Aloe is one of the most versatile
kitchen healers around— but please don’t keep this one in your
pantry. Instead, you’ll want to grow the spiny succulent plant on
your windowsill, because its stalky leaves contain a gel-like
substance that healers think of as Mother Nature’s first aid kit.
This lily cousin thrives on neglect and is so hardy that you’ll be
able to harvest its wound-repairing, skin- moisturizing,
ulcer-soothing magic for years to come.
rooted in history
Aloe (Aloe vera
and Aloe barbadensis) has been used medicinally for at least 5,500
years. The first documentation of its healing uses is on an Egyptian
papyrus dating back to 3500 BC. Legend has it that Aristotle
convinced Alexander the Great to invade the island of Socotra in the
Indian Ocean just for its aloe supply, which healed his warriors’
wounds and got them back on the battlefield faster. In a very
different use, Cleopatra—and other gorgeous leading ladies of
history—reportedly relied on aloe for beautifying their complexions.
Aloe plants migrated from Africa
to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, where they were soon
adopted by healers in the New World.
what’s in it?
Though aloe is 99 percent water, the clear gel inside the leaves
contains a handy assortment of potent healing compounds. Take glycoproreins and polysaccharides, for example. Glycoproteins speed
healing by stopping pain and inflammation. Polysaccharides
moisturize skin, stimulate its growth and repair, and enhance wound
healing. What’s more, aloe gel contains a pain-relieving substance
called bradykininase that helps reduce swelling. The mineral
magnesium lactate, another aloe gel component, soothes itching and
eases allergic rashes.
what science says
In 2009, Iranian researchers reviewed 40 studies published about
aloe’s effectiveness as a skin treatment. They reported that there
is scientific evidence to back using aloe gel for treating genital
herpes, psoriasis, human papilloma virus, seborrheic dermatitis,
frostbite, and burns.
The same year, a different team of Iranian scientists examined
aloe’s ability to heal second-degree skin burns. (Second-
burns affect both the top and the second layers of the skin, causing
painful blisters and inflammation.) The researchers compared aloe to
a tried-and-true burn ointment called silver sulfadiazine, which
prevents infection of second- and third-degree burns. As it turns
out, the burns treated with aloe healed three days faster than those
receiving the more standard medicine.
And in Thailand, researchers studying psoriasis treatments published
a study that compared aloe to a conventional steroid cream. Eighty
people with mild to moderate psoriasis were randomly treated with
aloe vera or the steroid cream for eight weeks. The results were
about the same, though the aloe treatment had a slight edge over the
on the horizon
The same compounds that make aloe a smart treatment for skin
problems intrigue scientists focused on finding solutions for
problems like colitis and ulcers. As their thinking goes, if aloe
can heal external wounds, it might just heal internal wounds. Turns
out, they could be right. Studies conducted in the mid-1990s suggest
that drinking pure aloe gel may help ease ulcerative colitis by
reducing inflammation in the GI tract.
In one United Kingdom
study, 44 people with ulcerative colitis were either given about 3
ounces of aloe vera gel twice a day or a sham juice for a month. Of
the 30 people who took aloe, 9 people experienced symptom relief,
compared to 1 person in the group of 14 people who took the fake
treatment. The researchers noted that aloe was a safe treatment that
needs more study.
Korean researchers put aloe to the test on rats with stomach ulcers
and observed that taking aloe seemed to regenerate tissue cells.
However, what works on a rat might not work on a human, so these
results need confirmation via clinical trials conducted on people.
Finally, back in 2003, leading researchers from Harvard Medical
School reviewed 109 studies that tested supplements for helping
people control their blood sugar. They concluded that the results
for aloe studies were promising but preliminary. Discuss aloe with
your doctor if you’re taking medications to lower your blood sugar.
Aloe gel contains a
pain-relieving substance that helps reduce swelling.
Good to Know
Aloe plants produce another substance called aloe latex, which comes
from the skin of the aloe leaf; it’s a bitter yellow liquid that
performs as a powerful laxative. Too powerful, in fact. Classified
as a stimulant laxative, it can cause severe cramping and diarrhea
and can even affect your electrolyte balance, minerals that play a
critical role in the body. Trust us; this is not good medicine for
irregularity or constipation.
The best aloe get comes
directly from a living plant. Just chop off a nice, thick stalk,
slice it lengthwise, and squeeze the gel directly onto your skin. Be
sure not to get the goo on your clothes; it will leave an ugly
stain. You can find aloe plants at most places live plants are sold.
They respond very well to almost no attention and grow nicely on a
sunny windowsill. No aloe plant? No problem. You can find pure aloe
gel at most health food stores. Just read the label carefully to
make sure the product is 100 percent pure aloe gel with no