Aloe Vera is one of the ancient plants enjoying a tremendous revival in the modern world. Many homes have a pot of the plant sitting on the windowsill to use in cases of kitchen burns. It has become the subject of much modern research. A general practitioner in Minnesota treated a patient who had stepped into a vat of boiling water at a canning factory. The man had severe burns from his feet to his knees. An Aloe vera ointment was prepared, placed on gauze and wrapped around the man’s legs. Pain was kept to a minimum, there was no infection, and no scar tissue formed because of this treatment. After three weeks, the man was able to return to work.
A study published in The International Journal of Dermatology reported great success in treating chronic leg ulcers with Aloe vera. These long-term ulcers are often resistant to treatment, despite the many modern preparations available. This study told of a man who, for fifteen years, had a leg ulcer that would not respond to treatment with a wide range of drugs and ointments. After only ten weeks of this treatment, the ulcer began to shrink and new, healthy skin tissue began to appear. In a similar case, a man with a seven year old ulcer was treated with Aloe vera pulp. Six weeks after treatment began, the pain had subsided and the ulcer began to heal.
Other studies have shown equally impressive results in treatment of X-ray burns. Two American researchers described the results of Aloe vera treatment for a patient suffering from severe X-ray burns on the forehead. After five weeks, the forehead had not only healed, but the texture of the treated skin was even softer and smoother than that of the untreated skin. X-ray and other radiation burns do not begin to heal like other wounds and often do not respond to customary burn treatment. But according to the hospitals that used it, the ointment was fifty percent better for burn treatment than other remedies previously considered effective.
The clear gel inside the plant’s leaves has been regarded as powerful medicine for centuries. According to legend, Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it to enhance their beauty, and Alexander the Great conquered Socotra because he wanted the island’s Aloes to heal his troops’ wounds. Marco Polo reported that the Chinese used it to treat stomach ailments, rashes, and other disorders. The Egyptians used the plant medicinally; in 1500 B.C. the Papyrus Ebers listed many healing properties of the Aloes, which were known long before this document.
Dioscorides listed this plant as an important medicine. He said that it could be used for wounds, stomach pain and digestive disorders, constipation, headache, itching, baldness, mouth and gum diseases, kidney ailments, blistering, sunburn and blemishes.
You will recall that Aloes are mentioned in the Bible. Although the Aloes of the Old Testament were probably other plants, those brought by Nicodemus to embalm the body of Jesus were doubtless the true Aloes. This juice was used by the Egyptians, who were accomplished in the art of embalming. This herb was imported to Palestine at the time and was very expensive; that Nicodemus brought a hundred pounds of it, with myrrh, indicates that he was very wealthy.
Columbus’ ship log refers to medicinal uses of the plant for sailors. Indian tribes relied upon it for healing of burns and other ailments. They called it wands of heaven. Spanish missionaries brought Aloes with them to America and carried them from place to place to help the sick.
The Healing Aloe
Aloe vera is much prescribed externally nowadays, although the internal uses are many as well. For the majority of people its most common use is as a burn medicine. Although ointments are now widely available for burns which feature Aloe vera, probably the most common use of the plant is to cut off a leaf, trim it of its prickles, split it in two, laying the wet interior on the burn itself. The pain subsides within minutes and often blistering and scarring are totally eliminated. Some consider that the gel stops and reverses the burning process and regenerates the skin tissue. When there is a painful burn on the finger, a split leaf can be applied directly to the burn, binding it in place with a bandage. If the burn is somewhat severe, it may take some time for the pain to subside, but our experience shows that it surely works to relieve pain and heal the burn.
Other external uses for the herb include treatment for all kinds of wounds—scrapes, cuts, etc. The gel seems to mildly kill the germs on the surface and promote healing. The herb is high in calcium, which reduces bleeding with its coagulating action while at the same time helping to stimulate circulation of blood in the surrounding areas to bring oxygen to the surface.
Aloe vera penetrates the skin quickly and deeply. This allows water and other moisturizers to sink deeply into the skin, restoring lost fluids and replacing the fatty layer. It permits the uronic acids, which strip toxic materials of their harmful effects, to penetrate deeply and allows the cleansing astringent qualities of the gel to work better. By increasing the circulation of the blood to an area, it sloughs off dead cells and fosters the growth of new ones. This helps foster the regeneration of scarred or blemished skin tissue and provides a protective coating on the skin to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. This antiseptic action also stops skin infections (acne) in oil-clogged pores. It heals blemishes with little or no scarring. This accounts for the multitude of cosmetic preparations these days that contain Aloe vera.
For those who do not like commercial deodorant preparations—the absorption of the aluminum in almost every commercial preparation is a cause of bad health for many people—the fresh Aloe vera gel, applied directly, works as an excellent deodorant. A piece of the plant, held in the mouth and allowed to release its juice, clears the throat for singers and speakers. It can stop itching, and as an anti-inflammatory agent has an action like that of steroids. One study reported that Aloe vera inhibited the growth of several kinds of bacteria, including staphylococcus and salmonella, although more research has yet to be done on the plant’s bacteriological properties. It has been used to reduce the itch of insect bites, the itching and burning of poison ivy, and to help remove warts, the juice of the fresh leaf being applied daily over a period of weeks until the wart is reduced or removed.
Some people use the gel on their hair, and many commercial shampoo and conditioner formulas contain the gel. For many years one beauty shop operator has used the gel straight as a hair set. She said that it improves hair sheen and helps scalp abrasions. Indians in Mexico apply the straight juice from the plant to their wet hair. After letting it dry all night before rinsing the following morning it is claimed to add luster, richness, and manageability to the hair. Aloe vera has almost the same pH factor as skin and hair, which can account for its cosmetic effect.
Dried to a powder—the usual way for preserving the gel for medicinal uses—the gel can be mixed with a little water and applied to the nipples when a mother wishes to wean her infant. The bitter taste will inhibit nursing! The dried powder can also be applied to running ulcers on the skin, absorbing the old, putrid matter and encouraging the growth of new skin.
Aloe vera has had one main internal use, as a very powerful laxative, more active than senna or cascara. It is rarely used alone because it causes griping, and is not recommended for people with hemorrhoids, as its prompt and urgent action irritates piles. A tea of ginger and licorice root can help alleviate the griping of the action. It can activate digestion and even expel pinworms from the system, but because it is so active, it should not be used by a pregnant woman or during the menstrual period. A nursing mother will transmit the purgative action through her milk to the infant, and so should avoid its use as well.
The herb has been used for women’s problems and is said to be an excellent cleansing douche for discharge problems. Some women have taken it to bring on suppressed menstruation.
Recently, Aloe vera has been tested to confirm the empirical application for stomach and digestive ulcers. After reading about the Soviet Union’s studies of Aloe vera and peptic ulcers, doctors in Florida tested it for themselves. Twelve patients of varying ages who had ulcers were treated with the gel. In every case, after the juice or gel was ingested, the ulcers healed and no relapse occurred within a year of treatment. Aloe vera is also thought to perhaps prevent the development of peptic ulcers because it is able to inhibit the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, too much of which irritates the stomach’s lining and leads to ulcers. A normal person’s digestion would not be affected, however, other than leading to better assimilation and therefore better health.
Taken internally it is said to help maintain good blood vessel tone and healthy circulation. The potassium in the plant is said to aid the heart’s rhythm and stimulate the kidney to dispose of body wastes. The herb is said to help the action of digestive enzymes and deter kidney stones and assists in carrying oxygen throughout the system.
Aloe vera has been used to treat chronic nose congestion. Patients treated with it were able to breathe and smell with greater ease and also with a significant decrease in nasal secretion.
It is said to replace lost hair and eliminate liver spots.
Used for severe burns, chronic leg ulcers, X-ray burns, sunburn, radiation burns from the treatment of cancer, to reduce scarring, for wounds, scrapes, and cuts, as a deodorant, to clear the throat, for itching and insect bites, as a cleaning douche, for digestive ulcers in the stomach, for peptic ulcers, to remove warts, to wean infants and for nose congestion.
Cultivation, Collection, Preparation
Aloe vera is extremely easy to grow. In hot climates it can be maintained in the garden just as any other succulent and it multiplies prolifically. For indoor use, just plant in a pot, preferably clay for good drainage, with a standard potting mix, perhaps just on the sandy side to approximate desert conditions. Dry soil indicates the need for water. Repot when the plant outgrows the pot and when many little baby plants start forming. These babies can be repotted. When needed, just pinch off an adequate section of leaf, trim off the prickles and squeeze out the gel or apply directly to the wound.
Commercially, the juice is drained from a cut plant and placed in a copper vessel. There it evaporates and when the proper consistency is obtained, it is poured into metal containers and allowed to harden.
The gel from the leaf contains a miraculous number of substances, including polysaccharides which are said to be the basis for healing in burns.
Aloe vera was successfully used in peptic ulcer therapy, as mentioned above (Journal of American Osteopathic Assoc., 62:731–735). The research on its use in radiation-caused ulcers spans quite a period of time, but current research confirms its superiority in treating such ulcers and burns (Journal of Reontgenogy, 33, No. 1, pages 396, 397).
Aloe vera was proven to be anti-bacteriostatic against streptococcus, staphylococcus and other bacteria (Journal of Pharm. Science, Vol. 53, page 287).
Shared by Judy Hallingstad,
Excerpts from School of Natural Healing