Power Plants: Aloe Vera

via Bryce Wylde


Power Plants

ALOE VERA (Aloe vera)
Aloe vera is a cactus-like succulent plant with thick, fleshy leaves. The aloe family probably originated in Africa, but they have been cultivated all over the world for centuries. The leaves contain two different substances that have long been used for medicinal purposes. The first is a transparent gel-like substance commonly used as an ointment. The second is the inner part of the leaf surrounding this gel, which contains a yellowish compound called aloe latex.
(Constipation, Heart Burn and Wound Healing)
The gel from aloe vera leaves has been used for thousands of years to treat wounds, skin infections, burns, and numerous other skin conditions. More recently, there is promising research in both animal and human studies that topical aloe gel has immune-balancing properties that improves skin inflammation.
Aloe vera was known to the Egyptians more than 6,000 years ago as the “plant of immortality,” and Cleopatra reportedly used it to improve the beauty of her skin. The ancient Greeks thought of aloe as a “miracle health plant,” and Alexander the Great is said to have conquered certain territories specifically to secure control of the plant.
It is thought that the moisturizing emollient and healing properties of aloe are due in part to its polysaccharides—long-chain carbohydrates such as aloeride and acemannan—as well as numerous powerful antioxidants. These work together to exhibit the immune-boosting, antiviral, and healing effects that become so evident when you apply aloe to your skin.
Aloe vera may also be the most important plant ever discovered for digestive health. Odds are high that you or a member of your family suffers from some sort of digestive disorder. The numbers describe a real crisis of modern living: More than 60 million North Americans suffer from frequent heartburn, 15 million experience it daily, 25 million have been treated for ulcers at some point in their life, and more than 30 million qualify for the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
The dried latex has long been taken orally as a laxative. Aloe vera juice also contains a natural acid buffer called calcium malate (also known as malic acid). Drinking homegrown aloe juice will not only reduce the acid in your stomach immediately, but it will continue over time to buffer the hydrochloric acid your stomach produces and heal any tissue damaged by acid erosion due to heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 9 to 11; can also be grown indoors
Time to Plant: Can be grown indoors any time of year; pots can be placed outdoors after all risk of frost has passed
Time to Harvest: Harvest mature, rooted plants only: they should have 3 to 5 leaf stems.
Location: Full sun to part sun. Indoors: direct light in west- or south-facing window. Outdoors: indirect light at first to allow the plant time to adapt, then move into full sun
Soil Type: Sandy: use potting soil formulated for cacti
Aloe vera is inexpensive and easy to grow. It can be found almost any time of year at garden centres to big box stores. I think it’s a must-have, whether you enjoy it as a houseplant or as a potted plant in your landscape. The key is to give it as much sun as possible and not to overwater. Aloe doesn’t require fertilizer, and the more you leave it alone the better it grows!
Common Varieties: There are almost 500 varieties of Aloe, and several produce the latex used for medicinal purposes. But Aloe vera (which means “true aloe”) is the only species yielding the iconic gel that is so wonderful for the skin.
Aloe is so readily available and inexpensive that you may simply want to buy it. However, one of the reasons it is so inexpensive is that it’s easy to grow! Take a cutting measuring 6 to 12 cm (3 to 5 inches) from a healthy leaf. Lay the cutting in a dry location for up to one week and allow the cut end to dry out or “scab.” This reduces risk of disease when rooting. Next, get a pot measuring 4 to 6 inches with good drainage (clay pots are ideal) and fill with store-bought cactus mix soil. Place the cutting into the soil with about a third of the leaf covered. Keep the soil moist for approximately 7 to 10 days, then reduce watering thereafter.
Overwatering is the number-one reason people fail at growing aloe vera: remember, it’s a drought-tolerant plant, and once rooted it prefers to be dry. Depending on the amount of light and humidity in your home or landscape, aloe vera may need as little as one watering per month. Test by placing your finger into the soil: only water if the soil feels completely dry to the touch. Another indicator of lack of water is leaves that become thin and curl.
Here’s a good way to determine if your aloe is getting the right amount of light. Leaves turning brown? Your aloe is getting too much direct sun. Leaves lying flat? Your aloe is not getting enough sun.
Aloe vera can be harvested as soon as the plants are mature and healthy: the leaves should be fleshy and green and 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 inches) long. Use the outermost leaves first, since these should be the oldest and largest.
Remove the leaf using a sharp, clean knife, slicing close to base and away from centre of the plant. A straight, clean cut is a must! Rinse the leaf and then soak it for about an hour in a bowl with 3 cups of cold water mixed with 1 tbsp of white vinegar for about an hour to allow the yellowish latex to release into the water.
Now slice around perimeter of the leaf to remove the serrated edges, and then remove skin by running the knife under and peeling away. Presto, you’re left with the pure gel!
Aloe vera is best used fresh, so I recommend harvesting it as needed. However, the leaves can be stored for up to a week in a clean plastic container or glass dish. Some people place it in plastic bag and freeze it, but I don’t recommend this.
Can’t go? Shoot some aloe!
A simple and effective formula to maintain soft stool and bowel regularity is to combine aloe gel with fibre and to drink this daily for one week. Collect the alow gel as described above, or simply peel away the rind from the leaves and squeeze out the gel. Place the gel into a blender immediately, then add 2 oz citrus juice (orange, lemon, or grapefruit), then add 1 tsp of psyllium or wheat bran. Blend until smooth and drink.
Heartburn? Drink up!
Here’s how to make your own aloe juice. Take a very sharp knife and carefully peel away the rind from as many leaves as necessary to extract 6 oz of gel. Discard the rind. Peel the yellow layer just beneath the rind with a sharp knife and discard. Place the aloe gel into a blender and add ½ freshly squeezed lemon and ½ cup water. Blend until smooth and drink.
Sunburn or skin irritation? Aloe is soothing!
Evidence suggests aloe may aid healing of mild-to-moderate sunburns, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. All you need to do is cut three medium-sized leaves off of the aloe plant. Squeeze the gel out of the leaves into a sterile glass container. Add two ice cubes and stir gently to cool the aloe gel. Dip a clean paper towel or cotton swab into the liquid and apply liberally to affected areas. Use 3 to 5 times daily to speed healing, or as needed for relief.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase AloeCure pure aloe juice or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
There aren’t many negative side effects from using aloe gel as a topical application: it is rare to have allergies to aloe. But recognize its limitations: with any severe burn, medical attention is absolutely essential.
Because aloe contains anthraquinones (compounds with laxative qualities), it should not be ingested by anyone with inflammatory intestinal diseases, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It should also not be used by children, or by women during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Aloe latex should not be used as a laxative for more than 10 consecutive days.
Williams MS, Burk M, Loprinzi CL, et al. Phase III double-blind evaluation of an Aloe vera gel as a prophylactic agent for radiation-induced skin toxicity. Int J Rad Oncol Biol Phys 1996;36:345–9.
Visuthikosol V, Chowchuen B, Sukwanarat Y, et al. Effect of aloe vera gel to healing of burn wound: A clinical and histologic study. J Med Assoc Thai 1995;78:403–9.
Syed TA, Ahmed SA, Holt AH, et al. Management of psoriasis with Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: A placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Tropical Med Inter Health 1996;1:505–9.
Vardy DA, Cohen AD, Tchetov T, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of an Aloe vera (A. barbadensis) emulsion in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. J Dermatol Treat 1999;10:7–11.
Davis RH, Leitner MG, Russo JM, Byrne ME. Wound healing. Oral and topical activity of Aloe vera. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc 1989:79:559–62.
Chevrel B. A comparative crossover study on the treatment of heartburn and epigastric pain: Liquid Gaviscon and a magnesium-aluminum antacid gel. J Int Med Res 1980;8:300–3
Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 80–

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