In Sanskrit aloe is called kumari, meaning "goddess." Aloe was likely given such a lofty name because of its daily use by Indian women as a beauty treatment. Although aloe may do wonders for outward appearance, when consumed it is a benefit to the inner body as well, from healing wounds and burns to liver and bowel function. Aloe barbadensis is a multipurpose remedy that is traced back to ancient roots, and used in many cultures for its healing properties.
Aloe barbadensis leaves are commonly known as aloe vera. Aloe leaves are thick and succulent with spiny ridges, which makes them easily identified. An aloe barbadensis leaf contains a sweet, cool gel. There are 200 species of aloe plants, but the one called aloe vera, meaning "true aloe" in Latin, is the most common and is sought for its medicinal properties. The whole aloe leaf can be dried and used, or the gel can be extracted from it and used topically or orally.
Aloe is an ancient plant first discovered in Egyptian culture for the use of queens such as Cleopatra. Record of its use was engraved in tablets thought to be from 2,100 B.C. Aloe then traveled to various parts of the globe, and by the 17th century had become a common medicinal plant in China, India, Pakistan and Europe, in addition to north Africa. Although aloe originated in Africa, it is common to see aloe plants in the homes of people everywhere.
Aloe vera has a wide array of helpful ingredients. Containing 99 percent water, it can prevent dehydration when in an emergency situation. The remaining 1 percent of components pack a powerful portion of vitamins, minerals, plant sterols, salcylic acid, amino acids, enzymes, sugar, lignins and more. The polysaccaraide part of the leaf has antibacterial and antiviral properties. The vitamins in aloe consist of antioxidants A, C and E, as well as thiamine, riboflavin and B12, choline and folic acid. Aloe consists a variety of minerals as well including iron, chromium, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, sodium, potassium and calcium. With such an expansive list of good ingredients it is easy to see how there could be many benefits to using aloe vera.
Aloe is best known for its cooling properties, as it is used to help heal sunburns. What is little known is that aloe protects the skin from UV damage. Aloe contains aloin, which can block up to 30 percent of the ultraviolet rays when applied generously to the skin's surface. However, aloin, a brown gel closest to the blade of the leaf, can be an irritant when ingested. Not only can aloe help heal sunburn, but it is known to help with other skin lesions, wounds, and radiation burns, as well as conditions such as acne, pimples and rosacea. Because of the salcylic acid and high antioxidant value, aloe is used in skin-care products as an anti-aging and healing agent. On a deeper level, when ingested, aloe gel or juice can help with a variety of health conditions. Recent research has suggested that the use of aloe may be helpful as an antiviral treatment for those with HIV and AIDS. More commonly, aloe is used as a laxative.
Growing aloe is the most economical way to keep its benefits within easy reach. To begin this endeavor, either buy a mother plant or borrow a pup from a friend or family member who has a mother plant. The pups can be transplanted into a pot to grow and thrive on their own. Aloe plants are very low- maintenance, but will be the happiest in warm weather with plenty of sunshine.
How to Use
When using the plant topically, break or cut off the leaf at the base and the gel will ooze out. This leaf can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks. Use the gel topically on any skin irritation except staph bacteria, which will instead encourage growth. When taking internally, purchase aloe juice at a local health food store. Consult your doctor before internal use as aloe can cause stomach problems if used excessively. Do not use if you are pregnant or nursing, as the aloe can affect the baby.