Aloe Vera: A Prized Medicine Plant
Aloe vera is perhaps the most ubiquitous healing plant known around the world today. Aloe was known as “the plant of immortality” to ancient Egyptians and was known as the universal panacea by Greek scientists 2,000 years ago. The healing plant has a long and close history with humans and has many uses as a simple natural remedy. Today Aloe is found in countless beauty and skincare products packaged in plastic bottles on the shelves of supermarkets and drugstores.
Nutritional and Medicinal Components of Aloe:
Aloe barbadensis miller. The genus Aloe has 420 species of which Aloe vera has the most recognition as it’s also believed to be the most biologically active. There are more than 75 active components in Aloe vera including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. Aloe includes the following nutritional and medicinal components:
- Vitamins: Aloe contains vitamins A, B12, C, E, choline, and folic acid.
- Minerals: Aloe is a good source of the minerals calcium, copper, chromium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
- Enzymes: Aloe vera contains enzymes including aliiase, alkaline phosphate, amylase, bardykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase.
- Anthraquinones (laxative compounds) in Aloe include eloin and emodin which also have antibacterial, antiviral, and analgesics action.
- Fatty acids contained in Aloe including campesterol, beta-sisosterol, cholesterol, and lupeol all have anti-inflammatory action.
- Hormones: Aloe contains the hormones auxjns and gibberllins which are anti-inflammatory and help with wound healing.
- Amino Acids: 20 of the 22 human required amino acids are found in Aloe along with salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions. Aloe also contains the inert substance lignin which, when included in topical creams and ointments, enhances the ability of other ingredients to penetrate the skin. The saponins that make up 3% of Aloe gel have antiseptic and cleansing action.
Aloe Medicine Around the World: 🌱 Native Americans referred to Aloe vera as the "burn plant" "the mystery plant" and "medicine plant." 🌱 Alexander the Great: Aristotle persuaded Alexander the Great to conquer Socotra because the Aloe grown there could be used to treat wounded soldiers. 🌱 Egypt: (4000 BC) drawings of Aloe plant are found on temple walls in tombs of the Pharaohs. 🌱 (1500 BC) Egypt's Papyrys Emvers mentions formulas containing aloe for internal and external illness. 🌱 In an article, The History of Aloe Vera, Gertrude Baldwin writes, "In ancient Egypt when a Pharaoh died, the funeral ceremony was by invitation only with a price tag included: a pound of Aloes. Egyptians used the odorous mixture of Aloe and myrrh for embalming and also placed it with the burial clothes. A man’s wealth and esteem for the king were estimated by the number of pounds of Aloes he brought." 🌱 Bible: The bible has five references to Aloe - John 19:39-40, Numbers 24:6, Psalms 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, and Song of Solomon 4:14 🌱 John 19: 38-40 says, “And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for the fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.” 🌱 Mesopotamia: Clay tablets from 1750 BCE shows Aloe being used medicinally. Aloe was used as a body-detoxifyer as illness was viewed as a demonic possession at the time. 🌱 Chinese Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine prescribes Aloe internally for parasites, constipation, and to strengthen the stomach. 🌱 Christopher Columbus: Columbus was known to have Aloe growing in pots on his ships. The plants were used to treat the wounds of his hired soldiers.
Medicinal Properties of Aloe Vera
Perhaps no other plant on the planet is known as much for its medicinal actions. Aloe vera is widely regarded as the go-to-remedy for sunburns but traditional medicine practices use Aloe for a broad spectrum of ailments. Aloe is known to have the following medicinal actions:
- Anti-acne: effective at clearing and preventing white heads, blackheads, and other forms of acne.
- Anti-aging: effective at preventing signs of getting old.
- Anti-bacterial: effective against bacteria.
- Anti-viral: effective against viruses.
- Anti-inflammatory: effective to reduce inflammation.
- Anti-septic: effective at preventing growth of disease-causing organisms.
- Laxative: effective at stimulating elimination of bowels
- Moisturizing: effective at penetrating and moisturizing skin and hair.
- Protects skin from radiation.
- Wound healing: effective at speeding healing of wounds, bites, rashes, burns, and abrasions.
Ways to Use Aloe Vera Medicine 🌱 Topically on hair as hair-growth mask 🌱 Topically on hair as moisturizer/conditioner 🌱 Topically on skin as face-mask 🌱 Topically on skin as moisturizer 🌱 Topically on burns, sunburns, wounds, abrasions, frostbite, and infections 🌱 Ingested as a laxative. Consult with an herbalist for proper preparation and dosage. A toxic substance in the latex part of the Aloe leaf is a known carcinogen and is dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause miscarriage.
Scientific Studies Test Aloe’s Medicinal Actions
For the plant-medicine skeptics in the audience, Aloe has received a fair share of attention in scientific studies interested in putting its healing reputation to the test. According the one review of studies published on the medicinal actions of Aloe, “These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven.”
- Seborrheic dermatitis,24
- psoriasis vulgaris,25,26
- genital herpes,27,28 s
- kin burns,5,29
- diabetes (type 2),30
- HIV infection,31
- cancer prevention,32,33
- ulcerative colitis34
- wound healing (results of aloe on wound healing are mixed with some studies reporting positive results35 and others showing no benefit36 or potential worsening37,38 )
- pressure ulcers,36
- radiation dermatitis,40
- acne vulgaris,41
- lichen planus,42,43
- aphthous stomatitis,44 and
The Beauty Plant
Aloe’s most famous celebrity endorsements have perhaps come from Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra who are said to have used the plant in their beauty routines. When I began experimenting more with Aloe medicine I discovered its use as a hair and face mask and have tried both applying the gel directly to my face and hair. I found Aloe to leave both my hair and skin softer and silkier than before and I felt no need to rinse off the gel after applied. I personally see the benefits of aloe gel for my skin and hair when applied externally, but Aloe apparently works magic for the skin if ingested also. One study of thirty healthy females over age 45 gave the women two different dosages of Aloe internally for 90 days. According to the study’s authors:
“After aloe gel intake, the facial wrinkles improved significantly (p<0.05) in both groups, and facial elasticity improved in the lower-dose group.”
Freshness Affects Aloe’s Medicinal Effectiveness
As is the case with many plant foods and medicines, the fresher the better. The gelatinous nature of Aloe medicine makes it difficult to preserve. Aloe loses its medicinal properties when heated, exposed to UV rays and natural elements , or if its overly processed. This loss of effectiveness is largely why Aloe fell out of popularity in a medicine world valuing shelf-stable products. To achieve maximum effectiveness, use Aloe fresh as needed. Harvest one leaf at a time and store the unused portion in the refrigerator to continue using for up to a week. You can also harvest the contents of multiple leaves and run through a blender or food processor to make a gel you can store in a bottle or jar in the refrigerator. Another option I have yet to try is freezing the gel. Lucky for me my local market sells Aloe leaves for about $1 each so I am able to use them fresh and store in my refrigerator between uses.
Growing Your Own Aloe Medicine
Aloe is an easy-going easy-growing herb that is happy growing in pots, in the ground, and even indoors. Aloe doesn’t require much watering or care. Too much water may be the easiest way to go wrong with this desert-loving plant. Another amazing attribute of Aloe is that it multiplies very easily on its own and if you have it in a pot you could end up with one that looks like the one pictured above. I found this one at a local taqueria and it has clearly had a lot of babies. Each of these could be separated into a new pot or plot of earth and a new large aloe plant would grow.
Consider adding aloe to your family’s medicine garden so you can begin experimenting with the magic healing properties of the fresh gel. Aloe is a plant with a perfect synergy of components that can heal, cure disease, and make you even more beautiful.
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Reya Steele is a holistic health journalist and nutrition educator who enjoys sharing her love of plant medicine.
Healing With Plants is a holistic health education channel/website sharing nutrition facts, plant medicine, whole foods plant-based recipes, and inspirational stories of healing with plants. Subscribe to Healing With Plants on YouTube and follow us on social media to stay plugged into the good news.
Sources: 1. Aloe Medical Group International, History of Aloe vera 2. Anals of Dermatology, Dietary Aloe Vera Supplementation... 3. Current Oncology, Aloe vera for prevention of radiation-induced... 4. Desert Harvest, Aloe Vera's 4000 year history 5. Dr. Christopher's Herbal Legacy, The Benefits of the Use of Aloe Vera in Herbal Prepa... 6. India Journal of Dermatology, Aloe Vera: A Short Review 7. International Journal of Dermatology, Aloe Vera It's Chemical and Therapeutic... 8. National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, Aloe Vera 7.Step to Health, The Impressive Benefits of Freezing Aloe Vera