Aloe vera is one of the most healthful plants on earth. Many of us think about it as an ingredient in skin and hair care products, and we might use it if we get a sunburn. The truth is aloe vera has been shown to have exceptional properties good for the inside and out. Aloe vera can be used to heal our skin, to help keep us healthy, and as preventative medicine for many ailments.

The Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Skin and hair care

Let’s start with what we already know. Aloe vera is a great moisturizer for the skin and hair. Studies show that aloe vera applied to a wound on our skin will heal up to two times faster than without aloe vera.[1] This may be because of the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties found in aloe vera gel. Also, due to these factors, aloe vera helps many skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, acne,[2] and even cold sores caused by herpes virus, in addition to its powerful moisturizing and anti-aging benefits.

Digestion and Constipation

Aloe vera has natural laxative properties and trying a small amount of aloe vera juice, 1 to 2 tablespoons daily, in our diet may help relieve constipation symptoms. Because of the anti-inflammatory agents along with the many other soothing compounds in aloe vera, studies show other digestive issues, such as IBS and reflux, are relieved from adding aloe vera juice to our diet.[3]

Nutrition

There are an incredible 75 known compounds in aloe vera including minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids making aloe vera incredibly nutritious. Some may even categorize aloe vera as a survival food that could keep us alive in severe circumstances. Too much, of course, can cause discomfort probably due to its laxative effects, so keeping to no more than two tablespoons a day would be a good rule to keep in mind.

Maintain a Healthy Immune System

Aloe vera has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system, not only through its nutritional and hydrating properties but it also has six antiseptic compounds which inhibit fungi, bacteria, and viruses.[4] Aloe vera has also been shown to have strong healing and anti-aging compounds. Not only that but elements found in aloe vera incredibly inhibit virus and tumor growth activity with the suggestion that aloe vera gel may have a complementary benefit in cancer chemoprevention therapy.

Summary: Aloe vera has many benefits, especially when it comes to skin and hair care, digestion and constipation, nutrition and for maintaining a healthy and strong immune system.

How To Grow Aloe Vera

aloe vera plant

Choosing the plant

There are over 400 varieties of aloe vera. The aloe vera variety most notable for its healthful benefits is Aloe barbadensis var. Miller. It is worth keeping this in mind when purchasing an aloe plant to ensure an edible, medicinal plant.

Where to grow aloe vera

Aloe vera likes it warm. It will grow outside in warm weather but any temperature below freezing is sure to kill the succulent, sun-loving plant. Growing aloe vera inside requires a cactus-type soil mix that is fast draining, often containing sand. Aloe prefers indirect bright sunny locations, but too close to a window will cause leaves to turn red or yellow.

Aloe vera care

Less is best when it comes to watering succulents, and this is certainly true for indoor and outdoor aloe vera plants. If left alone without water for long periods of time, the plant is actually able to feed itself and its leaves will start to wilt when it is too dry. Overwatering will kill it faster then letting it dry out, so best to err on the side of dryness. Aloe doesn’t mind getting a little root bound either. A happy aloe vera plant is bright green, stands up tall, with plump think leaves. An unhappy aloe vera plant is soft and mushy, yellow, red, or brown and in this circumstance, it may be best to change the location, soil mixture, or re-pot the plant.

Propagation

Aloe vera plants make little side shoots or pups that can be removed to start new plants. Removing the pups helps the main plant use most of its own energy so it grows healthy and strong. Planting the pups in their own pot or outdoor location gives you a whole new plant. When re-potting or planting aloe, it is best to withhold water for at least the first few days.

Summary: There are over 400 varieties of Aloe vera, and the aloe vera plant prefers to live and grow in warmer temperatures. The plant is quite resilient and overwatering the aloe vera plant is generally not a good idea.

How To Harvest Aloe Vera

Aloe vera, depending on the variety, can live for many years, sometimes decades. Leaves that are four to five years old yield the most healthful benefits so taking healthy lower leaves from mature plants is best. Using a sharp knife, cutting away from yourself and other parts of the aloe vera, remove lower leaves close to the base of the plant, maybe just two to three at a time per plant depending on its size. Keep in mind, aloe vera on its own has a very short shelf life.

How To Make Your Own Aloe Vera Gel

Take your harvested leaf, trim off the bottom hard area, the spiked sides, and the tip, exposing the gelatinous insides on all four sides. If you are hoping to make aloe vera juice, you can soak the leaf in a jug of water to help wash away some of the bitter yellow substance. Next, fillet the gel off the hard, green leaf exterior on both sides. The inner leaf fillet can be put in a blender to make a smooth, lump-free gel or juice, or mashed and cut by hand to the desired consistency. This can be used as a skin and hair care moisturizing product or as treatment of some of the skin conditions mentioned above. To use aloe vera juice as a diet supplement, start out slowly with perhaps just a teaspoon daily increasing to no more than two tablespoons daily to ensure no allergic or uncomfortable reaction, particularly considering its laxative potential.

Storing Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has a very short shelf life. Once cut from the plant, aloe vera will start to spoil in just 24 hours. The good news is, in an airtight container in the fridge, it will last up to a week. Even better, frozen in an ice cube tray, it will last up to six months in the freezer.

Not Growing Aloe Vera?

There are almost limitless lotions, potions, beverages, shampoos, conditioners, and supplements naming aloe vera as an ingredient. Something to keep in mind, as it is difficult to find preservative-free aloe vera products, it is worth looking into the types of additives and preservatives when purchasing aloe vera products as well as finding out how the aloe was processed.

Conclusion

Much more than a soothing gel for sunburn, aloe vera has incredible uses to help keep us healthy on the inside and out. Excellent for our skin, our bodies, our digestive system, and our immune system, Aloe barbadensis var. Miller has extensive usage and is worth trying in its many available forms or even growing it ourselves.

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