There may be over 400 species of aloe plant found in dry regions throughout the world, but there is only one species that has been recognised for being particularly beneficial to humans and animals – Aloe Barbadensis. This type of aloe is known for its natural soothing, cooling and moisturising abilities, and although it looks like a cactus, this succulent is actually part of the lily family and related to onions, garlic and asparagus.
The history of aloe vera
The aloe vera plant has been known and used for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal and skincare properties. The name ‘aloe’ derives from the Arabic word ‘alloeh’, meaning ‘shining bitter substance’, while ‘vera’ in Latin means ‘true’. Aloe vera originated in the Arabian Peninsula, where it evolved in a dry climate to form incredibly succulent properties. Today, aloe vera is one of the most popular supplements sold in Europe and for good reason, in fact humans have been recording the benefits of this plant for centuries. There are examples of aloe vera in Egyptian tombs, the Bible and in famous ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Indian herbals texts. Also, many Eastern women have used aloe vera as a beauty secret for decades; the beauty and strength of Cleopatra is the stuff of legends!
Aloe vera the plant
The aloe vera plant is one of the most studied herbs in the natural products category. Once an adult aloe vera plant reaches maturity, its height will be around 30 inches.
The aloe vera plant is made of essentially four different components: rind, sap, mucilage and parenchyma gel. The rind is a waxy outer layer that acts as protection and it is fifteen cells thick. Just inside the rind is a fluid called sap, this is neither sweet nor particularly sticky and it’s actually quite bitter. Below the sap is mucilage containing acemannan – acemannan carries beneficial properties relating to immune health – and this layer is usually filleted to reveal inner gel known as the parenchyma, a clear, gel-like substance. The gel part gives the plant the ability to hold moisture for a very long period of time.
Scientists have identified more than 75 active nutrients in the leaf gel and these compounds work synergistically to provide soothing and therapeutic benefits. These compounds include amino acids, enzymes, lignin, saponins, anthraquinones, minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and salicylic acids.
Harvesting and the production of aloe vera
If aloe vera leaves are harvested by hand, the plant itself will not be destroyed as only the outer leaves will be separated from the plant. About every two months, three-to-four leaves of an aloe plant can be taken but the rest must remain to ensure that the same plant can be repeatedly harvested over a period of eight-to-ten years.
Once the aloe has been harvested, it can be used to produce aloe-based products including skincare and drinks. There are many different aloe juices and gels on the market, and taste and purity can depend upon what part of the aloe leaf is used. Aloe vera juice is often made from the whole leaf, including the outer leaf that contains a bitter yellow substance known as aloin. The best ingredient to look out for is pure inner leaf gel as this carries the most benefits and is purer in taste. By cutting away the outer leaf, you are removing most of the yellowish aloin substance making the gel pleasant, healthy, and safe for consumption.
Benefits of aloe vera
Below are some of the most well-known benefits of aloe:
It’s great for shiny glowing skin, hair and nails.
Aloe vera is very succulent meaning it’s perfect as a soothing digestive aid for gastrointestinal health.
It carries cleansing and purifying properties.
It promotes health and wellbeing.
It helps support immune function.
Aloe supports skin health.
Eight essential amino acids are found in aloe vera.
According to M.D. Lauren Fine, a board-certified dermatologist at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, aloe vera can help improve skin health.
- Twenty aloe vera plants can convert the same amount of CO2 into O2 as one tree.
How much do you know about aloe vera? Let us know in the comments below.