Aloe vera is a versatile medicinal plant that is native to desert areas. With its thick, fleshy leaves, aloe vera reminds us a little of cacti, but it is a lily species, closely related to the affodil.
In its Arabic homeland, aloe has been known as a medicinal plant for over 6,000 years. In Central Europe it has been used for healing purposes since about 1930. Initially it was relatively unknown to most people in this country, but since the beginning of the new millennium the use of aloe vera has been booming and it can be found in numerous cosmetics, foods and everyday products.
In the case of aloe and its products, a distinction must be made as to whether the gentle gel or the drastically acting, yellowish resin was used. Gel and resin are as different in their effects as if they were two different medicinal plants. The gel that is stored in the leaves has various healing effects, especially on the skin.
There are about 500 different species of Aloe, but they all originally grow in desert-like areas. The name “Aloe” comes from Arabic and means “bitter”, because the layer between the outer wall of the leaf and the gel tastes bitter.
Originally the Aloe is also native to Arabia. In the meantime, however, it is cultivated in many dry, warm regions, for example on the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean, India, large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Australia. It is cultivated there as an ornamental and medicinal plant.
The plant usually has no stem or only a short stem that develops from the remains of old leaves. It grows with up to 20 leaves rosette-like directly from the ground. The leaves grow up to 50 cm long, are thick and fleshy and about 6 cm wide. The leaves have small spines on the outer edge.
Under favourable conditions, after several years, the plant sprouts a flower stem on which a yellow inflorescence develops with a row of narrow flowers. On one inflorescence you can see buds, fully developed flowers and withered flowers at the same time. It blooms gradually from bottom to top. The individual flowers, however, remain relatively closed until they fade. The appearance of the flowers also clearly shows the affinity to the Affodil. The flowers of the aloe hardly remind of lilies.
Also: Aloe barbadensis, Aloe perfoliata, Aloe vulgaris, Aloe indica, Aloe chinensis.
Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, True Aloe, Barbados Aloe, Burn Aloe, First Aid Plant.
Used plant parts
The gel in the leaves & the resin from the yellow sap. In finished products sometimes the whole leaf is used. In this case the product also contains the resin (aloin), which is a strong laxative.
Water, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, glycoproteins, anthraquinone and anthracene derivatives, only in the leaf resin: Aloin – a glycoside.
When the leaves are big enough.
Main use: Skin.
Resin (Attention! slightly toxic!)
Areas of application
Gel > Externally
- Skin irritation
- Insect bites
- Unclean skin
Gel > Internally
- Ulcerative colitis
- Elevated blood lipids
- Irritable bowel
- Irritable stomach
- Strengthening of the immune system
Resin > Internally (Attention! slightly toxic!)
Forms of preparation
You get the freshest aloe when you grow it yourself in the house. As soon as the leaves are big enough, you can cut them off and use the gel contained in them.
The fresh gel can simply be spread on the affected skin areas. The gel contains moisturising active ingredients and also has a soothing, slightly antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect.
The external application of the gel on the skin is very pleasant. This aloe gel can be used in many different ways. As the gel cools well, it is especially pleasant for things like sunburn and itching. Aloe gel can also be used in cases of neurodermatitis and other eczema because of its anti-itching and wound healing effects. The gel can also have a soothing effect on abrasions. The light antibacterial effect also makes the Aloe gel a good remedy for acne. The healing effect on minor burns and sunburn has also been substantiated by medical studies.
A lot of finished products contain significant amounts of the aloe gel. They can therefore be used in a similar way to the fresh gel, provided they are intended for such applications. This concerns for example creams or ointments for the application on the skin. An aloe toothpaste will of course not be spread on sunburned skin, but is better used for brushing teeth in case of gingivitis.
Many aloe vera products contain only small traces of aloe. Aloe is contained in these products mainly so that manufacturers can advertise with aloe on the packaging. It is usually not possible to find out exactly how much aloe is in a product. In the small print lists of ingredients you will find ingredients in larger quantities but further ahead than ingredients in smaller quantities. This allows you to estimate approximately how much aloe is contained in a product.
In cosmetic products for everyday use, a small amount of aloe is not a problem because a day cream is usually not a healing treatment but skin care. A little bit of aloe in such a cream enhances the moisturizing effect.
To apply the fresh gel internally, remove the gel from the leaves after the yellow juice has completely drained off (see harvesting). You can simply eat the gel. Alternatively you can stir it into yoghurt, eat it in muesli or make a fruit salad together with fruit. There are almost no limits to your imagination. However, you should not cook the gel, because then the valuable active ingredients change.
The internal use of the gel has a primarily irritation-relieving effect, making it suitable for heartburn, irritable stomach or irritable bowel. Some people even use aloe gel for ulcerative colitis. The internal use of the gel is also said to have an immuno stimulating effect, but this has not been proven by medical studies.
Aloe gel, if taken regularly, is said to lower blood sugar levels and therefore help with diabetes. It is also said to lower elevated blood lipid levels such as elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. Furthermore, the “good” cholesterol called HDL should be increased.
Most aloe vera products on the market today only contain the gel and not the highly irritating resin. Such products are generally mild, at least as far as the aloe content is concerned.
Depending on the product, you can simply eat it for pleasure or in the hope of strengthening the immune system, lowering blood sugar levels and improving blood lipid levels. With most aloe products for internal use, however, these effects are rather minor. One should be careful when an aloe product is said to help against constipation. It may then contain more or less of the aggressive resin.
The yellow juice of the aloe can be thickened to a resin until it finally turns into a yellow powder. This resinous substance contains the glycoside aloin. Aloin has a strong irritant effect, which is used medically against constipation.
The aloin increases intestinal movements and hinders the recovery of water in the large intestine. Therefore the food pulp moves faster through the intestine and remains more fluid. Thus constipation can be alleviated.
For a long time, laxatives made from the resin (latex) of the aloe were therefore popular laxatives. But in the meantime the effect of the aloe resin is considered too drastic. In addition, it is suspected to have cancer-promoting effects, which is not surprising in the case of an irritant substance.
The aloe resin should never be used during pregnancy, because the active substance aloin can cause premature contractions. A miscarriage can also occur.
Starting from its original home in Arabia, aloe vera gradually spread to other dry areas and became known in Europe. Aloe did not normally come to Europe as a fresh plant, but as thickened granules, which usually also contained the lovely aloe resin. Therefore, aloe was mainly known as a laxative at that time.
Columbus is said to have taken fresh aloe in pots on his travels in order to have a remedy at hand. The Spanish conquistadors eventually brought the aloe to Central and South America, where the plant was readily accepted and used by the local inhabitants.
In the twentieth century, aloe was used as a remedy for burns, including the treatment of damage caused by radiation. From the beginning of the 21st century, aloe vera has experienced a marked boom.
You can grow the aloe quite well at home in a pot. Aloe vera needs sandy soil, which is well drained, because it is a desert plant. Growing in a pot, the Aloe needs shade, so it is perfectly suitable for growing indoors.
When the leaves are big enough (for plants over 2 years old), they can be cut off if necessary. However, at least 12 leaves should always be left standing so that the plant can develop well. A plant can then grow up to 10 years old.
As soon as the leaves of an aloe plant are large enough, you can cut them off one by one and use the gel contained in them. It is optimal for the plant if it has at least twelve leaves before you start cutting off leaves. It is best to cut off only one of the lower leaves at a time and use it fresh. Let the rest of the plant grow until one leaf has grown back and you can harvest one of the lower leaves again.
Immediately after cutting off the thick leaves, let the yellow juice run out. It contains the resin with the strongly irritating active substance aloin. Because of its irritating effect, this substance is not suitable for domestic use. When the yellow juice has run off, cut off as much of the leaf as is needed for the current application. The remaining leaf can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days. The piece of leaf for the current use can be cut open.
For external use, the gel side can be applied directly to the areas of skin to be treated. For internal use, the gel can be carefully removed with a knife. It can then be eaten or stirred into yoghurt, for example.
Preserving the fresh gel by drying it or extracting it in alcohol usually does not make sense because the most important moist effect of the gel is then lost.
|Plant with flower detail inset|
An evergreen perennial, it originates from the Arabian Peninsula, but grows wild in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid climates around the world. It is cultivated for agricultural and medicinal uses. The species is also used for decorative purposes and grows successfully indoors as a potted plant.
It is found in many consumer products including beverages, skin lotion, cosmetics, ointments or in the form of gel for minor burns and sunburns. There is little clinical evidence for the effectiveness or safety of Aloe vera extract as a cosmetic or medicine.
- Aloe Vera
- aloë vera (archaic)
- (UK) IPA(key): /əˌləʊ.i ˈvɛ.ɹə/, /əˌləʊ.i ˈvɪə.ɹə/, /ˌæ.ləʊ ˈvɛ.ɹə/, /ˌæ.ləʊ ˈvɪə.ɹə/
- (US) IPA(key): /ˈæ.loʊ ˈvɛ.ɹə/, /ˌæ.loʊ ˈvɪ.ɹə/
aloe vera (countable and uncountable, plural aloe veras)
- A plant of the species Aloe vera, grown as an ornamental, thought to have medicinal value; an extract, often a gel, made from the plant.
- 2003, Patricia Bragg, Paul C Bragg, Apple Cider Vinegar Miracle Health System, page 22,
- Another excellent cleanser and toner is aloe gel or
- 2003, Patricia Bragg, Paul C Bragg, Apple Cider Vinegar Miracle Health System, page 22,