It’s a wonder I haven’t written about aloe vera before. It’s such a useful and easy plant to have around. It took the gift of an aloe plant from a dear friend that sparked this post. [Thank you, Sandy!]
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller) is the cousin of over 500 flowering succulent plants. It has been used medicinally for countless centuries. Cuts and burns heal much faster when gel from the aloe vera plant is applied, making it an excellent plant to have around the kitchen. Native to Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, and Madagascar, aloe vera thrives in hot, dry climates and on window sills.
Aloe vera description
Aloe vera plants have triangular, fleshy, often spiked leaves that grow from a central rosette. They vary in color from bright green to nearly gray and can be mottled or striped. The flowers are yellow to orangish-red and tubular. Oblong fruits contain many seeds. These perennial evergreens can hold their own in hot, dry landscapes without any help from homeowners.
Aloe vera as medicine
There are more claims about the medicinal uses for aloe vera than I have room to list. As is usually the case, most of those claims are false. While we would all love simple answers to common problems, life rarely works that way. Claims that sound too good to be true generally end up being false.
The compounds found in aloe vera provide conflicting results. For example, one compound found in aloe vera, alprogen, reduces inflammation and allergic responses, while another component, acemannan, does the opposite. In 2002 aloe vera sap was banned as an OTC laxative by the US FDA. However, reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tell us that topical applications of aloe vera do provide the following benefits:
As for all the other claims, research is still ongoing. We will have to wait. While we wait, there’s no reason we can’t grow and enjoy these lovely burn treatments.
How to grow aloe vera
Aloe vera plants are easily grown from leaves taken from parent plants. Just pull off a leaf and stick it in moist soil. These plants take well to containers. Just be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Overwatering can kill an aloe vera. It can also attract fungus gnats. If you start seeing gnats, sprinkle crumbled mosquito dunk on top of the soil and water it in. The Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria found in these dunks kill fungus gnat larvae, along with mosquitoes.
Aside from the numerous false claims about what aloe vera can do, overwatering and poor drainage can result in several diseases, including aloe rust, anthracnose, bacterial soft rot, basal stem rot, fungal stem rot, leaf rot, and root rot. As always, aphids can turn up in your aloe plants.
Even though aloe vera can’t do all the things claimed in popular media, they are still attractive, useful, and easy plants. Every home should have one. And once you do, you can start taking leaves off and creating gifts for family and friends.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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