Most beach fronts are adorned with this bold plant, boasting its thick succulent leaves full of juicy goodness. In fact Aloe Vera has been used for centuries and many civilisations have taken advantage of the soft slippery flesh embedded inside a thick leathery coat. It was used to great effect by Greek and Roman physicians and the ancient Chinese and Egyptians used aloe vera to treat burns, wounds, and reduce fever. The first detailed discussion of Aloe's medicinal value could be found in the Papyrus ebers, an Egyptian document written around B.C.E. 1550.
The Aloe Vera plant originated in the warm, dry climates of Africa. The term Aloe Vera ("true Aloe") refers to the Aloe Barbadensis Miller. It is part of the lily family (Liliaceae), the same family that garlic and onions belong to. Fully grown the plant stands 60 to 90 cm high, and a mature leaf is 7 to 10 cm across at the base, weighing 1.5 to 2 kg. The lower leaf of the plant is used for medicinal purpose. If the lower leaf is sliced open, the gel obtained can be applied on the affected area of the skin. The leaves and seeds are the two edible parts of Aloe Vera.
The Aloe leaf structure is made up of four layers:
Rind - the outer protective layer;
Latex - a layer of bitter sticky yellow sap found just under the skin of the leaf which helps protect the plant from animals;
Mucilage Gel - the inner part of the leaf that is filleted out to make Aloe Vera gel. The inner gel contains the 8 essential Amino Acids that the human body needs but cannot manufacture.
Aloe vera contains over 200 biologically active, naturally-occurring constituents including polysaccharides, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and minerals that promote nutrient absorption, digestive health, a healthy immune system, and a reduction of nitrates. The vitamins it contains include A, C, E, folic acid, choline, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6. Aloe Vera is also one of the few plants that contains vitamin B12. Some of the 20 minerals found in Aloe vera include: calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, sodium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese.
The bulk of the aloe vera leaf, which is filled with a clear gel-like substance, is approximately 99% water. It also contains powerful antioxidants, which belong to a large family of substances known as polyphenols. These polyphenols, along with several other compounds in Aloe vera, can help inhibit the growth of certain bacteria that can cause infections in humans. Aloe vera also includes quite an impressive range of fatty acids. It contains three plant sterols, which are important fatty acids – HCL cholesterol (which lowers fats in the blood), campesterol, and B-sitosterol. All are helpful in reducing symptoms of allergies and acid indigestion. Other fatty acids include linoleic, linolenic, myristic, caprylic, oleic, palmitic, and stearic.
Aloe Vera gel is renowned for its skin healing properties. It's been used for centuries to treat minor wounds and burns and skin irritations which is why it was known as the "burn plant'. It has long been known as a treatment for sores, particularly burns, including sunburns. Studies suggest that it is an effective topical treatment for first- and second-degree burns. A review of 4 experimental studies found that Aloe vera could reduce the healing time of burns by around 9 days compared to conventional medication. Aloe acts as an analgesic, acting to help relieve pain of wounds. It’s feels especially good to cut a stem of aloe, place it in the fridge and rub it on sun burnt skin – the immediate soothing effect feels like an absolute lifesaver.
Aloe Vera is also a great anti ageing compound which is why it is often the main ingredient in many cosmetic products. Due to its high water content it acts as a moisturiser and hydrates the skin. After being absorbed into the skin, it stimulates the fibroblasts cells and causes them to regenerate themselves faster. It's the cells that that produce the collagen and elastin so the skin will get smoother and look younger. A study of 30 women over the age of 45, demonstrated how the topical application of the gel was shown to increase collagen production and improve skin elasticity over a 90-day period.
The polysaccharides in aloe vera juice stimulate macrophages, which are the white blood cells of your immune system that fight against viruses. Aloe is also an immune enhancer because of its high level of anti-oxidants, which help combat the unstable compounds known as free-radicals, contributing to the aging process.
One of the home remedies for asthma was to boil some Aloe Vera leaves in a pan of water and breathe in the vapour.
Aloe vera has sometimes been used as a traditional diabetes remedy. It is said to enhance insulin sensitivity and help improve blood sugar levels.
Aloe Vera is great as a laxative to treat constipation. It is the latex and not the gel that provides the benefit. The key compound responsible for this effect is called aloin, or barbaloin, which has well-established laxative effects. However, some concerns have been raised about safety issues with frequent use and thus it is best to take this on a short term basis.
Aloe is known to soothe and cleanse the digestive tract and help improve digestion. The interesting thing about taking aloe internally is that, because it is an adaptogen, it helps with either constipation or diarrhoea, helping to regulate your elimination cycles in whatever way you need. A two year trial is underway at hospitals in Swansea for use of Aloe Vera in treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A clinical trial involving 44 patients suffering from Ulcerative Colitis has been completed at the Royal London Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The trial was completed in January 2004 and an improvement was found in 38% of patients given Aloe Vera gel as opposed to 8% given a placebo.
Aloe vera’s active ingredients are sulphur, lupeol, salicylic acid, cinnamic acid, urea nitrogen and phenol which are substances that prevent the growth of disease-causing microorganisms and act as a team to provide antimicrobial activity thus eliminating many internal and external infections, also active against bacteria. It also helps to treat fungal and viral infections thus it extrudes anti-bacterial, fungal, viral, microbial properties. Studies have found its effectiveness as a mouth rinse in reducing dental plaque. Aloe vera does this by killing the plaque-producing bacterium Streptococcus mutansin the mouth, as well as the yeast Candida albicans, thus, helping mild vaginal irritations. Studies have also shown how Aloe vera can accelerate the healing of mouth ulcers and reduce the pain associated with them.
Aloe Vera is best used when freshly cut from the plant and nowadays it's relatively easy to buy and maintain. Many often buy it as an indoor house plant due to its ability to adapt in almost all environments. However, when the gel is taken from the leaf it doesn't store well so it best to only take the amount you need at that time.
These are some of the amazing effects aloe Vera can have on the body. It's also an alkaline forming food so it alkalizes the body, helping to balance overly acidic dietary habits. However, taking aloe internally long term does have side effects, which can include pain, electrolyte imbalances, and diarrhoea. Taking aloe internally should be limited if not avoided during pregnancy, menstruation, if you have hemorrhoids or degeneration of the liver and gall bladder. It is an incredibly potent plant and should be used with a level of respect for its potency. Nonetheless, it serves it purpose on a lot of common ailments which could bring relief to many who suffer them.
Recipes for Health
Raw Clear Skin Juice Recipe
§ 2 Carrots
§ 1 Cucumber
§ 3-4 stalks of celery
§ 1 large piece of Aloe (slice open and scrap the inside to put through juicer)
§ 1 inch knob of Ginger root
§ 3-4 leaves of dandelion
This is a great juice combination for helping to clear up skin, from the inside-out.
Blend all the ingredients together and drink immediately.
Aloe Face Exfoliator
§ 1/2 cup Aloe Vera gel
§ Brown sugar or baking soda
Aloe is a great base for a homemade scrub because it helps soften your skin and supply oxygen to your cells, strengthening the tissue to create vibrant skin.
Mix 1/2 cup of aloe with just enough brown sugar or baking soda to get a gritty (but not a sharp) texture. Then rub it on your face, elbows, heels, arms, or wherever else needs softening. For hard skin it is best to apply it after a shower.