some of the more serious health issues that can be treated by agave americana are stomach inflammation, ulcers, tuberculosis, jaundice, liver disorders, high fever, menstrual problems and syphilis.

The flower stalks and the base leafs of the agave americana plant make for good food sources as they can be safely consumed after roasting. Alcoholic beverages like pulque, mescal and tequila can also be made after the plant is fermented through proper procedures.

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Some other daily use products that can be manufactured from the leaves and roots of the plant are soaps, mats, paper, needles and nails.

However, the sap contained in the raw plant is toxic and can cause pain and a burning sensation when it comes in contact with skin, SF Gate reported. Skin exposed to the sap may also develop blisters and rashes. Agave americana cannot be consumed raw as ingesting its sap leads to kidney and liver failure. This is why the Mexican Tarahumara Indians used to coat their arrow tips with sap from the plant before using them to kill fish.

The sap contains natural chemicals like calcium oxalate crystals, acrid oils and saponin that irritate the skin and the digestive system upon contact or ingestion respectively.

The fact that agave americana looks eerily similar to the aloe vera plant caused Miss Zhang, to accidentally poison herself on live stream.

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The 26-year-old bit into two large raw leaves she thought were aloe vera so she could demonstrate the benefits of the plant in front of a live audience. However, her attempted “aloe vera feast” took a turn for the worse when Zhang realized the “great” taste of the plant quickly transformed into something more bitter.

The video was cut short and Zhang had to be rushed to hospital after just a couple of bites from the plant, which turned out to be agave americana. According to a local Chinese news outlet, Shanghaiist, Zhang had to get her stomach pumped to get rid of all traces of the plant after she discovered that her throat was on fire and covered in rashes.

It was only after Zhang was admitted to the hospital she was informed by doctors that she had consumed agave americana instead of aloe vera. The doctors also added there could have been dire consequences if Zhang had not sought help in time, The Mail Online reported, citing Chinese news outlet Chongqing Times.

Zhang is one of the many Chinese vloggers who make a living out of live-streaming their day-to-day activities. Currently, she is recovering in the hospital.