Scientific Name: A. Vera Barbadensis
Other Names: Barbados, Cape, Curaiao, Socotrine, Zanzibar aloe, aloe vera, burn plant, medicine plant
1Although there are 240+ species of aloe in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, only four have been identified as having medicinal value to humans. Of these four, Aloe Vera Barbadensis is the one you’re most likely to run into.
Although it belongs to the lily family, this succulent plant more closely resembles a cactus in appearance and habit. Its fleshy leaves, somewhat spiky at the edges and arranged in basal rosettes, can be mottled. Under ideal circumstances, the plant produces yellow, tubular flowers in the summer.
History and Folklore
Common lore tells us that if you grow an aloe plant in your house, it will help prevent household accidents, particularly burns. In Africa, aloe plants are hung over doors to bring luck and drive away evil.
Aloe originated in Africa but has spread throughout the world. The first written record of the use of aloe vera dates back to 2200 B.C.E. and a clay tablet from Sumeria.
The Greek physician Dioscorides (41 C.E.- 68 C.E.) traveled with the armies of Rome and sang aloe’s praises in his famous herbal. He said the juices of the plant had the power of ‘binding’ and ‘inducing sleep’ and that it ‘loosens the belly, cleansing the stomach’. Dioscorides stated also that the sap was a treatment for boils, hemorrhoids, bruises and mouth irritation and was good medicine for the eyes. He used the pulverized leaf to stop the bleeding of wounds.
The Egyptians referred to aloe as the plant of immortality and included it in funerary offerings. They also considered aloe the plant of eternal youth, and Queen Cleopatra purportedly used it as a daily beauty product.
There is a reference in the Bible about the apostles applying aloe to the wounds of Jesus.
It is sacred among Egyptian followers of Mohamed who hang aloe above the doorway when they visit his shrine.
Some people in the Congo region of Africa, use aloe as part of hunting rituals, coating the body with the juice to obscure the scent of the hunter.
Those who live in the south may grow aloe outdoors. It can withstand freezing temperatures as long as the ground does not freeze, but the plant may still lose vital nutrients if the leaves face exposure to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Luckily, aloe thrives as an attractive houseplant.
Grow your aloe in clay pots in the sunniest window in your house. Mix a little sand with your potting soil for the plant. Allow the soil to dry between waterings and don’t overwater. The leaves of a healthy aloe plant should be plump and fleshy. If they shrivel, it’s not getting enough water, and if it turns yellow, it’s not getting enough sun or it’s getting too much water. If it turns red and gets shrivel-y, it might be getting too much sun.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest and use it as needed. Cut a leaf from the plant a peel away the hard skin to get to the gel inside. The plant will seal up the cut and heal itself.
Aloe is used as an amulet against accidents and misfortunes, especially around the home. It is also used for love and beauty and all spells related to lunar energies.
Aloe is a wonderful addition to facial cleansers and moisturizers. It speeds the healing of acne and reduces scarring.
Apply aloe vera gel to the hair before styling to keep your hair smooth, shiny and manageable and to reduce frizz and dandruff and prevent hair loss. Add some rosemary essential oil to strengthen hair and further prevent damage and hair loss.
Aloe vera can also be used as a personal lubricant.
Aloe very gel is antibacterial, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal and increases blood flow to the skin where applied, stimulating healing. This makes it useful for burns, sunburn, rashes, poison Oak, Poison Ivy, diaper rash, ringworm, frostbite, acne, any minor cut or abrasion, and just about any skin problem you might have. Just peel away the skin of a leaf and apply the gel to your skin. For a large area, you can place some peeled leaves in the blender and add the goo to your bath for a good soak.
Aloe is also a gentle soother of sore nipples for breastfeeding mothers. It tastes terrible though and can cause tummy aches, so you’ll want to wipe off well before nursing.
Internally, aloe has been used for constipation and intestinal blockages. However, its use can cause some serious intestinal and abdominal cramping, so use it with caution. It should not be used by anyone with a chronic intestinal condition.
Studies have shown that aloe can strengthen the immune system and help reduce blood sugar. It has been the subject of serious studies related to the treatment of HIV and cancer.
Aloe vera is also used to increase both male and female fertility. Some livestock breeding facilities use aloe vera to coat and protect stored sperm. Some research indicates that aloe vera extract taken internally may increase sperm count in male mice whose sperm counts were lowered through exposure to radiation, and may also provide some protection against sperm abnormalities. Aloe douches are also used to increase the fertility of female livestock.
Some health food stores sell aloe juice, but the risks of diarrhea, cramping, and female problems are greater than the benefits of drinking this juice on a regular basis.
Some people are very allergic to aloe, so use with caution.
Aloe juice is often sold in health food stores. Pregnant women and those who are menstruating should never drink this as it can cause cramping, hemorrhage, and miscarriage.
Aloe is a wonderful houseplant but the outside of the leaf is very irritating to delicate inner tissues. Keep it out of the reach of pets and small children.