Aloe vera is one of the most widely recognized of all medicinal plants. Store shelves are stocked with countless products which make use of it. Gels, juices, lotions, facial creams, and so on tout its benefits. As for myself, I make it a priority to have some form of aloe vera on hand for first-aid.
Are you familiar with aloe vera? You probably are, but if not, let me introduce you…
It is a plant that has been used for thousands of years. Its origins are lost to history since it has been so widely used and distributed, but it appears that it had originated in either North Africa or in the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula. As mentioned, it has been widely cultivated throughout the world, and that remains to be the case today.
Aloe vera is a succulent. That is, it is a plant that is best suited for dry, hot climates. Aloe vera is about 97% water1, so it is unable to handle a freeze without being damaged. Therefore, unless you live where the temperature never falls below freezing, it is best to keep it as a container houseplant. Thankfully, it is very easy to grow, so there is no reason why you should not have aloe vera in a window sill somewhere.
Why should you grow aloe vera?
Its medicinal benefits are numerous. According to an article on NaturalNews.com2, the author claims that aloe vera does the following:
• Halts the growth of cancer tumors.
• Lowers high cholesterol.
• Repairs “sludge blood” and reverses “sticky blood”.
• Boosts the oxygenation of your blood.
• Eases inflammation and soothes arthritis pain.
• Protects the body from oxidative stress.
• Prevents kidney stones and protects the body from oxalates in coffee and tea.
• Alkalizes the body, helping to balance overly acidic dietary habits.
• Cures ulcers, IBS, Crohn’s disease and other digestive disorders.
• Reduces high blood pressure natural, by treating the cause, not just the symptoms.
• Nourishes the body with minerals, vitamins, enzymes and glyconutrients.
• Accelerates healing from physical burns and radiation burns.
• Replaces dozens of first aid products, makes bandages and antibacterial sprays obsolete.
• Halts colon cancer, heals the intestines and lubricates the digestive tract.
• Ends constipation.
• Stabilizes blood sugar and reduces triglycerides in diabetics.
• Prevents and treats candida infections.
• Protects the kidneys from disease.
• Functions as nature’s own “sports drink” for electrolyte balance, making common sports drinks obsolete.
• Boosts cardiovascular performance and physical endurance.
• Speeds recovery from injury or physical exertion.
• Hydrates the skin, accelerates skin repair.
That’s a lot of beneficial uses! The article does reference several studies in support of its claims, however many of these assertions are controversial, and for many of these claims, more clinical studies are needed to ensure their validity. In any case, there are some uses for which there is plenty of support. For the purpose of my post, I will focus on some of the more well known uses for aloe vera.
First, aloe vera is best known for healing burns and skin abrasions. This is the use that most people think of when using aloe vera for first-aid. Many are familiar with the commercial products available on the market which consist of almost pure aloe vera gel. (Aloe vera gel is the innermost part of the leaf, and it is comprised of 99% water plus “over 75 different potentially active compounds including water- and fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, enzymes, simple/complex polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, and organic acids” according to an article in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.3) For many, this is the first thing they reach for in the event of a sunburn or skin abrasion. There are good reasons for this. Aloe vera has shown to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal effects.1 In addition, aloe vera gel also contains enzymes which contribute to pain relief.1 Many people can testify of aloe vera’s soothing properties and in its ability to assist in healing. In fact, in one study, wounds healed an average of 6 days faster than with just the use of standard dressing.4 One should know, however, that it has been advised by some that aloe vera should not be used with wounds associated with Staph infections as it may seal in the staphylococcus bacteria. Besides those cases, topical use of aloe vera gel appears to be an effective aid in healing many minor burns and abrasions. For this reason alone, aloe vera is a very beneficial plant to have around.
In addition to its common topical use, aloe vera is also a potent laxative.5 You may have been unaware of this use, but aloe vera latex, the portion of the leaf between the rind and the inner gel, contains chemicals which act as an effective cathartic. In fact, many over-the-counter laxatives found in the U.S. before 2002 included aloe vera latex. (In 2002, the F.D.A asked for its removal until drug companies provided further testing.6 It appears that instead of incurring additional costs due to the F.D.A.’s requests, drug makers have opted instead to just remove aloe vera constituents from over-the counter laxatives for now.) There is concern over the safety of its use due to its effectiveness. It is so effective that it does have purgative effects, and anyone who uses aloe vera as a laxative should do so with caution. It is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant or nursing, for children, for elderly, or for anyone who may have other concerns over using a strong laxative.
Besides being used as a medicinal plant, aloe vera has one other positive health benefit as well. Aloe vera has been shown to clean the surrounding air. In 1989, N.A.S.A published a study on which houseplants could be used to filter an indoor environment. (They did so with space stations in mind.) They found that aloe vera was a good plant for this, and that aloe vera was capable of cleansing the air.7 So if air quality is a concern for you, aloe vera offers that as a perk as well.
As has been illustrated, there are many benefits to growing aloe vera. Thankfully, it is very easy to care for. It is a desert plant, so it does not need a lot of water. In fact, overwatering will kill it. In general, a good rule of thumb is to water deeply and then wait until the soil is dry before you water it again. Make sure it is planted in soil which drains well. The pot should have adequate draining holes also. In addition, aloe vera loves sun, so make sure it gets its fair share. However, if you notice its leaves browning, it may be getting too much. Another thing to watch for is when you see baby aloes, or “pups,” begin to grow around the base of the mother plant. These can drain from the mother, so they need to be removed and replanted in their own pots. In this way, aloe vera is very easily propagated, and with replanting the “pups,” you can ensure you always have some of it around. Plus, an aloe vera in an attractive pot would make a great gift! Other than these basic guidelines, aloe vera does not need a lot of attention, which begs the question…
If you can have a plant which is so easy to care for…and provides so many benefits…why shouldn’t you have aloe vera around in a window sill?