Aloe

Aloe spp.

Other Names: Barbados, burn plant, medicine plant
Similar but different: American Aloe, Agave Americana, and Aloeswood or Lign Aloes, Aquilaria spp

Aloe vera growing in a pot
Aloe vera image by Manuel M. V. on Flickr flickr:8551956992

Although it is more closely related to lilies and asparagus, this succulent plant resembles a cactus in appearance and habit. Its fleshy leaves are somewhat spiky at the edges and arranged in basal rosettes, though some produce a trunk-like stalk, giving them the appearance of a tree. When aloe chooses to bloom, it is usually a spike and cluster of tubular flowers.

There are 240+ species of aloe in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, only a few have medicinal values to humans.

Some Interesting Aloe Species

  • Aloe Vera, A. vera barbadensis is the one you’re most likely to run into and the one generally referenced in this article for healing applications.
  • Cape Aloe A. ferox, a stunningly attractive aloe used in much the same way as Aloe vera
  • Soap aloe, A. maculata can be used as soap as it will lather with water and agitation.
  • Tree aloe, A. arborescans is useful in some cancer therapy applications
  • Socotrine aloe, A. perryi or A. forbesii, or A. socotrina, is believed by some to be the aloes mentioned in the Bible. It is used in homeopathy. Most magical applications reference this aloe.

 

History and Folklore

Common lore states 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 this storied plant dates back to 2200 B.C.E. and a clay tablet from Sumeria.

The Greek physician Dioscorides (41 C.E.- 68 C.E.) described a few different types of aloe in his famous herbal De materia medica (3-25). He noted that the gel was a treatment for boils, hemorrhoids, bruises and mouth irritation and many other applications and that some aloes produced more gel than others but that the pulverized leaves were also useful for treating wounds.

The Bible describes the apostles anointing the body of Jesus with aloes and myrrh. (John 19:39) It is thought that this is either A. succotrina or the unrelated eaglewood, aka aloeswood Aquilia spp. 

It is said that Queen Cleopatra used aloe in her beauty routine.

Growing Aloe

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. Its a nice landscape plant that does not require full sun to thrive and it will get big and beautiful in the right conditions.

Aloe also thrives as a houseplant. Although many sources advise full sun for aloe, I find that it prefers indirect sunlight. Instead of placing it right in my sunniest window, I place it right next to my sunniest window and it seems to like that spot. When initially potting your plant, choose a pot with good drainage and fill it with a mix of 1/2 sand to 1/2 regular potting soil. Water your plant only after the soil has completely dried out. A happy aloe plant will produce little clone plants. You can take these out of the mother pot and give them their own and share them with friends.

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 is getting too much sun.

Harvesting and Storing Aloe

Once your plant is established, go ahead and use it as needed. Cut a leaf from the plant and rub it onto the area you wish to treat. You can store a cut leaf in the fridge for a few days. The plant will seal up the cut and heal itself. If you purchase aloe vera juice for use in recipes, store it in the refrigerator. Commercial aloe gels are stabilized and do not need refrigeration, but I like to keep them in the fridge so they are extra cool when I use them on burns.

Magical Attributes of Aloe

Aloe vera is associated with feminine energy, the element of water, the moon, and the astrological sign of cancer. It is sacred to Venus/Aphrodite.

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.

The Key of Solomon provides an incense recipe for offering to good spirits who aid you which includes aloes. Possibly this is A. soccotrina.

Bitter aloes, or dried aloe juice, can be used in binding spells.

Household Use

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.

Healing Attributes

Aloe vera 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 split 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.

Bitter aloes is the dried juice of an aloe plant; it can be made from A. vera barbadensis, A. ferox or A. perryi. It is used as a purgative and in some cosmetics. It can also be used as a styptic.

Aloe is also a gentle soother of sore nipples for breastfeeding mothers and a vegan alternative to the traditional lanolin often used for that purpose. Unlike lanolin though, tastes terrible and can cause tummy aches, so you’ll want to wipe off well before nursing.

Internally, the juice 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 have been used to increase the fertility of female livestock.

Culinary Use

Some health food stores sell aloe juice, which can soothe the digestive tract. Some people experience abdominal pain, cramping, and intestinal irritation after consuming the juice, so use it with caution.

Additional Notes

Some people are very allergic to aloe, so proceed with caution. Put a bit on the inside of your elbow and watch the area for 24 hours to see if you react before using it.

Some studies have shown that a substance found aloe leaf act as carcinogens in animal studies.

Aloe juice is often sold in health food stores. Pregnant women and those who are menstruating should not drink this as it can cause cramping, hemorrhage, and miscarriage.

Aloe is a wonderful houseplant and is technically non-toxic but the outside rough leaf is very irritating to delicate inner tissues. Keep it out of the reach of pets and small children.

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