This month I’m featuring ALOE VERA as my herb of the month.
Last month, a reader told me she had heaps of aloe vera but no idea what to use it for! I wish I was in her situation with an abundance of this amazing plant – my family and I use aloe vera on a regular basis (even my 1 year old knows how to pick some aloe vera and rub the gel onto herself!).
Aloe vera barbadensis is a succulent with sharp spikes running down the sides of it’s dagger shaped leaves. I’ve found it interesting that plants, such as aloe vera, have these ways of protecting themselves – the gel inside is definitely worth the protection! Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years, with records of it being used in the time of Cleopatra and Nefertiti, who both apparently bathed in aloe juice to retain their beauty.
Uses of aloe vera
Aloe vera has numerous uses, both internally and externally.
- Soothe skin conditions such as sunburn, insect bites, burns, infections, wounds.
- For a while, I used aloe vera on my face every day as a moisturiser after showering – it made my skin feel soft and non-greasy!
- To promote hair growth (rub the gel onto your scalp – I have heard anecdotes of bald men regrowing a full head of hair after using aloe vera in this way.) For best results, rub the gel onto your head at night and wash off in the morning.
- To relieve dental problems such a sore gums and mouth ulcers. Use the aloe vera gel to clean your teeth instead of toothpaste – try not to use the yellow sap that appears when you cut the aloe vera, as it is quite bitter!
- Consuming aloe vera can act as a laxative and diuretic, which can help if your digestive tract feels a bit clogged up.
- Due to it’s moisturising properties, aloe vera has been shown to decrease the appearance of fine wrinkles – yes, it’s an anti-aging herb!
- Use aloe vera in place of eggs when baking! When blended, the gel has a similar consistency to egg white, so try it if you are baking a cake which calls for an egg :)
- Interestingly, aloe vera may be a source of vitamin B12 – as a vegan, this is particularly of interest, as it is common knowledge that B12 is usually only found in animal products – I’m not saying you should ditch your B12 supplements and start taking aloe vera every day though! I believe more research is needed in this area to determine if aloe vera is a viable source of B12. However, it does contain a whole range of other B vitamins, plus vitamins A, C and E, plus 19 amino acids – so whether or not it contains vitamin B12, it is still a nutritious plant!
- Additionally, aloe vera may be useful for treating arthritis, candida, constipation, diabetes, insomnia, sore throats, and warts, just to name a few.
How to grow aloe vera
I was lucky to be given an aloe vera sucker (a baby aloe vera plant that springs up from the roots of an existing aloe vera plant) from my mother. I planted it in a large pot, watered it every day, and after a few months it started growing it’s own suckers! Little baby aloe vera plants are popping up all over the pot :) this plant is incredibly easy to grow.
When we lived in Brisbane, we were also quite lucky to have a well establish aloe vera patch right next to the house. I rarely watered it, it survived purely on rain water (but Brisbane does get regular showers). Depending on your climate, aloe vera can be one of those plants you just plant and forget about – it often doesn’t need any special attention and will continue to grow by itself.
How to harvest aloe vera
To harvest this spiky succulent, simply snap (or cut) off one of the outer leaves. I then like to cut the spikes off so I can freely open the leaf and use the gel without fear of scratching myself with a spike! If you cut off more than you need, you can store the leaf in the fridge for up to a week.
To consume, remove the skin and just add the gel to a smoothie, juice, or any other way you would like to consume it. You don’t need to use too much – about 1 tablespoon of gel.
Do not take internally in large doses as it may cause diarrhea or vomiting. Do not take continuously over long periods of time. Aloe vera may also stimulate the uterus, so do not take during pregnancy. If taken while breastfeeding, it may cause diarrhea in the baby.
Shipard, I. (2003). How Can I Use Herbs In My Daily Life?. Nambour, QLD : David Stewart.
Previous herb of the month: Roman chamomile
- Do you have any experience with using aloe vera? Please share in the comments below!
Stay tuned for next week – I’ll be sharing a delicious recipe which contains aloe vera (take a look at my Instagram to get a sneak peek ;) )