Growing and harvesting your own aloe vera is easy and affordable. I currently live in the Saudi desert and aloe is the one plant I don’t have to worry about through our long, hot summers… and when I say hot, I’m mean an average daily temperature of 120 F (48C) or more! I also have a potted plant in a shady spot at our place in San Diego, CA that equally thrives.
Live somewhere with harsh winters? Grow aloe in pots and bring it inside during the winter months. I grow all my aloe in pots as our outdoor water from the hose and sprinkler are high in salts and minerals. By growing my aloe in pots, I can control the water and ensure a more organic gel.
The least expensive way to start growing aloe is to find a friend with a plant and ask them for some offshoots. Aloe vera produces offshoots from the root area. Look for offshoots that have at least three leaves and gently remove from the host plant. As these offshoots grow, it is also easy to simply pull them up out of the soil as they grow as separate plants. One plant will fill a pot in about six months, so I am always thinning out the pots and sharing the aloe plants.
You are ready to harvest your own gel once your plant has leaves about 12-24” (30-60 cm) long and at least 1-2” (3-6 cm) wide. Needless to say, the larger the leaf, the more gel you will extract.
Use a clean, sharp knife and cut the leaf at its base. Cut more leaves depending on your current needs.
Stand the cut leaves in a container for about 30 minutes allowing the yellow sap, which contains aloin, to drain from the cut. This yellow sap has a laxative property if ingested and can irritate skin, so always take time to let it drain out.
After about 30 minutes, rinse the leaves in clean water removing any dirt and the yellow sap.
Using a sharp, small paring knife, cut off the tip of the leaf and then slide the knife down each side to remove the sharp points.
Look for the flat side of the leaf and slide the knife just under the skin. Pull the knife under the skin for the length of the leaf exposing the gel underneath.
Use a spoon to scrap the gel into a bowl. The gel will release from the leaf in large chunks.
Repeat the process with other leaves to obtain the desired amount of gel. Compost all the aloe skins—don’t waste them by putting them out in the trash!
You can add the aloe to a smoothie by just adding a few tablespoons to the blender with your fruit. If not using immediately, store the aloe in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. Likewise you can freeze the chunks by laying them out flat on a tray and putting them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Transfer the frozen aloe to a bag to store in your freezer. Hello Glow has 15 fun and creative recipes using aloe vera.
If you want more of a liquid for use on skin or hair, then put the aloe chunks in a blender or use an immersion blender in your bowl to create a more liquified gel. Use immediately or store in an airtight glass jar in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Another option is to freeze the liquid aloe in ice cube trays for later use. Frozen aloe feels great on a sunburn!
Aloe vera is a super easy plant to grow, but once the gel is extracted, it is important to keep unused portions in the refrigerator or freezer for later use. Never keep aloe gel exposed to air or in the cupboard. It might be easy to grow, but it becomes a bit finicky once the gel is extracted.
Feeling nervous? Don’t! My kindergartners have successfully extracted aloe gel each year to make organic shampoo. If they can do it, so can you! Get the family involved and have fun!
Here’s a great recipe for making your own hand sanitizer from Lily of the Desert.