Aloe vera Aloe barbadensis Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera Pots with Planter

It is hard to believe that the tiny blades of Garlic Chives are related to the wide thick blades of the Aloe. But indeed, both plants are members of the Lily Family.  Aloe is a pretty large genus too, containing about 300 species. Most of these are from hot dry regions, yet when you break open an Aloe vera, the gel inside is nice and cool. No wonder Cleopatra loved using it. In the hot arid deserts of Africa, it must have seemed like a miracle indeed. Today, the Aloe vera plant is used in food, cosmetics and health preparations.

Aloe vera leaves have two liquids inside. One is an obnoxious smelling yellow sap that is found in the cells right next to the outer rind. For the Aloe, this sap acts as a Band-Aid. If the leaf is attacked or broken this sap quickly fills the gash and hardens. This keeps the second liquid, the clear cooling gel, from drying out and causing death to the plant. 

Aloes have an amazing ability to grow and shrink and, thus, survive.  Aloes show they are happy by growing long, fat leaves with full end points. 

A Perfect Aloe Tip

A Damaged Aloe Tip

When the Aloe suffers from lack of water, the end points shrivel and the leaves start to use their interior moisture causing the leaves to become thinner. 

   

If the drought is severe, whole leaves may be sacrificed to save the plant.

Aloe vera typically grows from 1 to 3 feet high in a rosette with new leaves produced from the center of the plant. This too is a life saving device that allows the older leaves to shade the newer growth. This formation also allows all possible moisture to be trapped in the folds of the leaves. This is great for the Aloe in nature, but for the home gardener it can help lead to over watering and rot. Therefore, water only occasionally and check the soil to see that it is actually dry before watering. Aloes grow best in moderately rich, well-drained soil.  Avoid all frost. Aloe tissues can be damaged around 44 degrees if the plant is not healthy. If it is planted outside, avoid all frost. If potted, choose a wide pot and little Aloes will grow around the original plant. In the hottest summer regions, place the aloes in afternoon shade. All other areas should give the plant full sun.
It can be grown on a sunny windowsill through the winter, but be careful not to let it touch the freezing window pane.

Because the yellow sap next to the rind is so offensive it is best to slice the leaf cleanly from the plant or pull the entire leaf off. Then slice the leaf down the center lengthwise, cutting into the clear gel only. Since the gel loses its potency within about four hours once exposed to the air, it is best to cut open the leaf when ready to use. 

There are many uses for Aloe.
 The most well known is probably for burns. 

According to Steven Foster in 101 Medicinal Herbs, " Aloe gel relieves pain and inflammation and increases blood supply to injuries by dilating capillaries. It promotes recovery by increasing tensile strength at the wound and healing activity in the space between the cells."

Aloe vera's history is long and its use is recorded as far back as 2200 BC where it was noted on Sumerian tablets.  Aloe is even mentioned in the Bible in John 19:39, " And, there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."

Cultural Information

Height: 1-3 Feet  

Hardiness: Zone 11
Can be grown indoors

Flower Color: Yellow/
Orange

Characteristics: Full Sun

Uses: Medicinal

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