Aloe Vera: The Ultimate Guide
Aloe vera is the go-to remedy for more than just sunburns. Here’s a guide to its many uses.
Aloe vera’s rise to superfood status has been a long time coming.
Often extolled for its soothing qualities, aloe vera is most commonly used as a topical ointment for burns, sun damage, and skin abrasions, but this ancient plant may offer deeper healing abilities when taken orally. Most of us are familiar with the presence of aloe vera in cosmetics and skin creams; it moisturizes and has anti-aging effects. However, many people who live according to a natural health philosophy have long viewed the plant as a potent superfood.
That’s right. As kale and blueberries quickly ascended to the top of superfood lists, aloe vera has remained a quiet competitor.
Walk into any health food store and you’ll see plenty of aloe vera juices and gels, but what do they really do? Search for aloe vera information on the Internet and you’ll be bombarded with aloe products touting the plant’s virtues, but is it safe to use?
Learn how aloe vera is used as a functional food, ways to incorporate it into your diet and what safety precautions to take. As always, it’s a good idea to consult your physician before starting any complementary medicine regimen.
Keep reading to gain a deeper understanding of the plant’s history, how it’s cultivated and what you might learn about aloe vera in your natural health school.
Did you know? There are two parts to an aloe vera leaf: Gel and leaf juice (not to be confused with aloe juice in stores). The gel is what most people are familiar with. It’s the odorless and clear liquid at the innermost part of the leaf. Aloe latex, or juice, seeps from the leaf when cut. It’s yellow in color and has a bitter taste. When ingesting aloe, the gel is the safest part of the plant. The latex has laxative properties and can cause serious health complications if used too often.
History of Aloe Vera
From Cleopatra to Christopher Columbus, some of history’s most famous figures relied on aloe vera for its healing properties. Sometimes referred to as the “burn plant,” “lily of the desert” or the “wonder plant,” aloe vera likely originated in the Sudan.
Ancient civilizations eventually brought the plant to the Mediterranean region and other warm climates around the world.
|2100 BC||A record of aloe vera’s benefits appear on a Mesopotamian tablet.|
|1550 BC||A description of aloe vera’s medicinal purposes is documented. An Egyptian text details how to use aloe vera for both internal and external symptoms.|
|70 AD||The Greeks use aloe vera to treat wounds, hair loss, and other issues.|
|1655||First mention of aloe vera in the English language; John Goodyew translates Dioscorides’ Medical treatise De Materia Medica.|
|1820||The U.S. Pharmacopeia says aloe vera can be used to protect skin.|
|1930s||Aloe vera is used to treat radiation dermatitis.|
|Today||Aloe vera is commonly used in many countries for topical and internal uses.|
All About Aloe
- Aloe vera is just one of 400 species of Aloe
- Botanical name: Aloe barbadensis miller
- Part of Liliaceae Family
- Aloe comes from the Arabic word “alloeh” (shining, bitter substance) and “vera” means true in Latin
Where Aloe Vera Grows
Although it can be grown indoors just about anywhere, aloe vera can be found thriving in various regions of the world Southwestern U.S. Southeast Asia, the Bahamas, Mexico, Central America, West Indies.
Aloe vera is part of the succulent family, a type of plant with shallow and intricate root systems that allow for quick water absorption. Succulents can store water for an extended period of time making them an easy-to-maintain plant.
Succulents are known for their hardiness and have a unique self-repairing ability. If damaged, succulent leaves seal off the cut or wound using its internal gel. The leaf will continue to grow from the base of the plant despite the damage.
Aloe vera no longer grows in the wild. The ancient plant needs to be cultivated instead; you’ll often find it in terra cotta pots on a kitchen sill or in the front yard of a desert home.
Growing Aloe Vera
Don’t have a green thumb? No problem. Aloe, like other succulents, is easy to keep alive and healthy because it doesn’t need much maintenance.
+ Aloe can grow outside in zones 9-11 or indoors year-round
+ Place potted plants outside after the last frost
+ Soil should be sandy
+ Harvest mature leaves only
Aloe Vera: An Ancient Superfood
With so many so-called superfoods out there, the meaning of the word can become diluted. As more whole foods earn the moniker, consumers tend to get skeptical that it’s just another diet fad. However, it’s safe to say aloe vera is one of the original superfoods.
Aloe Vera Benefits: Vitamins, Minerals and More
Aloe vera is full of good stuff—75 active components to be exact. The naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals and amino acids in the plant are necessary for good health. To understand how aloe vera can be a disease-fighter, it’s best to understand what’s exactly inside the clear gel.
Aloe vera includes several necessary vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12.
Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants and help fend off free radicals which can contribute to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
|Vitamin A||Integral for a strong immune system and bone growth. It helps fight off viral or bacterial threats to the body.|
|Vitamin C||A powerhouse vitamin that is believed to protect against cancer and cardiovascular problems. It also supports the immune system.|
|Vitamin E||May protect against heart disease while promoting a strong immune system.|
|B1 Vitamin||Also known as thiamine, B1 plays a role in digestion and contributes to a healthy nervous and immune system.|
|B2 Vitamin||Goes by the name riboflavin and works as an antioxidant. B12, like other B vitamins, provides the body with energy by creating fuel from food. It also plays an important role in maintaining a strong nervous system.|
|B3 Vitamin||Also known as niacin, B3 vitamins are used to treat high cholesterol, migraines, and diabetes. It’s also used to cleanse the body of toxins and promote good digestion.|
|B6 Vitamin||Important to many of the body’s systems, including immune, cardiovascular and digestive. The vitamin is also connected to the serotonin and dopamine process.|
|B12 Vitamin||Primarily found in animal products, B12 is necessary for healthy blood cells and helps make DNA.|
|Calcium||Famous for its role in strong bones, calcium is also vital to the cardiovascular and nervous systems.|
|Sodium||Often discussed as a negative mineral, sodium is essential to blood pressure, muscles and nerves.|
|Iron||Makes up blood cells and proteins in the body. It’s necessary for energy.|
|Magnesium||This mineral has a big job; it’s necessary for hundreds of processes in the body, including blood glucose regulation and keeping the immune system strong.|
|Potassium||Helps clean cells out, protects blood vessels and is thought to help lower the risk of heart disease.|
|Copper||Needed for growth and general health. This mineral helps maintain healthy heart function and is thought to help prevent osteoporosis.|
Aloe contains 12 organic compounds called anthraquinones. Aloin, which causes a laxative effect, and emodin help with pain relief and work as antibacterial and antiviral agents. Anthraquinones are often removed from commercial aloe products.
Aloe vera contains a unique type of sugar called Acemannan. The polysaccharide is believed to have antiviral properties, ease gastrointestinal problems and stimulate the immune system.
Aloe vera consists of four plant-based fatty acids which are shown to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities. The acids also contain pain-relieving components.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aloe vera contains 20 amino acids, seven of which are essential.
The plant also has hormones that aid in wound healing and eight enzymes.
Aloe Vera Health Benefits
Who knew an aloe vera plant had so much goodness packed into its leaves? Despite the bevy of nutrients inside the gel, modern-day science has sought to confirm many claims made about the plant. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)–an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)–says the gel isn’t approved for any oral uses primarily because of a lack of evidence. Researchers have spent decades analyzing the plant as a health remedy and have come up with fascinating results.
1. Aids in Digestion
Aloe vera is popular in natural health as a digestion aid.
Aloe is chock full of antioxidants which promote a strong immune system and the polysaccharides also have anti-inflammatory qualities. Some people use aloe to help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers and to detoxify the intestinal track.
Kelly Morrow is a core faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.
Aloe vera is soothing to the mucosal tissues in the gut,” says Kelly Morrow, MS, RD, CD, a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University in Washington.
Morrow, who is also a clinical supervisor at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, has used aloe vera gel to ease irritation in the digestive track in patients going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Those suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD may also be in luck. Some people use aloe vera to reduce the symptoms from damaged tissues caused by the disease.
“It’s soothing to any kind of irritation,” Morrow says.
Although aloe vera can be helpful, Morrow says it’s more common to recommend multiple supplements to her patients.
“For gastritis, aloe isn’t at the top of my list,” she asserts.
Instead, she recommends glutamine, which is an amino acid produced in the muscles and transported to organ via blood, with aloe as an additive.
2. Strengthens the Immune System
Aloe’s ability to detoxify helps keep the immune system in check. The body has a much better chance at fighting off illness and infection if as many nutrients as possible can make their way into the bloodstream.
Polysaccharides are the primary component of aloe vera gel. These compounds, which are found in plants, create the thick quality of the gel.
“Some of these plant compounds feed the immune system,” Morrow says.
These same ingredients in aloe can also irritate the immune system, but not in a harmful way, Morrow notes. Instead, the immune system ramps up because it sees these compounds as a threat. However, polysaccharides are certainly not a toxin.
“It’s the common reason why people who eat plants have a good immune system,” says Morrow.
In addition to this, the antioxidants that are present in the gel ward off free radicals which negatively impact immunity.
3. Lowers Cholesterol
A few studies have indicated that aloe can play a role in lowering cholesterol. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), daily intake of 10 ml or 20 ml of aloe for 3 months was shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 18 percent and total cholesterol by 15 percent.
4. Provides Pain Relief
Aloe vera’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities may be helpful in relieving muscle and tendon pain. The gel is sometimes used topically in sports medicine to soothe achy muscles, but taken orally, the anti-inflammatory ingredients may also help with pain.
It’s important to note that if you’re using aloe vera to reduce inflammation, you should also rebalance your diet. By eliminating unhealthy foods, the aloe vera has a better chance of working.
5. Diabetes Treatment
There are several ways aloe vera may help those suffering from diabetes. Some research has demonstrated aloe vera’s ability to lower blood glucose levels. However, the NIH warns that combining glucose-lowering medication with aloe vera can have harmful effects.
People with Type 2 diabetes may also look to aloe as a way to lower excessive amounts of fat in the blood.
Aloe’s ability to heal wounds faster may also benefit people with diabetes who have suffered from ulcers or wounds on their legs.
6. Relieves Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is a chronic condition in which joints are inflamed causing pain and stiffness. Aloe vera contains several enzymes and amino acids that are known to have anti-inflammatory qualities. Evidence is limited, but some people take aloe vera gel orally to ease the pain of arthritis.
Aloe Vera: An Acquired Taste New to drinking aloe?
Morrow says many people are turned off by the tangy flavor, but there are ways to make it more palatable.
- Mix aloe gel with water
- Use it as an ingredient in a smoothie
- Soak in purified water for 10 minutes
7. Skin Care
The NIH says aloe vera is “possibly effective” for several skin ailments, including cold sores, psoriasis and itchy rashes on the skin or mouth. And although it’s most commonly used for sunburns, research hasn’t shown that it reduces redness. Most people use the gel for its natural cooling effect on the skin.
Although studies haven’t proven the gel can prevent burns from radiation therapy, some research has shown it can promote faster healing after treatment.
Aloe Vera: Cancer Fighter?
A number of studies have examined aloe vera’s role in preventing or treating cancer. Major health organizations, like the NIH, stop short of saying the plant is effective mainly due to lack of evidence. Another important note: The research evaluating aloe’s role in cancer treatment has been done on animals, not humans.
The theories surrounding aloe as a cancer panacea relate to the plant’s ability to strengthen the immune system which allows the body to fight off cancer cells.
Here’s some research to strengthen the argument that aloe may one day be a popular cancer treatment.
- In conjunction with chemotherapy, an aloe and honey mixture may help more lung cancer patients heal completely, partially or control the disease better than those using only chemotherapy.
- The anthraquinone called emodin has been shown to prevent liver cancer cells from growing in test tubes.
- A study published in 2013 found that aloe-emodin may help treat or prevent breast cancer.
- The effectiveness of the immune-boosting substance Acemannan has been tested in mice. One study found Acemannan revved up the immune cells to make cytokines, molecules that send cells to fight off inflammation or infection.
It’s advisable to talk with your doctor before using aloe vera as a cancer treatment.
Aloe Vera Side Effects, Drug Interactions and Contraindications
Caution should be taken when ingesting aloe vera as there can be potential side effects. The aloe latex—the yellow juice near the rind—is where most of the danger lies. However, ingredients in the more commonly used gel itself can also be harmful to some people. Always test a small amount to ensure you aren’t allergic to the plant.
Here is a list of potential side effects. When in doubt, always check with your doctor.
- Regular use of the entire leaf—which includes the latex—can deplete potassium in the body. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to muscle weakness and cardiac problems. According to the NIH, ingesting one gram of aloe latex for multiple days can be fatal.
- Products containing the latex will exacerbate intestinal illnesses such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- People with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels when using aloe.
- Ingesting any form of aloe is not recommended during pregnancy as it may cause uterine contractions or miscarriage. Aloe should also be avoided during breastfeeding.
- Excessive use of aloe latex may cause kidney failure and shouldn’t be used by people with kidney problems.
As mentioned above, aloe vera can lower blood sugar levels which can be problematic for people taking insulin or hypoglycemic medication. Because there is the potential for low potassium counts from aloe, people who take medication (Digoxin) for heart rhythm problems may see adverse effects when using aloe.
It’s possible that aloe may decrease the body’s blood clotting abilities. Taking aloe orally before surgery is not recommended since certain anesthesia also decreases blood clotting.
If used topically, the NIH states that aloe may increase the absorption of steroid creams (hydrocortisone).
Aloe Vera’s Topical Uses
Aloe vera may be most well-known for its moisturizing properties. It can be found in plenty of skin and hair products, but it can also be used straight from the plant.
Aloe’s reputation for healing wounds starts as far back as 1935 when it was documented that the whole-leaf extract promoted complete regeneration of the skin. Research suggests that polysaccharides in the gel have anti-itching and anti-inflammatory that help with wound healing.
“The most remarkable experiences [I’ve seen] have been with topical uses,” Morrow recalls. “It encourages regeneration of tissue.”
However, more research is needed; another study demonstrated that aloe may delay surgical wound healing.
Anecdotal evidence suggests aloe can be used topically for the following purposes:
Mix equal parts water and aloe vera gel together. Next, add an essential oil of your choice. The aloe locks in moisture and blocks external toxins from damaging hair.
The moisture from the aloe also promotes a healthy scalp and the anti fungal elements in the gel are known to eliminate dandruff.
The combination of vitamins and minerals in aloe can soothe skin that is red from inflammation and acne. Regularly applying aloe to the face can help reduce redness.
Some studies have found aloe may help treat the skin disease. The NIH cites research that used a cream with 0.5 percent aloe and after four to eight weeks, skin plaques were reduced and the overall severity lessened.
Skin Firmness and Tone
Moisture from aloe keeps skin firm while the antioxidants may provide a more vibrant complexion. Aloe is also used to lighten hyperpigmentation of the skin.
Aloe can help take the sting out of swollen lips and can also be used as a moisturizer for chapped lips.
Aloe Vera Recipes for Skin and Hair
It’s easy to whip up a few quick recipes using aloe vera as the main ingredient.
Cucumber Eye Gel
(By James Wong, “Grow Your Own Drugs”)
To use: Apply to the eye area before bed and wash off in the morning.
Storage: Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.
- 1 aloe vera leaf
- 1 small cucumber, chopped
- ½ cup distilled extract of witch hazel
- 1 packet gelatin
- 1 white tea teabag
- 3 drops of peppermint essential oil
- Peel and slice the aloe leaf to extract gel.
- Put the cucumber and aloe gel into a blender and process until smooth.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve to extract the juice, setting aside ½ cup of the strained juice.
- Add the witch hazel to a small pan, whisk in the gelatin and add the teabag. Gently heat the mixture until it just starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
- As it cools, remove the teabag, then whisk in the cucumber and aloe juice mixture and add the peppermint oil.
- Pour the gel into a sterilized, airtight pump dispenser.
pH Balanced Shampoo
To Use: Defrost one cube in a bowl the night before use. Use as you would normal shampoo.
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 ¾ cups pure aloe vera gel
- Essential oils, optional
- Mix ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk.
- Pour mixture into ice cube trays.
- Put in freezer and wait a few hours until frozen completely.
The Other Aloe Gel: Topical Use and Ingredients
You’ve likely seen topical aloe vera gel—intended for sunburns—in your local drugstore or supermarket. The gel is viscous, with air bubbles and sometimes a vibrant green color.
Not exactly “pure” or “natural.”
The draw of aloe vera is, of course, its ability to heal naturally, but unfortunately not all products are as pure as they want you to believe. For instance, one product’s label states:
This is a bit misleading because while the product is in fact, 100 percent gelatinous, it’s not made of 100 percent pure aloe.
Here’s a list of ingredients to look out for in topical gels:
- Diazolidinyl Urea
- SD Alcohol 40
- Tetrasodium EDTA
- DMDM Hydantoin
- Polysorbate 20
These words would be great for a spelling bee, but for your skin? Not so much. Before you slather on the gel, consider what else you’re putting on your skin when using these products.
|Thickener||Carbomer gives the gel its consistency. The compound is a group of polymers made of acrylic acid.|
|Hydration||Glycerin is an emollient and is used to moisturize. It works by pulling water into the outer layer of the skin.|
|Surfactant||The surfactant in many aloe gel products is Polysorbate 20. This chemical mixture reduces surface tension. In other words, it helps the product glide onto the skin.|
|Emulsifier||Triethanolamine is used to help water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients stay mixed together.|
|Preservatives||To keep the aloe from going bad, preservatives like Diazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin, are used. These preservatives release formaldehyde. Tetrasodium EDTA is another preservative which may cause other chemicals to penetrate into the body. SD Alcohol is also known as denatured alcohol, which means ingredients have been added to make the substance undrinkable.|
Aloe Vera Products
We won’t beat around the aloe bush: Fresh is best.
When it comes to getting the most pure version of aloe, immediately using the gel after cutting it is the most effective method. Aloe begins to lose some of its potency after a few hours so cutting a fresh leaf will give you the most nutrients.
Of course, this makes the most sense for topical use. Morrow notes that if you’re ingesting aloe for certain conditions, such as an ulcer, a homegrown plant is unlikely to provide a large enough quantity on a regular basis.
How to Cut Fresh Aloe
If you’re removing a leaf from a plant (instead of purchasing in a store), be sure to cut an outer leaf near the base of the plant.
1. Slice off the prickly sides of the leaf with a knife. Take care not to cut too much off.
2. With the convex side up, use a vegetable peeler to trim the outer layer of the leaf.
3. Slide the knife under the gel to remove it from the other side of the leaf.
4. Dice the gel into smaller pieces.
5. Refrigerate leftover aloe. It lasts about a week.
Caution: Be careful not to use the yellow juice from the leaf. It has a laxative effect.
The other option is aloe vera in a bottle. Aloe has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry as more research hints at the plant’s health benefits. Many supermarkets and health food stores carry aloe vera juices, gels and powders, but make sure you understand exactly what you’re purchasing.
The following sections explain the differences.
Aloe Vera Juice
Defined as aloe vera leaf juice. Commercial aloe juice is made by crushing or grinding entire leaves, including the latex portion. Because the latex has a bitter flavor and laxative effects, it is removed during processing using a stripping agent. The NIH warns that this method can result in an aloe product with very few active ingredients, such as Acemannan. Look for juices that are more than 99 percent aloe.
If you opt for the juice, be sure you’re purchasing a product from a reputable company. If the latex isn’t removed during processing, there can be serious side effects. Since supplements aren’t regulated by the federal government, it can be risky to use a whole-leaf product.
The benefit to using this form of aloe vera?
“The juice is easy to take internally,” Morrow says. Although she does caution against using whole-leaf aloe.
What to Know About Aloe Latex
Although aloe vera is a natural remedy, take precautions before using it. The National Library of Medicine recommends avoiding aloe latex because of serious side effects such as stomach cramping, kidney problems, heart disturbances, muscle weakness and blood in the urine.
Years ago, many companies used aloin (the substance that causes the laxative effect) in their laxative products, but the FDA stepped in and prohibited the use of the substance. The federal agency was concerned people would begin increasing their aloe latex dosage because the body builds up a tolerance and higher dosages could lead to the aforementioned health problems.
Aloe Vera Gel
Defined as aloe vera inner leaf juice, or inner fillet. Commercial aloe vera gel is made without the outer rind and aloe latex. It’s then ground into juice or kept in gel form. Some products use carrageenan, an element in seaweed, as a thickening agent. The problem? Carrageenan has been linked to digestive problems which is a bit ironic since aloe gel is often used to aid in digestion.
“Gel and juice are largely similar,” Morrow notes, but says the main difference is the amount of mucilage in each. There is more present in gel.
Mucilage is a viscous liquid that contains the polysaccharides that make aloe so healthful.
|Aloe vera concentrate||Commonly made from the whole aloe leaf. Because it’s more potent, it’s used by people who want to take a small dose once a day. Used: Alone or with food/drink.|
|Aloe vera powder||The aloe vera gel is rinsed to remove remnants of aloin (the laxative ingredient in the latex) and dehydrated. The dried gel is then ground into powder form. Use in: Food and beverages.|
|Aloe vera capsules||Often made from the whole leaf and freeze-dried into capsule form. This offers a more concentrated form of aloe vera. Benefits: Doesn’t need to be refrigerated and travel-friendly.|
Aloe Harvesting and Production
Before aloe gel and juice can hit store shelves, it has to be properly harvested and undergo a highly-sanitized production process.
Aloe farms can be found throughout the world. Africa, Australia, Asia, Central America, South America and the Caribbean are all popular locations for growing aloe for commercial use. Perhaps because aloe has been recognized as big business by many, farms in other countries are cropping up. The International Aloe Science Council states that commercial operations have requested set-up help in Greece, Iran and other countries in the Middle East.
To grow strong aloe plants, farms need good irrigation systems, fertilization and the proper climate. Since aloe is resistant to insects and disease, there’s no need for pesticides.
Did you know? There are no aloe vera seeds, only pups. To grow a new aloe plant, simply cut offshoots of a mature plant (roots and all) and replant.
While cutting and gathering aloe leaves may seem like a simple task, there’s a science behind it. If cut improperly, aloe loses its potency quickly and becomes susceptible to contamination. Farm employees harvest the largest (and most mature) leaves which are found at the bottom of the plant. Some aloe plants yield three leaves at a time, while others can produce six to nine leaves at harvest time.
How aloe is cut:
The leaf is pulled away from the stalk and cut at the white base of the plant. Doing this prevents the inner part of the leaf from being exposed to outside elements. Cutting at the base keeps leaves sealed.
Upon harvesting, the leaves are gathered and delivered to a highly-regulated and sanitized processing facility.
Did you know? Aloe leaves can be harvested three to five times a year.
Processing must be done carefully to prevent the outer rind from being punctured which can cause contamination.
The first step in processing is washing the leaves using various machines. Post-wash, the processing steps differ depending on whether the whole leaf or inner leaf will be used.
If only gel is being used, the inner contents need to be separated from the rind and latex. The bottom of the leaf is cut and the yellow latex seeps out. The leaf is then rinsed to ensure no latex is present. The gel is then removed.
If the entire leaf is used, an extra step is taken to filter out the latex portion of the leaf.
Did you know? For the best quality aloe product, cutting and processing must be done within 48 hours.
Aloe goes through a pasteurization process to ensure the product is safe. Manufacturers heat the aloe at a high temperature for a short amount of time.
Once these steps are completed, the aloe is concentrated.
Did you know? Aloe vera gel and orange juice have something in common. Both products are sold “with pulp” and “pulp-free.”
It’s hard to escape the cold-pressed juice trend and many aloe manufacturers use this method in their juice and gel production.
While the practice usually means a heftier price tag, there’s good reason to buy cold-pressed.
When juice is made the traditional way—fruits and vegetables are torn and shredded by blades—some heating occurs. This reduces the amount of nutrients in the juice, much like cooking can decrease the nutritional value of food. Exposure to air causes the same effect.
Cold-pressing involves, well, pressing the juice out of vegetables and fruits, but no heat is present in this process. The result is a thicker product with more vitamins and minerals.
With aloe vera, the cold-pressing occurs after the inner leaf gel has been removed. It’s then pressed and ground.
Organic Aloe Vera
Unlike other many other plants, aloe vera is resistant to most pests due to its thick outer later. This means there’s rarely a need to spray pesticides on the plant. The International Aloe Science Council states that in just about all cases, aloe vera is grown organically. The organization discourages commercial growers from using pesticides, germicides and herbicides.
Morrow points out that the use of these chemicals can irritate tissues.
To be certified by the National Organic Program (USDA Organic), growers and handlers must provide a large portfolio of information including the history of the substances used on the land in the last three years. They’re required to show a plan detailing which practices are used in aloe production and how this plan is monitored. Growers and handlers must also demonstrate how they prevent organic aloe from coming into contact with non-organic materials. The USDA conducts yearly inspections.
Country of Origin
With so many aloe products on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Morrow says to think about these issues:
- Is the company reputable?
- Was it imported from another country?
- Are you purchasing it off the Internet?
The main point is to do your research. This isn’t to say aloe juice or gel is inherently bad if it’s imported from another country. The problem lies with not knowing how stringent other countries’ standards are and whether a product is primarily aloe. Morrow suggests checking reviews about supplements at ConsumerLabs.com.
The International Aloe Science Council defines what is considered aloe vera in commercial products:
“Only products containing Acemannan, or the beta 1-4 acetylated glucomannans, can be accurately labeled as aloe vera.”
What You Can Do With Aloe Vera
Aloe vera may turn out to be more than just a superfood and skin and hair treatment. It can be used for other daily tasks, like brushing your teeth and keeping food fresh. Here are 10 things you can do with aloe vera.
1. Toothpaste and mouthwash
Aloe vera gel contains antiseptic properties which can help clean teeth and gums. Since it doesn’t contain harsh ingredients, the soothing gel may be a better option for people with sensitive teeth. The NIH also states the ingredient can help reduce inflammation of the gums caused by gingivitis or periodontitis.
2. Food preservative
Back in 2005, researchers in Spain found that adding an aloe vera coating to fruits and vegetables may help them last longer. In 2014, researchers tested the effectiveness of aloe vera as a coating on tomatoes.
The results showed that aloe vera prevented parasitic and fungus growth on the tomatoes. The quality of the fruit was maintained but the aloe coating did delay ripening.
3. Shaving Gel
Aloe’s moisturizing qualities make for a natural and refreshing shave gel. It also helps prevent razor burn and soothes cuts. Mix one part olive oil and three parts pure aloe vera to make your own concoction.
4. Body/Face Mist
Aloe gel has a cooling effect. With a few ingredients, you can make a refreshing spritz for the body and face. Here’s a recipe from MindBodyGreen.
Cucumber-Aloe Hydrating Mist
- 1 small cucumber
- 1/3 cup of distilled water
- 1 tsp. aloe vera
- 1 tsp. witch hazel
Peel and cut the cucumber (either dice it or put into a food processor). If using a processor, strain through a cheesecloth to extract the cucumber essence and to keep the mist light. Include some of the diced pieces in the mix. Pour into a glass spray bottle with the water, aloe vera, witch hazel and shake.
5. Fight Dandruff
There are plenty of reasons aloe vera can fight dandruff. Sure, it moisturizes, but the compounds in the gel also fight bacteria and fungus that cause the flaky stuff. You can find natural aloe vera shampoos that are free of chemicals or you can make your own.
6. Ice Cubes
Aloe not cooling enough for you? Make ice cubes! You can either cut fresh gel into 2-inch pieces and freeze or place the gel in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can use them for sunburns and other topical needs.
7. Hand Sanitizer
Homemade hand sanitizer using aloe has become popular among natural health proponents. Some recipes call for rubbing alcohol while others use a mix of essential oils and witch hazel, along with aloe. Tea tree oil has antibacterial qualities and can work well with the hydrating effects of aloe.
8. Skin Salves
Salves offer relief to dry, cracked skin and also work as a layer of protection, plus they’re easy to make at home.
Aloe is a common ingredient in salves due to its anti-inflammatory and cooling abilities. It acts as a lightener and allows the salve to glide across the skin easily.
To make an aloe salve, you’ll need the gel from one to three aloe leaves:
- Infuse olive oil with herbs of your choice (try rosemary and calendula flowers) in a crockpot on low for three hours. Be sure all the water from the herbs cooks away otherwise mold can occur.
- Strain the herbs and collect as much of the olive oil as possible.
- Add the olive oil to the aloe vera gel and mix.
- For two parts olive oil, you’ll need one part beeswax. Add the wax.
- Sit the bowl containing the mixture above a simmering pot of water.
- Once the mixture has melted completely, it can be poured into a container to cool.
9. Face Scrub
Aloe vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties making it a natural cleanser. Combine it with ingredients from the kitchen, like oatmeal or baking soda, to make an exfoliating face scrub.
10. Aloe Vera Oil
Used for skin care needs, mix aloe vera gel with coconut oil and heat on low in a pot for about 10 minutes. The oil is great for post-shower moisturizing.
Aloe Vera Recipes
If you’re new to eating aloe, try these quick and simple recipes to get you started.
Aloe Vera Smoothie
- ¼ cup aloe vera gel (fresh from leaf)
- 1 ½ cups frozen strawberries
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
Blend on high for 1-2 minutes or until smooth.
If you’re looking for a further boost, throw in protein powder or chia seeds.
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- ¼ to ½ cup aloe vera juice
- 2 tbsp. unsweetened cranberry juice
- 1 tbsp. agave nectar or honey, optional
- Lime wedge, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in small pitcher. Pour over ice and serve with lime.
Fresh Aloe Mint Summer Salad
(By Laura Dawn, HappyandRaw.com)
- Large, fresh aloe leaf
- Handful of organic mint leaves
- Medium-sized tomato
- 1 lemon or lime
- A small dash of garlic powder
- A small dash of kelp powder
- White or black sesame seeds, optional
Preparing the aloe:
- Take a large piece of aloe and fillet it (Video). Try to keep the translucent jelly core in one big piece.
- On a cutting board, with a sharp knife, cut strip of the jelly. Place all the aloe pieces in a bowl and soak in purified water for 10 minutes.
- Then place in a strainer and drain the aloe and rinse it well, then place the aloe strips in a bowl.
Prepare the salad:
The recipe will be dependent on how much aloe you’ve cut up. The remaining ingredients can be adjusted to taste.
Toss all ingredients and served chilled or at room temperature.
Aloe Vera Drink
(By Jeff Mauro on the Food Network)
- 1 ½ cups coconut water
- 2 tbsp. food-grade aloe vera gel or juice
- 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced
- ½ cup apple, peeled, cored and diced
Add the coconut water, aloe vera, cucumbers and apples to the carafe of a blender and puree until smooth. Strain if desired. Serve immediately over ice.
Aloe Vera in Natural Health School
You’ll learn about the uses of many supplements and plants in naturopathic, herbalism or nutrition classes. Aloe vera will certainly be one of them.
Morrow, who teaches nutritional supplementation and nutrition assessment and therapy at Bastyr University, focuses on evidence-based research when it comes to aloe vera.
“We look at it from a disease model,” she says.
Discussions revolve around what aloe is used for in different areas of medicine. Students learn a science-based approach with lessons on what aloe vera is made of and how those ingredients help patients heal.
In Morrow’s nutritional supplementation class, students are assigned different supplements to research. Aloe vera is discussed during the gastrointestinal (GI) section of the curriculum.
“We use resources to highlight how aloe is used, the way it’s used, what the evidence says, contraindications and doses for certain conditions,” Morrow says.
Enrolling in a different type of natural health program? You’ll still come across aloe vera in your studies. In an herbalism program, aloe may be discussed in the context of growing and harvesting plants, in raw food courses or understanding the role of nutrients in the body.
Naturopathic Doctor (ND) programs typically discuss the virtues of aloe vera in Ayurvedic garden and botanical medicine courses. Like a nutrition-based model, ND programs will study aloe as a way to treat disease.
Chinese medicine programs teach that aloe vera is useful in treating fungal diseases. The same programs cover the use of the plant in nutrition classes as well.
3 Things Holistic Health Students Should Know About Aloe
Holistic health schools will likely include aloe vera in the curriculum. Here’s what you can expect.
- You’ll read about aloe in textbooks. Basic facts, uses and contraindications of the ancient plant will be discussed.
- Expect a science lesson. Students will learn how aloe’s vitamins, minerals and other properties affect the human body.
- You’ll examine clinical research. Aloe studies span decades and you’ll learn what the findings say about aloe’s efficacy as a health treatment.
Aloe Vera Infographic
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