If there was ever a plant that deserved your respect, its aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller). Have you ever spent hours caring for a plant with water, fertilizer, shade, sun…handpicked insects, guarded it from invading weeds, protected it from ravenous birds…only to have it wither anyway?
Then you will appreciate that aloe vera needs none of these pampering habits to keep it growing. Stick it in the ground or pot, water it now and then, and it will not only thrive, but provide you with a gel that will heal your body, inside and out. Aloe vera is the epitome of low maintenance. It asks for hardly anything and yet gives tremendously. My kind of plant!
Don’t believe me? What about Cleopatra, Nofretete, and Alexander the Great?
Having originated in the Arabian Peninsula, the epicenter of early trade routes, this medicinal plant quickly moved across the continent to Mediterranean ports and then on to Asia. Written praise of aloe vera dates back to 2100 BC where Sumerian clay tablets recorded the use of aloe vera for medicinal purposes such as treating burns, healing wounds and relieving various aches and pains.
Legend has it that Cleopatra and Nofretete used aloe vera daily as part of their beauty regime due to its positive effects on skin and hair. Aloe vera was also used in the Egyptian embalming process as it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that slowed decomposition which led to aloe being known as the ‘plant of immortality’ by the ancient Egyptians. Immortality? That’s some serious praise!
Famous warrior, Alexander the Great, carried aloe plants with him where ever his troops traveled for battles to have the gel available for healing wounds. Centuries later, Christopher Columbus also brought the plants with him on his explorations to heal sailors injured at sea. Remember when I mentioned aloe is REALLY easy to grow and maintain? If it can survive battles and ocean voyages, it can survive in your garden.
The history of aloe vera is fascinating, not only because it has been healing people for centuries, but also because it has been used for centuries across the globe. Evidence of aloe vera use can be found in ancient Chinese writings, Avurvedic medicine in India, benedictine nuns in the middle ages and Native American tribes during the 16th century, among many others.
Today, aloe vera is grown on multiple continents. Although there are several hundred different varieties, Aloe Barbadensis Miller is the preferred species for medicinal and beauty products by leading companies.
Aloe vera needs a minimum of 320 sunny days per year, feeds 98% on air and does not require the application of fertilizers. Aloe propagates from its own roots, so it is continually reproducing itself.
The easiest, and cheapest, way to begin your own aloe garden is to find a friend with an aloe plant and have them give you a few offshoots–new plants that grow from the roots of existing plants. I grow all of my aloe in pots and have to thin them out at least every six months as the new shoots grow. I live in the middle east, surrounded by desert where the summer temperatures reach 130 degrees on a regular basis in the summer! These are very hardy plants! Put it by a sunny window and you can also grow aloe vera indoors in pots.
Reasons to Grow Aloe Vera
- Support healthy digestion
- Moisturize and hydrate skin
- Heal burns and other skin irritations
- Support a healthy immune system
- Reduce harmful toxins
- Increase absorption of nutrients
- Enhance antioxidant support
- Balance stomach acidity naturally
- Soothe occasional muscle and joint discomfort
How To Extract the Gel
Extracting the gel from the plant is just as easy as growing it. All you need is a sharp knife, spoon, a bowl and some type of blender.
- Cut a large leaf at its base. (You don’t need to pull the plant out of the ground)
- Lean the leaf, cut side down, in a bowl or sink for about ten minutes, allowing a yellow sap, called aloin, to drain out. Aloin has a bitter taste and can cause stomach discomfort if consumed in quantity.
- After ten minutes, wash the leaf to remove all dust or dirt and the aloin.
- Using a sharp paring knife, cut off the top 2-4 inches of the tip and slide the knife down each side of the leaf to remove the sharp points.
- Notice the leaf has a flat side and a curved side. Slide the knife just under the skin of flat side and gently pull down the leaf to entirely remove the outer skin. This will expose the layer of gel inside the leaf. A vegetable peeler can also be used.
- Holding the curved side of the leaf in your palm, use the spoon to scoop out the gel into the bowl. Scrape the bottom of the leaf to remove all of the gel.
- Repeat this process with several leaves until you have the desired amount of gel.
- Pour the gel into a blender or use an immersion blender (my preferred choice) in the bowl and blend the gel to a more liquified state. It will initially be frothy and foamy. Store in a jar for 10 days in the refrigerator or freeze in ice cube trays for up to six months.
Buying Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera is a buzz word in healthy living…so buyer beware! A lot of companies are using aloe to market their product. Read the label of ingredients. Is aloe a significant ingredient listed? Or are there a whole lot of additives? The more processed something is, the lower the health benefits. If you can, grow your own aloe and use the pure gel for maximum health and cost benefits. If you can’t grow your own, Forever Living is the largest grower/producer of aloe vera products in the world. Forever Living controls the plant to product supply chain and produces a high quality product.
How To Use Aloe Vera
I live in the desert and constantly battle dry skin from heat and sand storms. I use the gel on my skin to moisturize, especially after a day in the outdoors. It is also fantastic for your hair. Coat your hair in the gel, put on a hair cap to catch any drips, and wait 20-30 minutes. Shampoo as usual. Your hair will be silky and shiny!
Aloe gel has been taken internally for centuries. Its as simple as mixing the gel with water or adding some of the gel to a daily juice or smoothie. Two reported benefits of oral consumption have been lowering blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol. But with all internal consumption, do a bit of research first to decide if consuming aloe vera is a good choice with your medical history. Never consume aloe products manufactured for topical use.
Growing and Harvesting Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe Vera Hand Sanitizer