Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Herbs in Focus: Aloe Vera

I imagine everyone has heard of Aloe Vera. When our children were little we had it growing near the house in case they ever burnt themselves so that we could pick and apply it quickly. Just recently though I discovered that we had a larger leafed Aloe Vera plant growing in the front yard which had been given to my husband by a friend a few years ago. I had never really taken any notice of it thinking it was a cactus as it was much larger and had a lighter coloured green leaf than the plant we had grown in the past.

His friend had told him that it was Mexican Aloe Vera but when I asked Mr.Google about it in the hope of finding more information, no search results came up. So then I took a photo of the flowering plant and put it into Google Images as you can upload your photo to there and similar photos will come up in the search results.

This is where it got a tad confusing as the image search results said the plant was Aloe vera barbadensis. However, I should have saved myself the time and effort and just checked what Isabell Shipard says in her book How Can I Use Herbs In My Daily Life and sure enough she has it all set out there.

The common name is Aloe Vera and other common names are Living First-Aid Plant, Medicine Plant, Wand of Heaven, Burn Plant and Divine Healer. The botanical name is Aloe vera barbadensis and the family name is Asphodelaceae.

There were a number of videos on YouTube showing how to extract the juice from the plant so I told my husband about them and he watched quite a few of them and then decided to have a try himself.
He cut down the sides and then carefully cut off the skin and got rid of the yellow sap just under the skin which is very bitter and don't get it on your clothes as it will stain very quickly. He should have left the sap to drain for half an hour first. Anyway, he washed it off after scraping the slippery gel off the skin before putting the gel into a food processor with the juice from an orange and giving it a whizz.

This was the result! A very bubbly drink. He wasn't sure how much to take so just drank a small amount and then it went into the fridge. He's a lot more adventurous than I am. I have to do a lot more research first before I will take something internally.

So then I had to have a try the next day and found it to be a very interesting plant to work with. It is very slippery and gooey but apparently is full of goodness. Its constituents include beneficial HDL cholesterol, mono and polysaccharides, essential amino acids and a host of others...too many to mention. You can read more here. It also contains vitamins and minerals.

It is an antibiotic, antimicrobial, antihistamine, coagulant, antipyretic, fungicidal etc.

It works a treat on burns and should be applied straight away and not the next day like an unnamed person did recently who was too busy with her sewing to set up the ironing board, tried to iron on the bed, dropped the iron on her arm and then she was too lazy to go outside and pick some Aloe Vera to treat the burn. Not mentioning any names or anything :-) I wonder if Aloe Vera fades freckles!

Isabell has very kindly given much of the information about the herbs in her book on her blog and you can read much more about Aloe Vera there. She does caution to not use the herb if pregnant as it can stimulate uterine contractions and can have a laxative effect on the baby if taken by breastfeeding mothers. I have no issues in that department anymore!

(This is the Aloe Vera plant we have grown for years which has a darker green and smaller leaf than the plant in the photos above.)

She mentions that Candelabra aloe has been used in cancer treatment and her herb farm air-freighted 2000 plants to Sardinia to be grown for research. She gives a tonic recipe specifically using the Candelabra leaves as well as the instructions on how to use Aloe Vera as a general tonic:

1. Cut one or two larges leaves from the base of a plant.

2. Leave for half an hour for the yellow sap to drain.

3. Cut leaves into 2cm chunks and place into half litre glass jar with lid, filling about one third.

4. Top up with cold water and put into the refrigerator.

5. Leave to steep eight hours or overnight.

6. Pour off one half to one glass of the aloe infusion and drink first thing in the morning and also the
    same amount before each meal and at bedtime if desired.

7. After draining the infusion from a jar, refill the jar with water.

After 10-12 days the used aloe can be emptied into the compost and a new batch started with fresh leaves. Many  people use this method of infusion to purify drinking water.

When I was checking out the YouTube videos to give you the link about how to extract the gel, I came across some videos about making soap with aloe vera and cucumber. Now....that's an idea!


  1. Nasty looking burn Nanna Chel, hope it heals quickly. I like Isabell's books and blog too, very informative.

    1. Barb, it serves me right for being too lazy to walk outside and pick some aloe vera to put on the burn straight away. Live and learn as they say. :-)

  2. I am enjoying your 'series' on herbs, I have only a little knowledge and then you fill it out! We had an aloe when we lived in Southern CA - very warm. I wonder if it would grow in Idaho? Fun stuff to read though.

    1. Kathy, we live in a temperate climate with cold winters normally but nothing like you have over there of course as we don't get snow. I wonder if you could grow it in a pot in summer and bring it indoors in winter. Mr.Google might know. LOL! It's worth having it growing around the place.

  3. Really helpful post, thanks. I think it would be very easy to grow it here and it sounds like it's a very useful plant to have for medicinal purposes.

  4. What a great post! I have lots of Aloe vera plants and now feel very guilty not having done anything with them. I will check out your links straight away. Thank you!

  5. Great post Nanna Chel. It is an amazing plant. We use it on sunburn which takes the sting out immediately. I have also been putting it in my smoothies just for something different :) Hope your burn clears up!


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