Our favorite spiky green gem of a houseplant has a history spanning myriad cultures who used the plant’s moist middle to treat many physical complaints. Ancient civilizations, among them the Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, American Indians, and Meso-Americans, used aloe vera to treat everything from baldness and insomnia, to burns, wounds, and fever. Here are ten fascinating facts…
- Aloe is a succulent plant that grows in hot, dry climates (Zone 10+). The most common medicinal variety is Aloe vera (barbadensis Miller), which has been clinically shown to have the most nutrients of the over 500 species of aloe throughout the world. It is grown commercially for the health and moisturizing benefits found inside its leaves. The aloe vera plant is one of the most studied herbs in natural medicine. An adult aloe vera plant reaches maturity at 3-4 years and can reach a height of 30 inches with up to 21 leaves.
- The word “aloe” comes from the Arabic term alloeh, which means “shining bitter substance,” and “vera” comes from the Latin word veritas, meaning “truth.” And it’s true, the juice of the whole processed leaf is invigoratingly bitter. People who take the herb internally say the inner fillet of the leaf’s gel is much milder and quite pleasant.
- Aloe produces two substances, gel and latex, which are both used medicinally. Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part (inner fillet) of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant’s skin and is yellow in color. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex.
- Cleopatra applied the gel to her body as part of her beauty regimen! Studies show that the gel can penetrate three epidermal layers of the skin. Aloe vera gel may improve absorption of other botanical herbs and vitamins. Typically, aloe vera products should contain a high quantity of aloe in the formula to be effective (30%-90%).
- Aloe vera is made up of 99.5% water, but the .5% solid portions are known to have the most active nutrients.
- Aloe seems to be able to speed wound healing by improving blood circulation through the area. Aloe vera products have been clinically proven to increase white blood cell count, strengthening the immune system.
- Aloe was depicted on 4,000 year old Sumerian clay tablets as having digestive benefits. Drinking the juice can relieve gastrointestinal disorders like indigestion. Aloe vera helps maintain a healthy intestinal pH while promoting a friendly environment for probiotics in the digestive tract. It helps balance your stomach acid naturally, rather than stopping its production. Patients going through chemotherapy can find relief from intestinal issues, and nausea before and after meals, by taking aloe juice. If you decide to take aloe vera orally, please seek out commercial, certified organic juice.
- Aloe latex contains chemicals that work as a laxative but use sparingly as it can overcorrect the problem.
- Aloe gel appears to have properties that are harmful to certain types of bacteria and fungi, furthering the argument for it as a wound healing agent.
- Aloe vera contains cooling properties similar to menthol. This is perhaps the plant’s best known quality. Gently apply the gel to soothe and heal sunburns, minor kitchen burns, scrapes, and itchy insect bites.
Winter hardy to USDA Zone 10-12, it may be grown indoors in containers. As a houseplant, it is easily grown in well-draining cactus soil. Ideally placed in full sun, aloe seems to adapt to some part shade. It does need bright light for flowering. Water moderately in spring, summer and fall, but reduce watering to the minimum in winter. Aloe is tolerant of drought and dry indoor air. Plants taken outside for the summer should be protected from rain, and should be brought indoors in early fall before night temperatures begin to dip below 50F degrees. Aloe is easily propagated from offshoots that appear near the base of mature plants. The plants may grow to as much as 3’ tall. Flowering occurs only on mature plants, typically in summer. On potted aloe plants, flowering will only occur on plants grown in optimal conditions (e.g., sunny windows or sunny outdoor locations).
This blog is for educational purposes only. It does not provide medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.