Aloe vera is one of the worlds most ancient and time honoured herbal remedies and is still grown in gardens today for its’ soothing and healing properties.
Aloe vera, Aloe vera, is a clump forming perennial with dense rosettes of long, succulent, grey-green spiked leaves growing to 60 centimetres tall. Aloe vera is part of the Lily family and although there are over 200 species, only four have medicinal properties with Aloe vera barbadensis being the most potent. Mature plants send up long spikes with yellow-orange tubular flowers in summer and will continue to multiply with offshoots growing around the outer edge of the “mother” plant.
Aloe vera juice is both antifungal and antibacterial and when rubbed on the skin helps to relieve insect bites, acne, shingles, eczema and most problems involving dry itchy skin. It is also helpful for wrinkles and stretch marks but is particularly known for its ability to soothe and help in the healing of sunburn and minor scalds. Though, as always, advice from a medical practitioner should always be sought.
Queen Cleopatra was known for her alluring beauty, partly attributed to the aloe vera gel that she used on her face to give her skin a special glow. Alexander the Great is said to have conquered the island of Socotra in order to secure a supply of aloe vera to treat his soldier’s battle wounds. And still today, a myriad of beauty and medicinal products containing aloe vera are available for us to purchase in order to achieve similar results to our ancient forebears.
Using aloe vera is incredibly easy. Simply use a knife to cut off a leaf at the base and squeeze the juice onto the skin, rubbing lightly. The cooling gel will soon start to relieve the pain or itching. Store the leaf wrapped in plastic in the fridge but use it within four days of harvesting. It can be applied as often as necessary to the skin.
Aloe vera is effective because it contains a blend of nutritional elements that work together to produce a more powerful result than what each element would provide if applied on its’ own. In addition, aloe vera has ‘adapt genic’ properties meaning that each individual that uses the plant takes the elements from it that they need and this will vary from person to person.
The juice extracted from aloe vera contains aloin, which is highly irritating to the digestive system. Further processing reduces aloin to safe levels and in some countries such as Japan, there is a limit to the amount of aloin allowed in a product to be taken internally. For the home gardener, the juice of aloe vera is perfectly safe when rubbed on the skin but should never be ingested.
Aloe vera is perfectly suited to WA’s ocean winds and Mediterranean climate where it is common to see a plant thriving from neglect in the corner of a patio or under a tree. Being a plant that forms dozens of little offshoots called “pips”, aloe vera is best to keep it contained in a large pot with free draining mix. Although the plant will cope with almost no care, the leaves will be plumper if the plant is kept in part shade and given thorough water each week throughout the heat of summer. In winter the leaves may turn brown and slightly mushy but this is simply due to the cold temperatures and extra rain.
Over time aloe vera will outgrow its’ pot sending up pips around the edge and even out of the drainage holes at the base and this is the time to divide or repot the plant. When separated from its’ mother, the pips can be planted with their base just a few centimetres into a free draining potting mix and once roots begin to establish, the new plants can be dressed with a little gravel and a pretty ribbon to make a lovely gift for a sun lover or gardener.