03 December 2009

Herb of the Week: Aloe

Herb of the Week: Aloe (Aloe Spp.)


Parts Used: Leaves (fresh sap)

Properties: Adaptogenic, anti-bacterial, anti-biotic, anti-helmintic, anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, astringent, anti-ulcer, culinary, demulcent, emollient, emmenagogue, mucilaginous, purgative, vulnerary

About:  Aloe has been known as a medicinal plant for thousands of years across the middle east and Africa. The thick, fleshy, alien leaves are instantly recognized by almost anyone. Recently, there has been debates by the scientific community about what families to which Aloe belongs. I don't think it's important, frankly, but I thought I would let those who do think it important to know that as of 2003 Aloe belongs to the Asphodelaceae family officially. The name has also changed from Aloe Barbadensis to Aloe Vera for the time being.

Most people, especially if they live in sunny regions, know that Aloe is useful for sunburns. Aloe is also one of the single best things to apply to open wounds, scrapes, or burns of any kind (the other best thing being raw honey).

If you want to have Aloe available in a first aid kit, I learned a trick from my old mentor that keeps much of the plants finer qualities intact:

- Take the whole leaves and wash them thoroughly
- Clip off the ends and the spiny sides of the leaf
- Chop it into pieces and put it in your blender until it is thoroughly pureed.
- Spread the mixture over a clean, ultra-fine screen and set it out in the sun to dry for a few days.

You can rig a set up for this easily by stretching the screen over a wooden frame so it is off of the ground. Make sure it doesn’t get rained on. Use the resultant dried Aloe in tinctures or capsules. I recommend storing it in the whole sheets if possible, and perhaps grinding some into powder to store in a small bottle in any first aid kit you may prepare. The dried Aloe can be reconstituted in water for use on burns or wounds.

When using Aloe (or honey) for wounds, however, please take two very serious precautions:

- clean the skin first with either soap and water or a mild anti-bacterial wash such as sage tea before applying the gel. I also suggest lightly debriding scrapes or cuts as well. If you don’t clean the wound first, the ‘seal and heal’ properties of Aloe will trap bacteria inside of the wound, abrasion, or burn and cause an infection. Aloe is naturally sterile, like coconut water, but it can also be a natural petri dish.

- always use fresh Aloe gel in medicinal products. Anything without color or with added stabilizers will not work for your medical preparations due to the fragile nature of the active constituents. Shelf stable Aloe Vera gel with natural preservative solutions added such as citric acid or GSE are ideal for personal products because it won’t cause lotions, creams, and soaps to spoil.

Aloe Vera is one of the top 15 anti-biotic herbs and it rapidly speeds the healing process. Aloe’s most ideal application for wounds is due to several factors, including:

- keeps tissues moist and pliable
- restores fluids through the skin
- has a soothing, cooling action
- reduces inflammation to swollen tissue

Internal use should be extremely limited, and only when other remedies have failed. Usually this plant is only used by vets for horses when they are constipated. It’s generally recognized as far too strong for humans in most cases.

However, Sergei Boutenko of the Raw Family fame does mention in his new book Fresh that you can make a fabulous smoothie that is especially good for diabetics. Aloe is also good for reducing blood sugar when used in small amounts. Below is his recipe:

Blue-Green Aloe Smoothie

2 cups water
1 head romaine lettuce
1 medium Fuji apple
¼ a lime
¼ cup blueberries
1 small aloe leaf

Blend all ingredients until smooth and enjoy.

Aloe contains aloin, which absorbs approximately 30% of UV rays, so it is an excellent addition to homemade sunscreen preparations. You can look for this in concentration just under the skin of the leaf. Rosemary Gladstar recommends that you remove this part anyway for internal preparations because it irritates the mucous membrane, so it’s great to keep the leaf skin with the brown gel just beneath for formulae which require UV protection.

The fresh juice can also be used as eye drops to protect the fundus of the eye from additional UV damage and age spots. Burns or wounds of the eye can be healed in the same way as the skin with fresh, naturally sterile juice straight from the leaf.

Warnings:  Can cause internal cramping when used internally. Don’t use internally when pregnant or nursing as Aloe can stimulate uterine muscles. Some people may experience light burning or stinging sensation if put directly on an open wound or abrasion. This usually subsides within a few minutes. Again, this is a rare complication.

Dye Colors:  Purple Aloes, like Socotrine, can be used to make a violet color dye that requires no fixative.

Habitat:  Aloes prefer a lot of sun and a warm climate that is closer to tropical than temperate. However, it’s a very forgiving plant to grow. In fact, when we were moving a couple of years ago, my father-in-law stuck an aloe plant in a box, taped it up, and gave it to us for our move from Florida to Kentucky. We forgot about it for a few weeks and then when we took it out of the box, it was still fine! So we planted it and it looks just as good as when he put it in the box. Aloe could probably subsist on thin air for an extended period of time. I know that ours did. So this is a great plant for people with ‘black thumbs’ to try for their first plant.