Like many people, I've kept an Aloe vera plant on my kitchen window sill for years to treat minor burns and wounds, my main and oldest plant desperately needs repotting as it is in danger of tipping over and has loads of baby plants that need potting up, again! I'm waiting for the weather to warm up though as it's a messy job that I prefer to do in the garden.
Every year I pot up all the baby plants and give them away to friends and family, last Summer I had so many, I left them by the path outside my house with a sign saying 'Free' as I'm running out of people to give them too. In fact, if anyone reading this lives near me and would like an aloe vera plant, please let me know… I hate the thought of just throwing them away.
If you haven't got one yourself, you must have heard of the healing properties of this plant, which is used in everything from beauty products, shampoo's, conditioners, food, drinks and medicinal products. It is claimed to help everything from sun burn to skin and digestive problems, apparently there is no scientific evidence behind these health benefits, despite it being used for centuries.
Now comes the important bit:
While aloe vera is usually safe for most people for topical use, it's best to do a skin patch test in an inconspicuous area first, I know of one person who is allergic to it.
It must never be used on severe cuts or burns, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under 12 and the elderly should avoid taking it internally. The latex present in the aloe Vera leaf can cause diarrhoea and abdominal cramps and can inhibit the absorption of medications, so if you have any pre-existing medical conditions please speak to your doctor before taking it internally.
I only use the fresh clear gel from inside the leaves externally, by slicing the leaves open to get to it. It needs to be taken from a mature plant and will keep for a few days in the fridge, or for future use in the freezer. But instead of concentrating on these health claims, for this blog I'm going to look at the historical and magical uses of aloe.
There are around 350 species of aloe vera, they are native to Islands in the Indian ocean, but it now grows wild in any tropical climate around the world. This hardy plant makes an excellent house plant that thrives for the most inexperienced indoor gardener. Aloe's are succulent plants and like a well-drained mix of sand and compost, or a special succulent soil, (which I have never used!) They only need to be watered about once a fortnight but like to be kept in a bright sunny spot. According to the books, a terracotta plant pot is preferable, but again I've never used one. They seem to thrive on neglect, at least mine do. The potted plants can become over crowded with baby plants and will occasionally need careful dividing and re-potting (like mine!).
Aloe vera is one of the oldest mentioned plants on record. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians used it to treat wounds and legend tells that Alexander the Great used to keep supplies of aloe to treat his wounded soldiers.