Aloe plant is useful for more than treating burns


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.

 

Some aloe plants growing in our school greenhouses

Some aloe plants growing in our school greenhouses

A different Aloe ecotype for our school plant sales

A different Aloe ecotype for our school plant sales

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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