Date Published: 3 November 2005

Aloe Vera - the Wonder Plant ?

Aloe Vera Plant

'Aloe Vera' is also known as 'Barbadensis Aloe' or 'Curacao Aloe'

Extracts from the Aloe Vera plant are popular as ingredients for health and skin products. They are also used in haircare products and other toiletries.

Aloe Vera in the Wild
The Aloe Vera plant grows wild in some of the desert areas of Mexico, some of the sunny and dry areas of south and east Africa, desert areas of India, and is naturalized in North Africa, Spain, Indonesia and the Caribbean Islands. It is also grown as a house plant in many locations around the world.

Aloe Vera as a Houseplant
As a house plant it grows well in a gritty/sandy compost, able to store available water in its fleshy leaves and favouring a sunny position, though not at its best in hot direct sunshine. It needs moderate watering during May to September but very sparingly during the remaining months of the year. The use of tap water (fluorinated) can cause brown areas to appear on the leaves and even bruising. Spring water or rain water is recommended for watering aloes. The plant can be grown outdoors during warm sunny months but needs to be returned indoors later to a stable heat or heated greenhouse. Growth is slow.

Propagation of Aloe Vera Plants
The parent plant produces 'off shoots' when it is getting too big for its pot. If the 'off shoots' are removed with a sharp knife in July August and allowed to dry for about a week, they can then be planted in a moist gritty compost and well watered. The young plant should then be left without further watering to encourage healthy root formation. The parent plant should also be re-potted to ensure its continued vitality.

Appearance
The Aloe Vera is a succulent cactus-like plant belonging to the lily family. It is recognizable by its long, mid-green to yellowish fleshy leaf blades which are pointed at the tips and sometimes prickly down the sides. The smooth shiny and swollen outward sides of the leaves protect layers of enlarged cells beneath. The cells contain a yellow gel-like substance containing the drug 'aloe' valued medicinally.

Processing Aloes
Although young plants of 3 to 4 years growth can be used to 'harvest' the aloes, older, thicker leaves are preferred in the commercial process for medical usage. The leaves nearest to the base of the plant are cut first so as to cause least disfigurement to the plant. The cut leaves are either so positioned as to enable the aloe containing sap to drain from the leaf into a bowl or the leaf is cut horizontally and placed onto damaged skin to enable the sap to heal the abraised area.

In West Indian aloe plantations the plants are grown in orderly rows. The juice is collected there in March or April. However, in Africa the juice is collected from wild plants. A hole is prepared in the ground and lined with an animal skin. The inside of the skin, positioned uppermost, receives the juices drained from cut leaves which are placed and pointed into the hole. Collected juices are purchased by companies which mix varying amounts of aloe and various oils to produce skin care products and medicine for internal healing.

Use of Aloe Vera Plants
The Socotrine aloes are less widely used commercially than the Barbadensis aloes.

Aloe Vera plants are sometimes used to, or used to manufacture remedies are to, treat:

  1. Cuts, scratches & bruising (applied fresh juice to reduce swelling and promote healing.
  2. Acne (daily application, initially(only) skin might become dry.
  3. Psoriasis (mixture of almond oil and aloe juice.
  4. Burns(apply horizontal/cut leaf to scalds to ease pain and speed repair to skin. Gel seals skin to avoid infection.
  5. Damaged hair (& dandruff) Gel counteracts effects of detergents used previously and seals hair shaft resulting in fewer oils lost.
  6. Skin (aloe is a component of moisturizers / fresh juice for face packs)

However, remedies to be taken internally (usually swallowed) must be produced and prescribed by herbalists to ensure that damage isn't done from using too strong a dose of aloe. Basic advice about use of Aloe Vera includes the following, though these are not exhaustive:

  1. Purgative. (must be combined with caraway, fennel or ginger- calming elements to avert abdominal discomfort and aid digestion).
  2. Must be avoided by nursing mothers. Purgative effect past through milk to child.
  3. Avoid during pregnancy- would stimulate the uterus-may cause unwanted contractions.
  4. There are some contra-indications that apply to use of aloe vera. For example, there have been some reports that excessive use can cause hemorrhoids.

* This article is for general interest only. It is not medical advice. *
* In case of medical concerns, consult an appropriately qualified professional. *

This article was written by IvyRose using multiple reference sources. Click here for books about Aloe Vera.
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