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When it comes to aloe vera, there’s a lot to know, a lot to be amazed about. This succulent plant comes with a lot of surprises and benefits to man. It’s unbelievable what one plant is capable of.
In this article, you’ll become thoroughly acquainted with everything you need to know about aloe vera and the various ways it could be of benefit to you. Let’s get right into it.
What Is An Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is a succulent plant species of the genus Aloe. Having some 500 species, Aloe is widely distributed and is considered an invasive species in many world regions. An evergreen perennial, it originates from the Arabian Peninsula but grows wild in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid climates around the world.
It can be found in a variety of consumer products, including drinks, skin lotions, cosmetics, ointments, and a gel for minor burns and sunburns. There is minimal clinical evidence that Aloe vera extract is helpful or safe as a cosmetic or topical medication.
The name comes from the Latin words aloe and vera, which mean “aloe and vera” (“true”).
So in summary, the aloe vera plant is an easy, attractive succulent that makes for a great indoor companion. Aloe vera plants are useful, too, as the juice from their leaves can be used to relieve pain from scrapes and burns when applied topically.
How Do You Grow Aloe Vera?
People have been growing aloe vera plants (Aloe barbadensis) for literally thousands of years. It is one of the most widely used medicinal plants on the planet.
The most important thing about growing any sort of plant is knowing what type of plant it is. This automatically gives you clues on the nature of the soil, water requirements, optimal temperature, and other possible information.
In this case, aloe vera as said earlier is a succulent plant. Like cacti, succulents do best in dry conditions. When growing aloe vera plants, it is best to plant them in a cactus potting soil mix or a regular potting soil that has been amended with additional perlite or building sand. Also, make sure that the pot has plenty of drainage holes. Aloe vera plants cannot tolerate standing water.
Aloe vera does best in temperatures between 55 and 80°F (13 and 27°C). The temperatures of most homes and apartments are ideal. From May to September, you can bring your plant outdoors without any problems, but do bring it back inside in the evening if nights are cold.
Fertilization is carried out using a balanced houseplant formula blended at 1/2 strength sparingly (not more than once a month) and only in the spring and summer.
So before you go buying an aloe, note that you’ll need a location that offers bright, indirect sunlight (or artificial sunlight). Direct sunlight can dry out the plant too much and turn its fleshy leaves yellow, so you may need to water more often if your aloe lives in an especially sunny spot with little or no fertilizers. Keep the aloe vera plant in a pot near a kitchen window for periodic use.
Is Aloe Vera Edible?
Aloe Vera Leaves are generally considered safe to consume. While most individuals use the gel on their skin, it can also be eaten if prepared properly.
Aloe vera gel has a light, refreshing flavor that can be used in a number of dishes, such as smoothies and salsas. You can either scoop the gel out with a spoon or slice the skin off on the other side. Cut the gel into cubes and rinse them thoroughly to remove any debris or bitter latex, which appears as a yellow residue. The aloe pieces can be eaten raw or cooked gently using methods such as poaching, blanching, or steaming.
But note: there are so many poisonous species of the aloe plant.
Identifying the edible aloe vera:
Before eating aloe vera, you need to determine whether it is the edible kind or not. The only edible Aloe vera is Aloe vera barbadensis miller, but it’s easy to confuse it with the non-edible Aloe vera var. Chinensis. The edible variety has silvery green leaves that are broad and wide and grow vertically. It blooms with yellow flowers.
Aloe vera var. Chinensis has less thick, narrow spotted leaves and produces orange flowers. This is the Aloe vera variety that is commonly sold for treating burns.
Interest Facts About Aloe Vera
- Aloe vera originated in Africa.
- Aloe is derived from the Arabic phrase alloeh, which means “shining bitter material,” and “vera” is derived from the Latin word veritas, which means “truth.” It’s true that the juice from the entire processed leaf is energizingly bitter.
- Internal users report that the inner fillet of the leaf’s gel is significantly gentler and more pleasant.
- Aloe vera was Cleopatra’s secret beauty ingredient: The Egyptian queen is said to have used the plant’s gel in her beauty regimens in ancient documents dating back to 1550 B.C. She’s said to have smeared the gel all over her body to make her skin smoother.
- Aloe produces two substances, gel, and latex, which are both used medicinally.
- There are about 500 species of the Aloe plant and about 155 species indigenous to South Africa.
- The blossoms of different species come in different colors.
- It is believed that the Greeks used aloe vera in ancient times to cure baldness and insomnia.
- It is often used for decorative purposes and makes a great centerpiece.
- Aloe vera can cure gum diseases.
- Aloe vera reduces dandruff on the hair.
Brief History of Aloe Vera
The earliest record of human use for Aloe vera comes from the Ebers Papyrus (an Egyptian medical record) from the 16th century BC. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, in ancient Egypt, they called Aloe vera “that plant of immortality.” The authors added that the plant has been used therapeutically for many centuries in China, Japan, India, Greece, Egypt, Mexico, and Japan.
Because of its medical characteristics and health advantages, aloe vera is one of the oldest mentioned plants in history. Aloe vera was utilized by the ancient Chinese and Egyptians to cure burns, wounds, and fevers.
According to legend, Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra off the coast of Africa on the advice of Aristotle in order to secure supplies of aloe vera to treat wounded soldiers. Aloe was utilized by Cleopatra in her regular skin treatments. In 1944, the Japanese who were exposed to the “A” bomb put aloe gel on their wounds and reported speedier recovery and reduced scars.
Aloe Vera in Africa
Aloes have a long history of therapeutic applications in traditional societies, as evidenced by hieroglyphics in Egypt and rock drawings by the San and Khoi peoples.
Africa has over 360 species of the genus Aloe linneus of which the Aloe ferox is the most used and commercially produced in South Africa. Aloe ferox is different from aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis). In ‘ferox’, the bitter aloin is found just under the skin and can easily be separated from the gel-like inner leaf. In ‘vera’ the aloin is found throughout the leaf and is extracted in a chemical process. The Aloe ferox has been found to have a 28% higher level of aloin and 36% more amino acids than Aloe vera, which is indigenous to America.
Types of Aloe Plants
The Aloe plant has about 500 different species. Here are some indigenous to Africa, and South Africa alone, has up to 155 species of the aloe plant.
1. Aloe Africana
Aloe Africana (known as the Uitenhage Aloe) is an arborescent species of the aloe plant, indigenous to the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The plant matures slowly and blossoms between the ages of four and five. Winter to early spring is when the flowers bloom (July to September in South Africa).
It features tubular orange or yellow flowers on an erect raceme that can be unbranched or have up to four branches. Each of the little blossoms is unique in that it is up-turned and has a particular bent.
This trait is useful for identification because this aloe species can seem quite similar to kindred species (e.g. Aloe excelsa, Aloe lineata, or Aloe ferox). The thin, narrow leaves are more messy and disorganized than other arborescent Aloe species’ neat symmetrical rosettes. In addition, the leaves are more recurved.
They form a dense apical rosette and spread to recurved, firm linear-lanceolate leaves with a grey-green surface. Each leaf’s margins and lower side are armed with lines of small, reddish teeth, a common feature in the genus Aloe.
The distinguishing features of this species, therefore, include yellow-orange flowers that are bent to almost 90 degrees; racemes that are large, tall, and tapering to a point; narrow spreading or recurved leaves, arranged in a relatively untidy rosette.
2. Aloe Ferox
The bitter aloe (Aloe ferox Mill), sometimes known as the Cape aloe, is a polymorphic species native to South Africa. Large vivid orange blossoms bloom on the plant. In addition to nutritional supplements, the translucent gel of the Cape Aloe is utilized in burn ointments and other skincare items. It is a variable species, and plants may differ physically from area to area, due to local conditions.
3. Aloe Vera
This aloe species is mostly known for the medicinal use of its sap. The sap from the aloe vera plant is used to treat sunburns and a variety of other skin conditions. This aloe plant is the finest to use for therapeutic purposes because other aloe plants can be harmful, and it also makes a great houseplant.
Furthermore, Aloe vera thrives in dry, low-light environments, yet it is frost-sensitive and must be sheltered when it is chilly outside.
4. Aloe aculeata
Aloe aculeata is an Aloe species that is native to the Limpopo valley and Mpumalanga in South Africa along with southern and central Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It grows on rocky outcrops in grassland and dry bushveld. Aculeata refers to the spines on the leaf’s surface and the teeth on its margins.
Aloe aculeata is easily identified from other similar species with conspicuous sharp spines on the leaves in that it is the only known aloe whose spines spring from tuberculate white base bumps.
It is perhaps one of the most well-known Aloes to South Africans
as it was depicted on the old Nickle 10 cent piece.
5. Aloe Broomii (Snake Aloe)
Aloe broomii, often known as mountain aloe or snake aloe due to its unusual inflorescence, is a flowering plant in the genus Aloe that is native to southern Africa. The most notable feature of this plant is its odd inflorescence, where the flowers are hidden by the extended bracts, giving it a sinuous, snake-like appearance, hence its name.
The aloe plant of this species is tough, succulent, and usually single-stemmed. It commonly breaks down into three groups, each with three rosettes. It can reach a height of 5 feet, including inflorescence. It has fleshy leaves with tiny thorns on the edges, In comparison to other species, which have white or green thorns, these thorns are exceedingly black. The blooms are veiled by the extended bracts in their unusual inflorescence, giving it a sinuous, snake-like appearance, hence its name.
Because this plant can thrive with very little care, they are great for beginners in aloe cultivation.
6. Aloe Broomii
The tall, tapering leaves of this bright green succulent are coated in translucent “teeth.” It turns pink when it is joyfully worried. It’s a cross between Aloe Nobilis and Aloe humilis var. echinatum.
It grows in tiny rosettes with thick, lance-shaped, deep-green leaves that have long translucent marginal teeth. It easily offsets to make a big clump. When exposed to bright light, its fleshy leaves turn crimson. Spikes of vivid orange tubular blooms proliferate on blooming stocks that reach a height of 18 inches (45 cm).
7. Aloe Marlothii
This aloe species, named after South African botanist Rudolf Marloth, has a particularly big robust head of stiff, grey-green leaves. Its leaves can grow to be up to 1.5m long, with small spines covering the convex bottom surfaces and less so the concave upper surfaces. This Aloe, like many other arborescent aloe species, is spikier while young and sheds many of the spines from its leaf surfaces as it grows taller and less prone to grazing. Its trunk is usually heavily coated in wilted old leaves.
The inflorescence is a panicle with several branches and up to 30 or even 50 racemes. The color of the flowers varies greatly, ranging from yellow to orange (the most frequent) to blazing red. As is the case with most aloes, flowering occurs over the winter months.
8. Aloe Microstigma (Cape Speckled Aloe)
This is one of Africa’s most floriferous aloes. It’s an evergreen succulent perennial that grows in single or small clumps of gorgeous blue-green rosettes that become reddish-brown when stressed by the environment. White dots decorate the leaves, which contrast wonderfully with the ruby teeth that run along the edges. This aloe produces multiple unbranched spikes of blooms that are red in bud and open to orange when they are about 3 feet (90 cm) tall. Their lively colors are reminiscent of candle flames and are sometimes noted for their bi-color aspect.
9. Aloe Rubroviolacea
Aloe rubroviolacea is a stunning plant that grows in the mountains of northern Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Its name refers to the violet-red colours that the leaves take on throughout the dry seasons of the year. In the winter, the dense spires of red blooms appear, and our enormous clump of this species puts on a spectacular show each year. The flowers may be damaged if a cold snap is severe enough, but additional stalks normally follow to keep the display going. Temperatures as low as the low twenties have no effect on the plants (below -4 on the Celsius scale).
10. Aloe Cameronii
Aloe cameronii is a species of the genus Aloe indigenous to Malawi and Zimbabwe. It is thought to be one of the most beautiful foliage aloes. It’s an evergreen succulent with open rosettes on erect stems. Depending on the amount of sun and water, the fleshy, gently curving leaves come in a rainbow of colors ranging from green to rich coppery red.
Nutritional Value Of Aloe Vera
Vitamins, enzymes, minerals, carbohydrates, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids, and amino acids are among the 75 potentially active elements in aloe vera.
- Vitamins: It contains antioxidant vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E. Vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline are also present. Free radicals are neutralized by antioxidants.
- Monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides (glucomannans/polymannose) are found in sugars. Mucopolysaccharides are polysaccharides generated from the plant’s mucilage layer. Mannose-6-phosphate is the most prevalent monosaccharide, whereas glucomannans [beta-(1,4)-acetylated mannan] are the most common polysaccharides. Acemannan, a well-known glucomannan, was also discovered. Aloe vera gel has recently yielded an antiallergic glycoprotein called alprogen, as well as a novel anti-inflammatory chemical named C-glucosyl chromone. 7,8
- Aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase are the eight enzymes found in it. When applied topically to the skin, Bradykinase helps to minimize excessive inflammation, while others aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats.
- Aloe vera also contains 20 of the 22 amino acids necessary by humans, as well as seven of the eight essential amino acids. Salicylic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, is also present. When lignin, an inert material, is added to topical therapies, it helps the other components penetrate deeper into the skin. Saponins, or soapy chemicals, makeup roughly 3% of the gel and have antibacterial and cleaning qualities.
- Calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc are among the minerals found in aloe vera. They are required for the efficient functioning of many enzyme systems in diverse metabolic pathways, and a small number of them are antioxidative.
- It contains 12 anthraquinones, which are phenolic chemicals that have traditionally been used as laxatives. Aloin and emodin have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
- Fatty acids: It contains cholesterol, campesterol, -sitosterol, and lupeol, which are all plant steroids. All of these have anti-inflammatory qualities, and lupeol has antibacterial and analgesic characteristics as well.
- Hormones: Auxins and gibberellins are anti-inflammatory hormones that aid wound healing.
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
It is very effective for wound healing:
Aloe vera is most commonly used as a topical treatment, meaning it is applied to the skin rather than consumed. Indeed, it has a long history of being used to cure wounds and burns, including sunburn. It appears to be an effective topical treatment for first and second-degree burns, according to studies.
Experimental tests indicated that aloe vera could cut the time it took for burns to recover by about 9 days when compared to conventional medicine. It also helps to avoid infections, redness, and irritation.
It improves liver function:
When it comes to detoxification, having a strong liver is crucial. Aloe vera juice is a great approach to keep your liver in good shape. That’s because the liver works best when the rest of the body is well-nourished and hydrated. Because it is moisturizing and high in phytonutrients, aloe vera juice is excellent for the liver
It can be used as a laxative
Aloe vera can be made into a juice using the green part of the leaf. This juice can act as a laxative and may be used to treat constipation or diarrhea. Furthermore, Aloe vera includes enzymes that aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats, as well as maintaining a healthy digestive system.
You won’t absorb all of the nutrients from your food if your digestive system isn’t working properly. To receive the benefits of your nutrition, you must keep your internal engine healthy.
Aloe vera can help soothe the stomach and intestinal inflammation. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other inflammatory bowel illnesses may potentially benefit from the juice.
It is an important ingredient in skincare:
Aloe vera can help you keep your skin fresh and nourished. This could be due to the plant’s preference for dry, unstable environments. The plant’s leaves store water to help it withstand the harsh environment. It’s an effective face moisturizer and pain reliever because of its water-dense leaves and unusual plant chemicals called complex polysaccharides.
It is used in making a lot of skincare products including facemasks, body scrubs, moisturizers, body soaps, and body butter, etc.
For more on skincare on the African Food Network, check out this article, “African foods that would help your skin glow”.
It may help the fight against cancer:
The therapeutic benefits of aloe-emodin, a chemical found in the plant’s leaves, were investigated in a new study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to the authors, succulent has the ability to halt the progression of breast cancer. However, further research is required to advance this notion.