“Mummy, what’s that?” asked my six-year-old as we walked through the cold, misty fresh produce aisles at Whole Foods.
I felt a surge of excitement as I looked at the long, tapering cactus-like leaves he was pointing to. Could it be? Was my Whole Foods really selling Aloe Barbadensis leaves?
We picked up two leaves ($4.49 each) and spent the afternoon cutting them open, scraping and storing the gel. We’ve gotten a lot of sun this summer and this cooling and soothing gel has felt wonderful on our parched, heated skin.
Read on to learn about the many uses of Aloe Vera and how to scrape and store its gel effectively.
What is Aloe Vera?
It may look like a cactus, but it is actually a one to two-foot succulent member of the lily family.
The name Aloe Vera derives from the Arabic word Alloeh meaning “shining bitter substance,” while vera in Latin means “true.” The plant originated in the Arabian Peninsula and today, it grows wild in arid and tropical climates across the world. Its leaves are broad at the base and pointed at the tips with spiny edges. These tough, turgid leaves contain the clear, healing aloe vera gel, which is believed to be one of the best natural skin healers of all time.
Aloe Vera has been used for health and beauty purposes for millennia. Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it as part of their regular beauty regimes. Alexander the Great, and Christopher Columbus used it to treat soldiers’ wounds. The first reference to Aloe Vera in English was a translation by John Goodyew in A.D. 1655 of the Greek Physician, Dioscorides’ Medical treatise De Materia Medica.
What is Aloe Vera used for?
Aloe Vera contains 75 potentially active constituents: vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids. It’s best known for the following uses:
Healing: If you’ve used Aloe Vera gel on a sunburn, you know how brilliant it is at healing damaged skin. It contains 8 enzymes including bradykinas as well as plant steroids campesterol, β-sisosterol and lupeol that help reduce inflammation. Moreover, it contains an antioxidant protein, metallothionein, which inhibits free radicals. Finally, it contains vitamins A, C and E, B12, folic acid, and choline, all of which help repair and rejuvenate skin.
Collagen Production: If you put Aloe Vera gel on a wound, you’ll notice that it contracts. That’s because the gel contains glucomannan, a mannose-rich polysaccharide, and gibberellin, a growth hormone, both of which stimulate the production of the collagen and elastin fibers that make skin more elastic. The wound contracts because Aloe Vera increases the collagen content of the wound as well as the degree of collagen cross linking. Aloe Vera also contains amino acids that soften hardened skin cells and zinc, which acts as an astringent to tighten pores.
Elimination: Aloe Vera is a great laxative. It contains 12 anthraquinones, which are phenolic compounds traditionally known as laxatives. Aloin and emodin act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals. Anthraquinones present in latex are a potent laxative. They increase intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion and increases intestinal peristalsis.
Anti-viral Activity: Ever put Aloe Vera on a cold sore? The anthraquinone aloin inactivates various viruses such as herpes simplex, varicella zoster and influenza. Additionally, Aloe vera contains 6 antiseptic agents: Lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamonic acid, phenols and sulfur, all of which inhibit fungi, bacteria and viruses.
What does Ayurveda use Aloe Vera for?
In Ayurveda, Aloe Vera is called Ghrit Kumari (which translates to "a young female") as the herb is said to restore youth. It balances all three doshas and can be used by anyone, but as it’s sweet, bitter and cooling it especially benefits pitta (fire and water element).
Ayurveda uses Aloe Vera gel as a general detoxifier. It helps clear the toxins out of the digestive system, facilitating digestion. The cooling nature of the gel is also believed to reduce acidity.
Ayurveda also recommends consuming one to two teaspoons of fresh aloe vera gel daily for young and healthy skin and uses Aloe Vera as the basis for the famous digestive herbal wine, Kumariasava.
Last but not least, Ayurveda also prescribes Aloe Vera to balance the menstrual cycle and encourage a menstrual period.
How do you make Aloe Vera Gel?
It’s super easy to make Aloe Vera gel! Here are the 5 steps (or click on the image below for a video!):
- Wash the leaf well. If your leaf wasn’t bought from a store and you cut it off from the base of an Aloe Vera plant, stand the leaf upright in a cup or bowl to drain its yellow tinted resin out
- Cut off a quarter inch from the broad base
- Cut off the spiny edges on either side of the leaf
- Cut open the leaf in half lengthwise, by slicing through the broad base to the end of the leaf
- Scrape or scoop the gel off the leaf into an airtight storage container using a knife
How do you store Aloe Vera Gel?
You can store the fresh gel in an airtight container in the refrigerator without any preservatives for about one week.
Try our best-selling Lime Vetiver Body & Hand Lotion, a deeply hydrating and fragrant body & hand lotion that combines hydrating Aloe Vera juice and healing Kokum Butter to heal, hydrate and soften your skin naturally.
This article was written to provide information only. It should not be used in any way in treatment or prevention of disease and we would recommend your consult with a doctor before radical changes in diet or for any serious or ongoing health concerns.