A succulent plant that grows extremely well in dry climates, the Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) plant does not have stems, and it produces thick, grayish-green leaves with pale coloring. The leaves are covered with small points along the edges. The roots of the Aloe Vera plant are shallow, while the plant itself is formed somewhat like a v-shaped vase. The plant can grow anywhere from several inches in height to several feet, depending on its growing environment.
This perennial plant has been referred to as Barbados Aloe, Elephant's Gall, Lily of the Desert, Curacao Aloe, and Burn Plant. It is a native of much of the eastern and southern areas of Africa, and it is currently grown in many other tropical and subtropical locations. More than five hundred species of the Aloe plant exist. The plant derives its name from the Arabic word for bitter, alloeh, due to the fact that the gel-like liquid within the leaves has a bitter taste to it.
Dating back to the times of the ancient Egyptians, Aloe Vera was known as the plant of immortality. It was presented to dead pharaohs as burial gifts. Stone carvings still exist depicting its uses. The ancient Egyptians utilized the Aloe plant to heal infections, burns, and to clear up the existence of parasites on the body. Ancient Greeks, Spaniards, and Arabs applied Aloe to the body to minimize the occurrence of perspiration and body odor. During the sixteenth century, Aloe made its way to the West Indies and shortly thereafter, it arrived in the Caribbean and America. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American herbalists relied heavily on Aloe Vera for many of their treatments.
The leaves of this plant contain a clear gel that can be applied to the skin as a topical treatment for the relief of itching from insects, burns, abrasions, and allergic reactions. Some studies indicate that Aloe Vera may be helpful in healing surgical wounds. When dried, this gel can be made into a juice or dried substance for oral use. Early regulations regarding the oral use of Aloe latex have been changed to accommodate the inclusion of newer safety measures.
The leaves of this plant contain a high percentage of water, essential oil, amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, essential fatty acids, and glycoproteins. Aloe Vera has been credited with the following capabilities: antibacterial (minimizing the presence of bacteria), antimicrobial (minimizing microbes), antifungal (minimizing the existence of fungus), anthelmintic (reduction in number of parasites and worms), anti-inflammatory (easing of swelling), antiviral (destruction of viruses), vulnerary (wound healing), purgative (performance as an aggressive laxative), and emollient (acts to moisturize and soothe).
Aloe Vera has been credited with the ability to promote cell renewal as it soothes the skin. Taken orally, it is used to cleanse and support the digestive system, infuse energy, and support the immune system. Aloe Vera juice is taken internally to provide relief from common digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn. It is also taken orally to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, epilepsy, asthma, and diabetes. Topical applications revolve primarily around the treatment of sunburn, burns obtained from sources other than the sun, and psoriasis.
Known for its soothing capabilities, Aloe Vera's use as a medicinal agent dates back to the sixteenth century. Today, it continues to be used in herbal medicine as a healing agent as well as being included in a number of skin care formulations, due to its moisturizing capabilities and healing properties. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has provided approval for Aloe Vera to be used in food.
Aloe Vera is used to treat sunburn due to its soothing, healing, and moisturizing capabilities. It offers relief from the heat caused by sunburn, helping to deliver much-needed hydration and acting as a natural barrier that shields the skin from environmental irritants. As an antibacterial substance, it offers relief from the redness associated with acne while helping to heal breakouts. Enhancing the skin's natural levels of moisture, Aloe Vera is particularly helpful to use on sensitive or dry skin. Its moisturizing capabilities have led to its use in anti-dandruff shampoos. A rich source of many vitamins including A, B, and C, it is used to brighten skin tone and minimize minor pigmentation issues.