Hello floral friends! Today’s herbal profile focuses on the Aloe Vera plant, and its various functions and uses. Before profiling this helpful plant, I was only aware of a single use for the gel found within the fleshy leaves– to relieve sunburn– but after researching it more thoroughly, I was pleased to discover a multitude to ways to use it to increase general health and aid healing.
When I think of Aloe Vera, I think of summertime, warm days, and sunshine (surely due to my association of aloe with sunburn relief) so writing about this plant makes me tempted to long for the months of June, July and August. As I sit at my desk in the midst of our worst storm all winter, warming my hands with a mug of tea, I have to actively remind myself to embrace the season of the present; it is so tempting to write off my current situation and set my sights on something in the future, but to do so would be neglecting to appreciate what can take place in these dark, cold months. When the weather is harsh, and outdoor activity at a minimum, we are inherently provided the opportunity to look inward, and use this time for self-reflection, creative pursuits, and other activities that nourish the soul. While the warm weather of spring and summer is always welcome, the cold weather that winter brings reminds us to hold our loved ones close; I like to think that this is the Great Divine’s way of giving us permission to slow down, and rest. The warm weather will be here before we know it; for now, let’s use this time to cozy up, settle in, and give due attention to our inner selves.
Aloe Vera’s Traditional Uses
The presence of aloe in the home, according to folklore, brings an abundance of protection and luck to those who live there. Aloe Vera originated in Africa, and popular lore there claims that it brings luck, and protects against evil when hung in the doorways. Additionally, the plant is supposed to protect against household accidents, especially burns, when grown in the home, which makes sense due to the plant’s anti-inflammatory nature.
Historically, the earliest depictions of aloe vera occur in 2200 BC, carved into the walls of Egyptian temples; additionally, details about aloe usage as a healing agent were found on a clay tablet from Sumeria, dating back to 1750 BC. Symbolic of life everlasting, the Egyptians included Aloe Vera in their funerary offerings, and thought it to be able to slow aging– both Cleopatra and Nefertiti were said to use it daily as part of their famed beauty regimens. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of its restorative properties as well, the Greek physician and healer Dioscorides lauding Aloe Vera in his famous herbal journal, the original Materia Medica, for being able to ‘induc(e) sleep’ and ‘loosen the belly, cleansing the stomach’. Aloe Vera is also mentioned in six different verses spread throughout the Bible, the most notable being the fact that the wounds on Jesus’ body were dressed with aloe as part of burial preparations.
As Aloe Vera spread across the world, every culture seemed to find a new use for it. “The Hindu people thought that Aloe Vera grew in the Garden of Eden and named it the ‘silent healer’. The Chinese doctors of old thought that Aloe Vera had therapeutic properties so they called it ‘harmonic remedy’. In China the juice of Aloes was used to wipe out all rashes. The Russians called Aloe Vera ‘the Elixir of Longevity’. The native American Indians used Aloe for its emollient and rejuvenating powers.” (Aloe Vera by Gertrude Baldwin) The Jesuit missionaries from Spain are credited with bringing Aloe Vera over to North America, and introducing it to the region by 1494 (Columbus’s second voyage) at the latest.
Identifying Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is a stemless plant that is thought to be native to Africa, but now grows in temperate regions all over the world. Growing up to 3 feet tall, it can be identified by its long, spindly leaves that are fleshy to the touch and green to grey-green in color. The edges of the leaves are serrated, and the flowers that bloom in the summer are a bright yellow and pendulous, held aloft by a single stem for the entire plant. The healing gel that the aloe plant is commonly known for is housed within the leaves themselves, which is the only significant medicinally-useful part of the plant.
If you wish to grow Aloe Vera yourself, plant it (either in a pot or the ground) in a warm site with indirect sunlight, and water infrequently, allowing the soil to completely dry out between waterings. It’s a hardy plant that thrives on neglect instead of constant attention, so plant it, leave it alone, and more than likely you’ll have a happy, healthy Aloe Vera plant to use!
Healing Attributes of Aloe Vera
It seems Dioscorides, the famed Greek physician and healer, had it right; Aloe Vera has a multitude of uses for healing! The plant’s key actions are anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, skin-toning, and an abrasion and tissue healer. The gel grown inside the leaves, as I mentioned previously, is the source of the healing properties of the plant. To release and collect the gel, carefully cut the leaf with a sharp knife, about 3 inches from the tip. Slice down the middle of the leaf and peel back both sides to access the gel. Avoid using the yellow sap that is occasionally released at the side of the leaf once it’s been cut, as this is not the same thing as the clear gel housed inside the leaf. Continue reading below to learn more about how Aloe Vera can be a handy first-aid helper in your household!
- Minor burns- apply fresh gel as needed to cover the area in its entirety
- Sore throat or hoarseness- combine aloe vera juice with sage tea to use as a gargle
- Nettle rash- local application in the form of juice or gel
- Cuts, grazes, minor wounds- apply fresh gel or juice as needed to cover the area in its entirety
- Sunburn- local application of juice or gel
Always follow the dosage instructions recommended by the manufacturer if you are purchasing the juice for internal use, but there are no particular instructions for amount to use when applied externally. Aloe Vera is mild to moderately toxic to cats and dogs, so please keep it stored safely to avoid any trouble!
Aloe Vera is often paired with Comfrey to amplify healing, as Comfrey root is highly effective in stimulating tissue repair and accelerating recovery from sprains, sports injuries and even operation scars. I’ll be profiling Comfrey as one of my 150+ herbs this year, so stay tuned!
Enjoy these dark days and winter season my friends, appreciating the quiet time it has to offer us, until the Oak King comes back around!
Besos and birch leaves,