Aloe Vera, superstar plant since ancient times

AloeVeraFarmAloe Vera is big business these days. It is a commodity now worth $13 billion a year—for both inside and outside the body.

It is used in cosmetics, toiletries, lotions, Kleenex, toilet paper and in powdered form added as a health-boosting supplement to food such as yogurt.

In raw, refrigerated form it is available in health food stores to be taken internally for digestive and other stomach problems.

The first reliable record of Aloe Vera as a medicine dates from around 65 AD, when the Greek surgeon Dioscordes wrote De Materia Medica, detailing his accumulated knowledge of medical plants.

He traveled with the Emperor Nero’s army and used Aloe to treat numerous soldier problems.

Aloe was used to ease sore throats, ulcerated genitals, boils, piles and as a dressing for wounds to stop bleeding.

But by the time of Dioscordes, the Aloe Vera plant was already widely cultivated around the Mediterranean and beyond.

U. S. doctors used it in the ’30s after they discovered it helped heal damaged or burned skin, but abandoned experimentation as chemical drugs appeared on the scene. The Chinese used it to heal dermatitis and other skin diseases.

In India Aloe was used on sore eyes and inflamed joints. The Javanese applied it to burns, Malaysians and Mexicans for aching foreheads and tumors. Jamaicans boiled the Aloe leaves with salt to cure constipation, and applied the cut leaves to damaged nerves and tendons.

Olwen Grace, of the London Botanic Gardens has researched the origins of the plant as far as possible and discovered that there are/were actually hundreds of varieties of Aloe over many geographic areas around the globe.

It may have first appeared in southern Africa millions of years ago, and then spread. The Aloe known as Aloe Vera originated on the Arabian Peninsula.

What differentiates Aloe Vera from its many other family members is simply an accident of human history, says Grace. Because—the Arabian Peninsula was the trading hub of the ancient world.

Apparently the Arabian traders took this specific Aloe with them because its toughness and longevity made it easier to transport on the long sea journeys.

Today, Aloe Vera is the only variety of Aloe not in danger of extinction, thanks to its extensive cultivation.

So, what makes Aloe Vera a ‘healing medicine’ of the ages?

Evidence indicates that Aloe Vera’s active ingredients are phenolic compounds known as anthraquinones, said Nina Ronstad of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

But despite the plant’s widespread use as a medicine for thousands of years, there is little “clinical evidence” of the Aloe’s healing benefits, Ronstad added.

But the lack of “clinical evidence” matters little to we who have for years maintained Aloe Vera plants in our homes to treat minor burns, cuts, abrasions, bruises and even indigestion.

And we are not alone. Aloe Vera plants are available at most nurseries and supermarkets. All they need is a little sun and a little water.


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