Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis, is a perennial plant that’s been known since ancient times for its countless curative properties.
It’s a succulent that prefers hot dry climates but can adapt well to living at various latitudes as long as it’s sheltered from low temperatures. Incredibly easy to grow, it requires very little care indeed. If you keep it in a pot (choose one with a diameter of 30 cm) you can easily move it indoors, during the coldest months of the year, where it’ll thrive and look good as ornamental plant too, and then, in the summer, you can choose a semi shaded spot for it outside.
In herbal medicine the leaves are used; they’re thick and fleshy and can vary in colour, according to the variety, from grey-blue to green, sometimes with whitish flecks. The edges of the leaves are spiky, but don’t normally prick.
Take care not to confuse aloe with agave, two plants that are very similar at a first glace. A simple trick you can use to tell them apart is to observe the tips of the leaves, if they end with a thorn the plant is an agave.
Aloe has a great number of benefits that vary according to the way in which it’s used.
If you drink it, aloe juice has pain-killing effects, it aids the treatment of gastritis and problems regarding the digestive tract, helps strengthen the immune defence system and is a great remedy against fatigue.
There are however two aspects not to be underestimated if you want to use it orally.
First of all, remember that preparing your own homemade aloe juice can be very dangerous, so you shouldn’t risk it. If not prepared carefully, due to a substance called aloin, which is found in the outer layers of the leaves, drinks made with aloe can turn out to be powerful laxatives. For this reason, always use herbal medicine products that are approved and reliable or rely on someone that’s a real expert.
The second aspect is that, as occurs with many phytotherapic products, the effects of aloe can be compared to those of pharmaceuticals, and it’s always a good idea to ask a doctor about the dose you should take and the duration of treatment.
A decidedly safer substance, which you can use on your skin, is aloe gel. It’s much less risky than the juice to be dunk, and you can prepare it at home in a few simple steps. Applied where required, it softens the skin, does wonders for burns, including sunburn, helps heal small wounds and soothes inflammation and itching.
Here you can read how to make your own aloe gel.
Photo: olgaberrios, Mataparda