What is Aloe Vera
The aloe vera plant has been credited with the ability to support health. Aloe is a succulent that can be grown indoors or outdoors. It is used in many forms for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for centuries as a home remedy.
The gel that comes directly from the plant is a transparent jelly (the yellowish liquid is called aloin and should not be consumed). It can be obtained by simply breaking off a leaf of the aloe plant.
The leaves can also be crushed and used as a salve.
The beneficial properties of the aloe plant come from the 20 amino acids it contains. It is used to support the natural healing of skin that has been damaged. A common usage is to sooth sunburned skin. The plant can also be made into juices, gels, powders and is often added to products. For example it can be found in cosmetics, shampoos, lotions and many other common household products. The many benefits of aloe vera are not fully researched as of yet.
For centuries people have respected the soothing nature of this aloe plant. It is commonly found as a houseplant. Families often pass down aloe plants from generation to generation along with it teaching about the beneficial properties the plant contains. More and more studies are conducted to help us discover the many ways it can help to benefit the human body.
Aloe is non-toxic provided the aloin has been removed by processing.
Aloe Vera Barbadensis Miller – Ace amongst all aloes
When we hear about aloes, most of us are under the impression that there must be just one plant which we use. You have to change your opinion if you too think this way. There are over 240 different species of aloe, which grow in dry and arid climate zones of Africa, Asia, Europe and America. Of all these different types of aloe plants, only four are identified as fit for human consumption and Barbadensis Miller is the ace in the pack. Therefore you must ensure that any aloe based product that you buy should be made from Barbadensis Miller and nothing else.
Why is it called the ace amongst all aloes? Here are some salient features about this wonder herb:
- It contains over 20 amino acids, 8 of which are critical for the human body, as our bodies cannot make them. Aloe contains all of these 8 important amino acids over and above 11 of the 14 ‘secondary’ amino acids.
- This herb is also enriched with a host of vitamins including A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E. Vitamins too cannot be manufactured by the body and some cannot even be stored by the body.
Despite the fact that it contains so many essential ingredients, the manufacturing process of aloe-based products is a critical factor as this determines the overall efficacy of the product that you buy. For example, the gel of the aloe plant if exposed for a long time (around 4 hours) can get oxidized and lose its efficacy. Therefore the time of harvesting and the process of filleting (removal of outer layer of the leaf to extract the gel) should ideally be completed within 4 hours. There are many authentic and quality-conscious aloe product manufacturers who guarantee this kind of processing time.
To be assured of the highest quality and purity of Aloe Barbadensis Miller, you would like to buy products from a maker who grows the plant in their own fields. Makers, who buy aloe in bulk from farmers or other growers, may be using aloe of inferior quality because the ingredients are not as fresh or nutritious as they are supposed to be.
Interestingly, aloe loses its efficacy under heat or when chemicals are used during processing. Therefore the aloe, gel, lotion or any juice product that you buy that contain aloe, should be ‘stabilized’ properly to retain the goodness of the intrinsic components.
Identifying Aloe Vera And Its Anatomy
Aloes have strong perennial roots and fleshy gray-green leaves, they look almost cacti in nature and each leaf is serrated with whitish teeth. During the summer the plant will have yellow tube-like flowers growing from it. Typically it can grow to around 40″ tall although in rare areas of South West Africa some Aloes have been discovered as tall as 60 feet in height with a stem circumference of 10 feet.
The aloe leaves are identical in makeup, each leaf has three layers, The first inner layer is made up of a gel that holds 99% water, the final 1% consists of vitamins, amino acids, glucomannans, sterols and lipids. The center layer consists of bitter yellow sap that contains glycosides and anthraquinones: the aloin. The final outer layer is responsible for protecting the plant, it is made up of around 20 cells combined to be named the rind, these protect the plant and transport water and starch throughout, they also create proteins and carbohydrates. It is these inner layers containing multiple vitamins, minerals and amino acids that make Aloes so important around the world.
Aloe is packed full of elements a person needs to help remain healthy, there are 75 different vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc. to be found in these plants.
Minerals – Aloe vera contains copper, calcium, selenium, chromium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, sodium and zinc. Some of these can function as antioxidants while others are vital for the correct workings of numerous enzyme systems for various metabolic pathways.
Vitamins – Vitamin A, C and E are all contained within the aloe gel and function as antioxidants which help remove free radicals from a persons system, other vitamins include B12, choline and B9 (folic acid).
Enzymes – It contains 7 enzymes that help the body breakdown fats and sugars, these are aliinase, amylase, alkaline phosphatase, lipase, catalase, carboxypeptidase, cellulase, and peroxidase. It also contains 1 enzyme that functions as an anti-inflammatory when used on skin, bradykinase.
Amino acids – Humans require 22 amino acids of which aloe provides 20.
Sugars – It offers onosaccharides and polysaccharides. The most leading monosaccharide is mannose-6-phosphate, and the most typical polysaccharides are named glucomannans.
Hormones – It provides gibberellin and auxins which work as an anti-inflammatory and aid in the healing of wounds.
Anthraquinones – Aloe offers 12 anthraquinones, which are phenolic compounds usually known as laxatives. Aloin and emodin function as analgesics, antivirals and antibacterials but cause diarrhea and should not be consumed in large quantity.
Fatty Acids – Aloe contains 4 plant steroids, these are campesterol, beta-Sitosterol, lupeol and cholresterol. Lupeol functions as an analgesic and antiseptic while the rest are anti-inflammatory.
Miscellaneous – It also contains Saponins which has antiseptic properties, Lignin which does nothing on its own but increases the penetrative effect of other substances it is mixed with and salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial affects.
As has already been mentioned Aloes, namely that found in Aloe Vera, is very popular around the world for so called medicinal reasons, the Aloes that the plant itself creates can be applied in numerous ways to aid in our health, although officially the medical community does not currently truly recognize aloevera, unofficially it is being and has been used for many years to treat a number of ailments.
That said, the medical community continues to evaluate Aloes and is said to be even looking into the health benefits of this naturally occurring substance in the fight against AIDS and Cancer. This sounds extreme, and personally I do not think it should replace more specialized and conventional treatments, however something you may not realize about this plant is that in 1989 Japanese researchers discovered that Aloe held three anti-tumor agents, opening the way for research into its anti-cancer capability. While as far back as 1956 it was discovered in the treatment of radiation burns that Aloe could help combat skin cancer. In 1991 Aloe was found to be effective against feline leukemia and other cancers found in dogs and cats.
The main market and use these days for the plant is in the cosmetic realm, there is an abundance of cosmetic products on the market right now boasting aloe vera as an ingredient, the main reason for this is the highly beneficial effect the vitamin and mineral packed gel provides.
Using aloe within a moisturizer will help battle the signs of aging, this is due to the mucopolysaccharides that help bind moisture to the skin, fibroblast cells are also boosted with the use of aloe, these cells are vital in the healing of wounds but also synthesize collagen, which as anybody who has seen an advert for anti-aging cosmetics knows, plays a large role in lessening the affect of wrinkles. The amino acids also aid in the beautifying process because they help to soften skin while zinc helps tighten your pores. Thanks to all of these benefits aloe is not purely used for cosmetic reasons but has been successfully used by many people to combat skin conditions and even acne.
Everything that makes aloe great for cosmetic reasons also makes it wonderful for so called medical reasons, using it as moisturizer after a tanning session will help keep your skin healthy and avoid burns, while this is a purely cosmetic benefit it also works wonderfully to help in the healing of damaged skin for other reasons, burns or wounds are said to benefit immensely from the application of medications that have aloe as an ingredient. Anything from bed sores to frostbite can be treated with it, eczema and acne can also be helped as well as stretch marks during pregnancy. It is not only to be applied externally however, its consumption is said to help your body produce collagen and elastin which is vital for battling the signs of aging and the healing of wounds.
It is said that detoxifying your body is also something it can help with, when prepared correctly it can be used as a laxative and can also be used to help the functioning of your digestive system, it helps remove free radicals from your system and will also help your digestive tract absorb nutrients more effectively, thanks to its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties it is said to be efficient at fighting infections, it is also said to be great for boosting your immune system. In addition it is believed that it will help improve blood flow by increasing the size of your blood vessels and encouraging new vessel growth. Currently it’s being used successfully by many people around the world to treat medical issues to do with digestion, such as IBS (irritable bowl syndrome), even though there is no scientific evidence that it can be used against such conditions.
Other modern and popular uses for aloe include the treatment of arthritis, high cholesterol, congested lungs, hemorrhoids, ulcers, hair loss, high blood sugar, and even liver conditions.
The Roots of Aloe Vera
The Aloe genus contains over 400 species with the most common being aloe vera. Other names for aloevera over the years have included Aloe Curacao, Barbados Aloe, Mediterranean Aloe and ‘Star cactus’.
Although in the past the genus ‘Aloe’ has been placed in the Aloaceae, Liliaceae and Asphodelaceae family, it has most recently according to the 2009 APG III system (the modern system for taxonomy) been placed in the Xanthorrhoeaceae family. Its botanical name is Aloe Barbadensis Miller.
Origins And Current Locations
It originated in several parts of the world, including Africa, Cape Verde, parts of the southern Arabian peninsula, the Canary Islands and parts of the Mediterranean. Thanks to its historical and modern use for medicinal purposes it has since been cultivated in multiple places around the world, including the United States in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Florida and Oklahoma, it is also cultivated in Australia, Mexico, South America, parts of Europe and India. The plant thrives in warm tropical climates although thanks to modern technology can be grown almost anywhere if the proper steps are taken, for example in Oklahoma specially designed greenhouses are used to cultivate the plant.
Historical Uses And Accounts
It is far from just the modern world that discovered its medicinal benefits, as far back as the ancient city of Nippur there is evidence of this plant being used for medical reasons, a tablet was found in the city detailing how a leaf of Aloe Vera to be used as a laxative. This was the first known literature involving aloe from our planets history, the next earliest is in the Papyrus Ebers which is an Egyptian document estimated to have been written in 1550 BC and discusses 12 different methods for using Aloe along with other ingredients to treat a wide range of issues, external and internal.
There is a legend that claims Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) invaded and defeated the island of Socotra in order to secure aloe vera and use it to treat his troops, how much weight one can put in this myth is anyones guess. It next crops up in history around 50 BC when the Aloe plant was processed and exported to Asia where it was widely traded, it was also grown in India where they used it for external and internal healing.
Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen demonstrates one of the first accounts of using it for cosmetic reasons, she attributed some of her beauty to using the plant in moisturizer for an extended amount of time.
Aloe was first discussed in-depth by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides who lived from 40 AD to 90 AD, he wrote about herbal medicine in a 5 volume encyclopedia, commenting on it (sap not gel) he mentions its detoxifying and laxative effects, how it can be used to help clear boils, hemorrhoids, genital issues, heal the foreskin, soothe tonsils, clear up bruising, and aid gum irritation. He also discusses how mashing up an entire leaf and applying it to a wound can stop almost any bleeding. He even mentions that the sap can be used to stop hair loss and itchy flaky skin. This is by far the most detailed early account of the benefits and so called medicinal value of the plant.
Interestingly in 200 AD a Roman physician commented on it, he mimicked what Dioscorides had already said except what is interesting is he also comments on fake Aloe being produced and sold near Jerusalem, this is a clear indicator of how popular this substance was for it to be used enough that it was worth the time to create fake Aloe and sell it. As we know in the modern world imitation is the highest form of flattery and the fake market does not create things that are unpopular. The Roman was called Pliny the Elder and he named the fake Aloe ‘bastard kind’. by 700 AD the use of Aloe in Roman medicine was widespread, it is known that popular physicians at the time were using it as per Dioscorides instructions with few alterations.
900 AD saw Aloes first use in China, it was used for treating convulsions in kids and to heal fevers and sinus issues, the Chinese named it Lu-Hui.
By 1400-1600 Aloes was being used throughout the world, literature at the time shows it being used even in England, it had spread throughout the entire globe and was being used to treat anything from burns to joint pain, the Spanish even carried aloe plants with them as they set up colonies in South America and the Caribbean. Interestingly it was used in much the same way it is used now with very few differences.
Aloes and especially aloe-vera has a distinguished past in medicine and it seems it will have an even more distinguished future if the current trend continues, evidence of Aloe being looked into for its anti-cancer abilities would indicate that soon the medical community could acknowledge it for the so called ‘medicine plant’ it is.