Aloe Vera (or the “first aid plant”) is one of those magical substances whose name appears as a remedy for all kind of ailments and medical complaints. The good news for all of us is that this is not just some bogus cure - scientists and medical journals have actually come to the same conclusions.
Aloe Vera’s soothing effects are not isolated to herbal remedies. Countless skin creams, hair conditioners and shampoos have flooded the market since its properties became known. Although not yet FDA approved, studies also continue into its impact on ailments as varied as cancer and athlete’s foot.
Aloe Vera is a species of Aloe, an extremely hardy plant found in North Africa that can survive temperatures ranging from 30F to 104F (-1C to 40C). Similar in form to a cactus, it can weather extremes in rainfall and drought, and has been successfully cultivated in both deserts and jungles. You can even grow it in your house!
The ‘active ingredient’ in Aloe comes from the gel found inside its thick leaves. To harvest the Aloe, these leaves are sliced and the gel collected. Cheaper and less effective forms of Aloe Vera are sometimes made by boiling the remaining leaves – these are not as effective however, and can sometimes even be mildly toxic.
The ancients knew all about Aloe Vera – scientists and doctors were prescribing it in Ancient Greece, Italy and even the Persian Empire. Its first uses, as a healing agent for cuts, blisters and wounds, are still relevant today and Aloe is one of the first items in any herbalist’s toolkit.
Aloe’s antiseptic and antibiotic properties allow its use even in more severe skin problems, such as second degree burns, eczema and severe sunburn. Other skin complaints that have been alleviated by Aloe include itchy scalp, dandruff, athlete’s foot and hemorrhoids.
Those are the external uses, but Aloe can also be prepared in a powder or liquid for internal consumption. Although not currently available over-the-counter in the US market, it has been shown to regulate bowel movements and be an effective laxative. Smaller quantities have an antioxidant effect that benefits your skin and slows aging, while in cold remedies it can clear your sinuses and ease headaches.
True to its reputation as a versatile herbal remedy, Aloe Vera also has a wide range of uses in other fields. For example, in 2005 scientists discovered that a thin layer of Aloe Vera can act as a preservative for fruits and vegetables. In addition to being a completely natural alternative to the synthetic chemicals currently used, the Aloe is completely edible and gives you an extra antioxidant boost!
In Korea, Aloe is widely used in a popular set of energy drinks and tea, marketed for its benefit as an antioxidant and for relief of constipation. Drinkers also report higher energy levels and greater stamina in workouts.
Aloe Vera is available in a cream or gel for external cuts and burns. For internal problems such as constipation, it comes in powder, liquid or tablet form. Due to stricter rules on non-FDA approved over the counter drugs, US pharmacists are currently only stocking the creams and gels.