Aloe vera, also known as Medicine Plant, has been cultivated for over 6,000 years for its health benefits. Native to the Mediterranean, this plant is said to have been the reason Alexander the Great conquered the island Socotra, where the plant was cultivated. Native Americans called it the “wand of heaven” because of its healing properties, and historians believe aloe vera was one of Cleopatra’s beauty secrets. Ancient Egyptians were so enamored with the plant that they called it the “plant of immortality” and included it in the gifts that traveled with deceased pharaohs to the underworld.
Today, aloe vera is used in lotions, shampoos, ointments, beauty products and health aids. It’s used both internally and topically. Aloe vera gel contains at least six antibacterial compounds and also has antifungal, anti-inflammatory and emollient properties. In fact, researchers are currently studying its potential as a treatment for AIDS and cancer patients. Read on to learn more about the health and beauty benefits of aloe.
Aloe Vera for Healing Burns, Cuts and Abrasions
Aloe is most famous for its healing properties. Aloe contains active glycoprotein and polysaccharide compounds. Glycoproteins work by reducing inflammation and pain, while polysaccharides stimulate new cell growth to hasten healing.
In one study, burns treated with aloe healed 3 days faster than those treated with a prescription burn ointment. In another study, cuts healed nine days faster with aloe vera ointment compared to cuts that received no treatment.
Aloe vera has been known to cause rashes and allergic reactions, though. If you’ve never used it, apply it to a small area of your skin first to make sure you’re not allergic to it. Consult your physician for serious burns and don’t apply aloe to open wounds.
Aloe vera’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a good solution for skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and even genital herpes. In fact, in one study, aloe vera relieved itching and swelling more effectively than 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. Try it on boils, acne, dandruff, poison ivy, sunburns and fevered skin.
Aloe Vera and Diabetes
Early research shows that aloe vera juice could possibly lower blood sugar, perhaps preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes or stabilizing blood sugar for patients diagnosed with the disease. Aloe juice is edible, but it has a fairly bitter taste. Mix it with other juices to improve its flavor, but talk with your doctor before using it to treat diabetes, since it can interact with diabetes medications.
Aloe has a laxative and purgative effect and is often used to treat upset stomach or constipation. Drinking the juice before a meal can calm an irritated stomach. However, according to the University of Maryland, aloe vera juice can cause stomach cramps, especially if taken in large amounts.
Aloe Vera Cautions
Because aloe vera causes stomach cramping, pregnant women should not take it internally because it could possibly cause miscarriage. Nursing mothers should also avoid drinking aloe vera juice because its laxative effect may give a baby diarrhea.
Where to Get Aloe Vera
Pure aloe vera gel and juice are found in health food stores, as well as many mainstream grocery stores and pharmacies. But, it’s so easy to grow that you might just want an aloe vera plant at home instead. After all, it’s like having a first aid kit right on your patio or window sill.
Remember, aloe vera thrives in hot, semi-tropical regions, but doesn’t tolerate frost. If you live in the southern United States, you may be able to grow aloe vera outdoors year-round. Northerners can grow the plant inside year-round, or place it outdoors during the summer and bring it indoors before the first frost.
Plant aloe vera in well-draining sandy soil and place it in full sun. Keep the soil moderately dry. You’re much more likely to damage or kill the plant by overwatering it than by letting it dry out a bit. To access the gel, simply cut one of the leaves off the plant. Slice the leaf lengthwise and squeeze the gel out into your hand. Apply it to your skin as you would lotion. Aloe can sometimes be drying if used frequently. Mix the fresh gel with your favorite moisturizer or glycerin if you prefer.
How to Identify Aloe Vera
Aloe vera belongs to the lily family and includes over 180 species. Common aloe vera resembles agave plants with long, thick silvery-green leaves that look like spears. The leaves grow directly from the base of the plant. Yellow, tube-like flowers form on spikes.
Want to learn more about Aloe Vera health benefits?
Read the following:
Aloe Vera from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Aloe from the Mayo Clinic
Can I put fresh Aloe gel in body lotion? My grandchildren have dry skin. Will it help?