What is Aloe Vera?
An Introduction to Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera (or Aloe Barbadensis Miller) is a plant - its that simple! It is a member of the onion and lily family but grows two to three feet tall with large thick leaves. Aloe flourishes in hot dry climates such as the Caribean, Far East and parts of America. It takes around four years until it is ready for harvest and then, just like any vegetable juice, it must be stabilised before it can start to oxidize and loose its goodness.
Its not a fad, or 'the latest thing in health care' although many spurious products have recently appeared on the market.
Its not a 'miracle cure' although after reading many articles on the subject you'll be forgiven for thinking that is exactly what it is! You can find it mentioned in the bible (Numbers 24:6, John 19:39, Psalms 45:8) and dotted through the history books where it is said to have been used by Cleopatra, Alexandra the Great and in the film Gerry MacGuire.
It can be applied to the skin topically or taken internally as a drink. If you go on holiday to the caribbean you will see large leaves being sold on the beach to relieve sunburn and offered as a drink to aleviate indigestion but how can it be so many things to so many people? The answer is in its contents.
What does Aloe Vera contain?
The rich gel inside an Aloe plant is made up of over 75 different ingredients even though 95% of it is water. These nutrients include
- Vitamins - including C,E,Beta Carotene, B12
- Minerals - including magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, chromium, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron.
- Amino Acids - 20 out of the 22 required by the body as the building blocks for protein and 7 out of the 8 that the body cannot manufacture itself
- Sugars - including long chain polysaccharides that help boost the immune system
- Enzymes - to help break down and digest food
- Plant Sterols - that act as powerful anti-inflammatory agents
- Lignin - a woody substance that helps Aloe penetrate the skin
- Saponins - soapy substances with an anti-microbial effect
- Anthraquinones - powerful natural painkillers
- Salycylic Acid - anti-inflammatory, helps break down dead tissue
Aloe Vera does not do anything clever. It boosts the bodys own immune system and provides many of the nutrients for preventing or fighting infection so unlike conventional drugs, which are designed only to perform a defined set of actions, Aloe can do much more.
How is Aloe Vera produced commercially?
The following video gives a brief insight into how Aloe Vera is harvested and produced commercially by professional companies
Note the following:
- Only the outer leaves are harvested
- The harvested leaves must go to the processing plant immediately to reduce oxidization (exposure to the air) of the gel which reduces its potency just like an apple, cut open, starts to go brown.
- 'Whole leaf processing' requires more filtering which also filters more goodness out of the leaf and hence our advice to avoid 'whole leaf' Aloe products.
The growing popularity of Aloe Vera
In recent years it has been rediscovered by large numbers of people who have found it very effective topically for sunburn, skin infections, wound healing, eczema, psoriasis, athletes foot and so on. Taken internally it is extremely popular for those who have arthritis, asthma, hayfever, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, constipation and a whole host of other disorders.
But, like any product that is effective, there are many questionable companies out there trying to take advantage of it to make a quick buck by creating cheap and inneffective packaged versions of aloe vera.
This, along with a lack of medical research (for good reason) has led to mixed reports on its success and also to people misusing the plant and suffering side effects.
Aloe vera in it's mature but raw form is the most potent, just like freshly squeezed orange juice, but it does not grow in European climates and so has to be processed in some way so it can be transported from its native lands in the Americas or Africa.
Generally speaking the more 'processing' that occurs, the less useful Aloe Vera becomes until by the time it reaches tablet or pill form it is very limited in what it can do. See Good Quality Aloe Vera for more on this.
This all makes for a confusing picture with some people praising the plant while others point out how it failed to work for them ... and hence why this website came into existance!
The various names of Aloe Vera
The Aloe Vera that seems to help most people is, as mentioned earlier, Aloe Barbadensis Miller and not any of the other plants in the same family. But depending where you are in the world or what texts you read, you may find it referred to as on of the following:
- The Burn Plant / First Aid Plant - as many communities use it without question to treat burns and sunburn. This is either done by squeezing the gel out of the leaf and applying it to the wound or, if the burn is large, splitting open an entire leaf and placing it gel side down on the affected area.
- The Healing Plant / Medicine Plant / Potted Physician / Plant of Life / Wonder Plant - in reference to its ability to heal a number of afflictions, both externally and internally in humans and animals
- The Silent Healer - because it seems to heal afflictions without side effects. So much so that users often quickly forget they even had the ailment and that it was Aloe Vera that helped.
- The Dietry Plant - because it contains so many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients (see above) some use it as a dietry supplement.
- Heaven's Blessing - obviously the wide range of ailments it seems to deal with do make some communities regard it as a plant that must have been sent from up above.
- Single Bible - as it is known in Jamaica.
Aloe Vera as a complementary medicine
One of the greatest stereotypes that exists is that Aloe Vera should be treated as an alternative medicine - in other words it should be used in place of conventional drugs and treatments. This can be the case (see below) but it is also extremely popular in its use alongside modern medical practices.
Diabetics, for example, can find it helps reduce the insulin they need to take but it is not always a complete replacement. Some cancer sufferers find it helpful in healing radiation burns but not as a complete cure for cancer.
One of the reasons it can work so well with conventional drugs is that it does not seem to cause side effects in the vast majority of the population or have a negative reaction with man made drugs.
This it is not always a case of buying some Aloe Vera and throwing out the tablets. Sometimes it is a case of using both which together produce better results.
Aloe vera as an alternative medicine
Without doubt some people do use Aloe Vera in place of man made medicines. At its most basic many prefer some Aloe to heal a cut rather than a commercial antiseptic and a plaster.
Others have found that they can reduce and then completely stop their prescription medications over time and this is especially true for ailments such as arthritis, chrons, IBS and indigestion.
As a word of caution, if you are using conventional medication you should inform your doctor that you are starting to use Aloe Vera and work with him to reduce the synthetic drugs as you feel comfortable to do so. Suddenly stopping medication can be harmful and cause unwanted side effects.