Climatically versatile and incredibly useful, aloe has been praised since ancient times for its ability to heal both inside and out. Unfortunately, aloe vera no longer grows naturally, so its true place of origin remains unknown. More recent times have seen the plant renaturalized to North Africa and the Saudi Arabian peninsula as it continues to be valued in both alternative and scientific medicine.
Aloe Medicinal Properties
- Medicinal actionLaxative, Keratolytic
- Key constituentsAcetylated mannan, aloins, salicylic acid
- Ways to useCapsules, Liquid extracts
- Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
- Safety rankingUse with caution
Health Benefits of Aloe
The aloe plant, or aloe vera, has a long history of medicinal uses, and modern science has corroborated some of these folk applications. The medicinal properties of aloe have been found highly effective for wound healing, and it is also considered useful for the treatment of cold sores, canker sores, bedsores, and diabetic ulcers. Some of the most well-known and traditionally used aloe vera benefits are:
Relieving burns and skin inflammation. Aloe applied to the skin is soothing, and it helps heal minor burns and wounds.
Promoting bowel movements. Aloe leaf latex can be used sparingly as a stimulant laxative.
How It Works
Most health benefits of aloe vera can be traced back to its acetylated mannan content, a compound with antiviral and immunomodulatory properties. Scientific studies have shown that it causes activation of macrophages, which are a type white blood cells responsible to get rid of dead cells and harmful pathogens in infected areas.
The juice from aloe's leaves contain salicylic acid, which is a keratolytic agent that improve cellular regeneration.
Additionally, aloins and other anthraquinones in aloe latex irritate the intestines, stopping the re-absorption of water and stimulating a bowel movement.
More scientific research must be done in order to determine the full extend of aloe vera benefits and properties, as well as its toxicity.
The active compounds in aloe have been shown to speed cell regeneration.
Aloe Side Effects
Aloe gel is largely considered safe for topical application, and mostly safe for adult consumption. However, it may cause slight burning or itching on the skin of sensitive people.
Aloe latex is considered unsafe, especially for those with intestinal conditions, hemorrhoids, or kidney problems. Children, breastfeeding women, and those with low blood sugar should avoid aloe.
Pregnant women should not consume this plant, as it may induce miscarriage. Products containing aloe latex should not be consumed for extended periods, as the bowels can become dependent on them over time, they may disrupt potassium ion balance in the body, and anthraquinones have shown carcinogenic activity.
How to Consume Aloe
- Edible partsLeaves
- Edible usesFlavoring, Beverage
Aloe vera medicinal uses come from different parts of the plant. The clear, inner pulp of aloe vera leaf has a gel-like texture and is used for skin ailments, while the green leaf latex, or outer pulp - which is found between the gel and the outer layer of the leaf - has laxative properties.
Raw. The gel inside of aloe leaves, without the latex, is commonly added to some juices, yogurts, and smoothies to soothe ulcers, gastritis, and stomach discomfort. For constipation, adding the latex part of the leaves can produce a laxative effect.
Poultice. When applied topically, aloe gel can help reduce pain and inflammation, as well as speed up wound healing.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Capsules. Tablets and capsules are typically derived from aloe latex and sometimes the gel as well. They stimulate the intestines, producing a laxative effect.
- Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores
Aloe vera plants can be found at most garden stores, nurseries, and specialized greenhouses, thanks to their constant popularity as both a household and garden plant. They can be peeled by hand to obtain the gel inside their leaves, which is the main source of aloe health benefits. The gel alone can be obtained at some health food stores and online, though many people find it easier to track down the plant and harvest it themselves.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Aloe vera supplements can be found in certain health food stores. They are also readily available for online purchase, generally in gel capsule form. It is vital to do proper research on available brands, since efficacy is not guaranteed. Always follow product label instructions.
- Life cyclePerennial
- Harvested partsLeaves
- Light requirementsFull sun
- Soil pH3.5 – 4.4 (Extremely acidic), 4.5 – 5.0 (Very strongly acidic), 5.1 – 5.5 (Strongly acidic), 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral), 7.4 – 7.8 (Slightly alkaline), 7.9 – 8.4 (Moderately alkaline)
- Growing habitatArid or desert regions
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zones11a (From +4.4 °C (40 °F) to +7.2 °C (45 °F)), 11b (From +7.2 °C (45 °F) to +10 °C (50 °F)), 12a (From +10 °C (50 °F) to +12.8 °C (55 °F)), 12b (> +12.8 °C (55 °F))
- Potential insect pestsMites
- Potential diseasesLeaf spot
A perennial succulent, the aloe vera plant is notably tolerant of most climates and is capable of withstanding both droughts and poor soil quality.
While aloe is a drought tolerant plant, for an optimal development it needs a good quantity of water, as roughly 95% of its structure is based on hydration.
Full sunlight is also advisable, and if potted as a household plant, terracotta is the best choice of container thanks to its porous composition.
Temperatures between 50 - 70°F (10 - 21°C) are ideal for the aloe vera plant, although it can endure chills as low as 40°F (4°C).
When the principal aloe plant starts sprouting peripheral offshoots, it's time to transplant it to a larger receptacle.
More detailed information about growing aloe can be found in the herb garden section.
- Other usesCosmetics, Soapmaking
The aloe vera plant is classified as a succulent because it possesses fleshy leaves and stems with the capacity to store water and essential oils. The leaves of the aloe are composed of 95% water, and are thick, fleshy, and have jagged edges from base to tip. These leaves are usually gray-green in color, while the flowers are yellow and tubular. Each plant can reach up to 35 inches (90 cm) in height.
A member of the Asphodeloideae subfamily and called after its botanical name, Aloe vera is commonly grouped with other ornamental plants that are found in northern Africa.
The Aloe genus comprises about 250 species that grow worldwide. Only two of those species, however, have commercial value. This includes bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) - which is used as a laxative and to make the bitter tonics used in herbal medicine - and the most widely known species, Aloe (Aloe vera).
Genetic evidence suggests that aloe first came from northern Africa, since other aloe species remain indigenous to that region. The first registers of aloe vera medicinal uses dates back 3,500 years to ancient Egypt, when it first traveled around the Mediterranean, across to Asia, and onward thanks to human cultivation. Early Egyptians also utilized the plant to make papyrus scrolls and to treat tuberculosis. Several centuries later, its healing powers remained in high demand as the Knights Templar included it in their "Elixir of Jerusalem," a herbal drink believed to lengthen life.
Thanks to a global recognition of its healing powers, aloe is one of the most widely-grown medicinal plants in the world. It is cultivated via large-scale agricultural production by 12 countries for cosmetic purposes alone, including Australia, Cuba, China, Mexico, India, Jamaica, South Africa, and the U.S. Medicine, cosmetics, personal care, and other industries generate several millions of dollars every year by subsidizing aloe cultivation, not to mention the billions more that are made through product purchase.
Cosmetics. Aloe properties, mostly beneficial for skin health, are used in many personal care products, such as creams, lotions, soaps, and tissue paper, frequently advertising the herb as a featured component.
Industrial. The aloe vera plant has proven to be a very effective fresh food and water preservative, and its seeds are currently being studied as a potential source of biofuel.
Gardening. Aloe vera is not only useful but also an attractive, low maintenance succulent that can be grown indoors, which makes it a very popular houseplant.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Aloe vera: a valuable ingredient for the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries--a review, 2004
- Dermatology and Therapy, Keratolytics and Emollients and Their Role in the Therapy of Psoriasis: a Systematic Review, 2015
- National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Minor burns - aftercare
- National Toxicology Program, Aloe vera
- University of California, Davis botanical conservatory: the genus Aloe
- Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 60
- MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements, Aloe vera
- Medicinal Plants of the World, p. 41
- University of Maryland Medical Center, Aloe
- Aloe Vera: Nature's Silent Healer