In addition to its longtime use in cosmetic products, aloe vera has been popping up recently in the food industry. Just another fad? Why all the fuss about aloe vera?
Aloe plants have been with us for a very long time. They are believed to originate in North Africa. The first records of the plant’s use date back to about 4,000 BC to early Egypt, where aloe was illustrated in stone carvings. Aloe was known as the “plant of immortality” and was given as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. There are about 200 aloe species around the world, varying in shape and size, ranging from one inch to two or more feet. Although the aloe plant might resemble a cactus, it’s actually a succulent plant that stores water in its thick, fleshy leaves. Those same leaves are a source of its well-known gel and aloe latex, a yellow liquid found just under the inner skin of the plant’s leaves, both of which have many health and nutritional benefits.
Have the benefits of aloe been scientifically proven?
- Early studies show that topical aloe gel may help heal burns and skin wounds. However, one study showed that it actually inhibits healing of deep surgical wounds.
- Aloe latex contains strong laxative compounds.
- Aloe gel has not been shown to prevent burns from radiation therapy.
- None of the other health benefits listed below can be supported with scientific evidence.
Aloe is a rich source of:
- amino acids (the building blocks of proteins)-contains 8 essential amino acids: Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine, and Tryptophan
- vitamins: antioxidants C and E and Beta-Carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, also vitamins B and Folic Acid
Health benefits (only some are supported by scientific studies)
1. antibacterial: treats minor skin infections, such as boils and benign skin cysts
2. anti-fungal: treatment for healing acne, athlete’s foot, mouth sores and tonsillitis
3. diabetes and elevated blood lipids: can help with treatment thanks to presence of polysaccharides, mannans, anthraquinones, and lectins
4. skin burns and wounds: helps soothing and healing skin burns;
5. skin cancer: may offer skin protection by targeting pathways activated by UV radiation leading to non-melanoma skin cancer; however protection from sunburns has not been proven,
6. digestion: aloe vera juice helps relief heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome
7. bronchial congestion: aloe vera gel helps treatment
8. colon hygiene: regular use helps maintain healthy and clean colon
9. dental hygiene: helps reducing gingivitis and plaque just like fluoridated toothpaste (according to a 2008 double-blind clinical study)
10. laxative: aloe latex
11. detoxification: helps with cleansing and treatment of liver, ulcers and hemorrhoid disorders
12. reproductive system: herbal remedy for uterus
Aloe vera is very easy to use at home, but if you’ve never used it before, it is recommended to do a small allergic test. Cut aloe leaf in the middle and rub the gel on your inner arm. If you see any redness or experience unpleasant itching or burning, you might be allergic and should consult your doctor before you apply any as a home remedy treatment.
Aloe vera is also listed among plants that can purify air in your home, according to a NASA research.
Aloe vera in food:
Aloe vera juice can be added to many healthy snacks from smoothies, fruit drinks and teas to yogurt snacks, desserts or salad dressings. You can make your own juice at home in a few simple steps:
- two or three large and plump aloe vera leaves (if you are cutting your own plant, cut it the base with a sharp knife so you don’t harm your plant)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice (optional)
1. Cut leaf along the outside edge, open and lay it flat on cutting board.
2. Scoop out the clear gel pulp from the inside with a spoon (be careful not to scoop out any of the green or yellowish colored gel).
3. Place the clear gel pieces in a blender and add lemon or lime juice to flavor your aloe vera juice.
4. Blend on medium speed for two to three minutes until liquefied.
5. Pour the liquefied aloe vera juice into a glass jar or bottle and close with a lid. Refrigerate for about two hours or overnight.
6. Strain aloe vera juice to remove any large chunks of pulp before use.
Aloe is actually fairly easy to grow. If growing outdoors in a mild climate, plant aloe in pots with moderately fertile and fast-draining potting soil, and start few of inches of gravel on the pot bottom. Place pots in a bright and sunny location. You can bring the pots indoors for winter period, or you can grow them indoors all year long. It can survive winter outdoors in the ground as it goes dormant. If growing outdoors in hot and humid tropical or subtropical climates, protect your aloe plants from direct sun and rain, as they will burn and might turn brownish and mushy. Aloe plants do need to be watered, but they can be easily over-watered and start rotting at the root. Generally, outdoor plants will survive on the rain and dew so there’s no need to water them. With potted plants, water them until the soil is moist but not saturated. Then allow to dry completely before watering next time. Besides their decorative character, aloe vera is also a good air-purifying plant. For more details how to grow and care for your aloe vera plant, go to How to grow stuff or Garden Web.