Aloe Vera is a type of Aloe, native to northern Africa, but widely grown in the U.S. , primarily in Texas, Florida , and California . There are over 250 species of aloe grown around the world. However, only two species are grown today commercially. Aloe barbadensis Miller and Aloe aborescens are the most popular.
It is a virtually stemless plant, which can grow from 80-100 cm tall. Its green to grey-green leaves are thick and fleshy, with a serrated edge and a lanceolate shape. The leaves of the Aloe plant grow from the base in a rosette pattern. Each plant usually has 12-16 leaves that, when mature, may weigh up to three pounds. The plants can be harvested every 6 to 8 weeks by removing 3 to 4 leaves per plant.
It is not a cactus, but a member of the tree lily family, know as Aloe barbadensis. Aloe is related to other members of the Lily family such as the onion, garlic and turnip families. Aloe’s relationship to the lily family is evident from the tubular yellow flowers produced annually in the spring that resemble those of the Easter lily.
Aloe has been marketed and used as a remedy for a wide range of ailments, including; coughs, wounds, ulcers, gastritis, diabetes, cancer, headaches, arthritis, immune-system deficiencies, and many other conditions when taken internally. There have been a number of studies conducted about the possible benefits of aloe gel when taken internally. One study found improved wound healing in mice. Another found a positive effect of lowering risk factors in patients with heart disease. Some research has shown decreasing blood sugar in diabetic animals given aloe. Few of these studies can be considered to be definitive and there are some false advertising claims concerning aloe, but the long historical folklore of the benefits of aloe cannot be discounted.
Other historical use of Aloes include, their role in alternative medicines and in home first aid. Both the translucent inner pulp as well as the resinous yellow exudate from the Aloe plant is used externally to relieve skin discomforts and internally as a laxative. To date, some research has shown that Aloe Vera produces positive medicinal benefits for healing damaged skin.
The original commercial use of the Aloe plant was in the production of a latex substance called Aloin, a yellow sap used for many years as a laxative ingredient. This substance became synonymous with the name “Aloe” and recorded in the trade, technical and government literature during the early 20th century. This terminology created much confusion later when Aloe’s other main ingredient, Aloe Gel, a clear colorless semi-solid gel, was stabilized and marketed. This Aloe Vera Gel, beginning in the 50’s, has gained respect as a commodity used as a base for nutritional drinks, as a moisturizer, and a healing agent in cosmetics and OTC drugs. Chemical analysis has revealed that this clear gel contains amino acids, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, proteins, polysaccharides and biological stimulators.
Aloe Vera has a long history of decorative and herbal healing cultivation throughout the drier tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is a hardy plant that is relatively easy to care for in domestic cultivation. This type of aloe requires little more than well-drained sandy soil and moderate light. The Aloe plant is grown in warm tropical areas and cannot survive freezing temperatures.
In the United States, most of the Aloe is grown in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, Florida and Southern California . Internationally, Aloe can be found in Mexico, the Pacific Rim countries, India, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Australia and Africa.
Along with its decorative and herbal medicinal uses, it can also help preserve food. For example, Researchers at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante, Spain, have developed a tasteless, colorless and odorless gel based on Aloe Vera. This gel prolongs the preservation of fresh produce, such as fresh fruit and legumes. It is a natural, safe, and environmentally safe alternative to synthetic preservatives. Research in these studies showed that grapes at 1°C coated with this gel could be preserved for 35 days compared to 7 days for untreated grapes.
According to the researchers, this gel operates by forming a protective layer against the oxygen and moisture of the air. It also inhibits the action of micro-organisms that cause food borne illnesses through its different antibiotic and antifungal compounds.
Aloe Vera is widely know for its use to treat various skin conditions such as cuts, burns and eczema. It is suggested that the sap from Aloe Vera can ease pain, reduce inflammation, and speed healing. Studies have shown that the healing time of a moderate to severe burn can be significantly reduced when treated with Aloe Vera, compared to the healing of the wound only covered in a gauze bandage (Farrar, 2005).
The beneficial properties associated with Aloe vera may be attributed to mucopolysaccharides present in the inner gel of the leaf, especially acemannan (acetylated mannans). An injectable form of acemannan is being manufactured and marketed in the USA for treatment of fibro sarcoma (a type of cancer) in dogs and cats after clinical trials.
Aloe Vera is also commonly used by cosmetic companies as an additive in things like, makeup, shampoos, and lotions. In addition, it has been suggested for dry skin conditions and even athlete’s foot.
As you can see, Aloe Vera has a long and illustrious history dating from biblical times. It has been mentioned throughout recorded history and given a high ranking as an all-purpose herbal plant.