The succulent aloe vera plant is the best-known species of the aloe genus, native to Africa and certain parts of the Middle East. Its use dates back nearly 5,000 years, to the time of the Egyptians, who were the first to note the “plant of immortality’s” amazing health properties. In fact, they even included it in pharaohs’ tombs. Pliny the Elder praised it his Natural History from the 1st century. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the medicinal aloe vera plant was one of the most frequently prescribed medications. For the most part, the plant has remained just as popular today, though sometimes people are not fully aware of its versatility. With more than 500 varieties, the incredible aloe vera plant serves multiple purposes.
Curative: Its green spear-shaped leaves are filled with soothing green goo and disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. A health powerhouse, aloe contains vitamins A, C, E, folic acid, choline, B1, B2, B3, and B12, in addition to some 20 minerals, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium and manganese. It is good for digestion, stress relief, alkalizing the body, and aiding the skin. This is thanks to its vulnerary, analgesic, antipruritic and astringent properties, which means it heals wounds, and reduces pain, itching, and bleeding. Ayurvedic medicine incorporates it as a skin treatment. With its 99 percent water content, it is hydrating and helps supply oxygen to the skin’s surface. It is also antimicrobial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, making it useful in treating a range of infections. Though it is a popular ingredient in skin care, aloe vera gel fresh from the plant is most effective.
Culinary: The fleshy leaves shine in the kitchen. They can even be breaded and fried, like a vegetarian cutlet. Its mild taste nicely complements stronger vegetables. More popular is the subtle sweet aloe added to yogurt, tea, ice cream, and smoothies. Just be careful while enjoying it, it’s better to remove its dark green skin, which tastes bitter and has a laxative effect.
Sustainable: Aloe has also been suggested as a way to help conserve water and its seed could potentially be used to create a biofuel.
The plant is able to survive in areas with low natural rainfall. When potted, it prefers porous terra cotta pots. Like other species, it lays dormant in the winter. Seventeen versions of the aloe vera plant have won the British Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Text: Jasmina Knezovic