Aloe Vera is a succulent houseplant in the lily family, so it’s related to onions and garlic. Many people keep it around to topically treat various types of skin problems especially burns. If that was its only benefit Aloe would still be a valuable plant, but it offers much more.
It’s easy to grow and very forgiving. Most that die probably received too much care. Don’t overwater them. Most literature suggests that they must receive large amounts of light, but there’s a big difference between high interior light and direct sunlight. Don’t place them in a large south facing window or sunny patio. Direct light sunburns them and they won’t be healthy enough to treat yours.
Should you put your plant outside for the summer, find a shady place. Aloes also like well-drained soil. Temperatures should be above 50oF. Indoors in winter they require very little water. When placed outside in summer they use much more. Plants are full of water and top-heavy like jade plants are, so they benefit from a soil with some sand for ballast. Clay pots are also helpful.
Root rot is the worse disease you’ll encounter with Aloe Vera and overwatering exacerbates it. Test the soil with your finger and if it feels moist hold off watering. When plants are growing vigorously they’ll produce large quantities of plantlets around the base. These can be removed and new plants established. Plants also can be propagated by leaf cuttings. Let freshly cut leaves heal for a day or so for best results.
So what are its other uses besides a salve for treating burns and dry skin? It’s used topically for frostbite, psoriasis, cold sores and bedsores. It helps restore healthy collagen. Aloe also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some people even make an eye-drop solution from aloe.
Internally, common uses are to treat constipation, intestinal worms and hemorrhoids. The part used is the latex which is in and right under the leaf skin. It’s also sometimes used as a component to treat high cholesterol. The active chemical is beta-sitosterol, an anti-inflammatory which is used to treat prostate problems. Aloe latex also interferes with blood clotting, so people on these types of medicines should not take aloe internally.
The clear gel in the leaf centers has no major side-effects. In fact it can be eaten and it is rich in vitamins. It even contains vitamin B12, normally not found in plants. Aloe also is what we call a complete protein as it contains all the essential amino acids.
Several companies make a commercial juice from aloe and many people swear by it. It’s supposed to be a great weight loss aid. Likely that has something to do with its efficiency as a laxative. I’m still skeptical of any so called miracle cure. There are too many possible side-effects from prolonged internal use of the latex in the leaf skin, particularly in high doses. Smaller doses of the clear gel appear to pose no health problems.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.