Dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, Aloe Vera has long been regarded as a plant with deeply healing properties. Now, thousands of years later, this cactus-like member of the lily family is receiving the medicinal validation from the scientific community that natural healers and laypersons have known and relied upon for centuries. Although over 300 species of Aloe exist, it is Aloe Barbadensis , (Aloe Vera) that is most popular in the west. Aloe Ferox and Aloe Saponaria (also known as soap aloe for reasons which we’ll explain later) are the varieties that are indigenous to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. If you take a look at the pictures you may even have some growing in your garden. This month our theme is natural beauty products, but before I move onto that I just have to let you know that aloe does more than just make you look good.
While most people are aware of Aloe’s cosmetic benefits, it’s highly nutritive qualities might come as a surprise to many. Aloe Vera contains 20 of the 22 essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), 8 of the 13 known vitamins (including C and E), is high in antioxidants, enzymes and minerals. It is especially high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Aloe Vera has a mild laxative effect on the bowels. It is known to relieve heartburn, indigestion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, peptic ulcers and stomach inflammations. It has a cooling and soothing effect on the digestive system. This makes it useful in preventing colon cancer.
Aloe has been shown to decrease cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipids and nonesterifed fatty acid levels in the blood. This is significant for prevention of and recovery from heart disease. It also has a positive effect on blood coagulation, which ties into its history in wound healing.
Wound Repair and Immunity Booster
Aloe is a cell regenerator that reduces the healing time of both external and internal wounds, inhibits scarring, and has analgesic and antiseptic effects. It is well known for its ability to heal burns, but it has also been shown recently to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, not only when applied externally, but also when ingested on a regular basis. Its antimicrobial and antiviral properties also make it an effective immune system enhancer of both the skin and the internal system. Certain varieties of Aloe (including Ferox and Saponaria) have also been touted in studies as helping to kill cancer cells when taken internally.
Skin and Hair
The cosmetic benefits of Aloe Vera are familiar to most consumers. The reason that Aloe is such a superior moisturizer is because of its ability to penetrate the skin. This also makes it a superb agent for assisting other bioactive ingredients in any cosmetic with which it is mixed to reach deeper tissues. It also reduces the effects of aging on the skin by promoting collagen and elastin synthesis, thus diminishing and preventing fine lines and wrinkles. These beautifying effects are experienced even when taken internally. Aloe saponaria became known as soap aloe because our people realized that when mixed with water it would create a sudsy mixture that could be used to clean and moisturize the skin. What? Let me hear the choir say “Goodbye Lifebuoy!” People pay so much money for beauty formulas with aloe in it , yet many of us limit these plants to just beautifying our yards.
How to Use Aloe in Your Daily Life
The best source of Aloe is the fresh raw leaf. The plant is easy to grow and readily available at most nurseries in the city. For you diasporans, you can easily pick up an aloe at a home gardening store, nursery, or health food store or can order fresh leaves online. (You may also be able to find fresh leaves at some grocery stores and in latino neighborhoods.) Aloe juice can also be bought, even locally, from various stores and pharmacies in Zimbabwe, and in any health food store in the diaspora. I have even seen a gallon of organic Aloe juice at Walmart for just $7.00!
1. To use your fresh aloe, just slice open a mature leaf, remove the translucent pulp inside it, and blend it with water (1 part leaf to 3 parts water for gel, and use 5-6 parts water for juice).
2. Refrigerate the remainder and be sure to consume it within 3 days of having blended the mixture. It is usually a good idea to just slice off a few inches of the harvested leaf at a time (always start from the bottom and go up) to refrigerate the rest for use as needed. This will prevent waste and spoiling of your Aloe juice or gel. Additionally, the fresh leaf will last for weeks in the refrigerator this way before spoiling. (This lets you know how potent a plant it is because very few foods, once open or cut, will survive more than a few days, even refrigerated.)
3. Add the Aloe juice to your favorite summer cool drinks, like lemonade or fresh squeezed citrus juices to counterbalance the somewhat bitter taste of the fresh leaf, if you are unable to drink it straight.
4. For those of us without access to a garden, you can buy the aloe juice or gel from your health food store. Look for a minimum of 98% Aloe, and natural preservatives like citric acid. Although it is not as nutritionally potent as the homemade potion concocted from the fresh leaf, this bottled variety tends to be more palatable and still has many of the nutritional and cosmetic benefits of the plant.
5. Try adding aloe to your favorite shampoo or shower gel. You might even let go of your conditioner once you’ve tried this a few times. Aloe is also a great leave in conditioner for both straight and curly styles that gives both hold and body to hair without stiffening it the way synthetic gels and mousses do.
For all you natural haired folks, aloe is great for enhancing the curl pattern of your hair, and is a superior pre-blow-drying treatment. Make sure to mix just enough, in a separate bottle for one or two uses, if using the fresh leaf gel, because it does require a preservative once mixed with oil and left to stand for a few days. For all you natural haired folks, aloe is great for enhancing the curl pattern of your hair, and is a superior pre-blow-drying treatment. Used consistently, over time aloe will strengthen and thicken any hair type.
6. Aloe is also great to use on your face and body under your daily moisturizer, or to mix with both face and body masks. It is hydrating, anti-aging and helps to fight acne and mysterious rashes.
7. Aloe is readily available and easy to use. Its medicinal, nutritional and cosmetic power has stood the test of time. Its cornucopia of uses makes it easy to understand why Aloe Vera was the elixir of the Ancients.
So off you go, to buy a bottle or ask for a leaf from someone’s garden!
*Support the ECCT’s “Sponsor a Zimbabwean Cancer Patient campaign”: fundraising to sponsor 5 disadvantaged cancer patients with prescription costs, Dr’s fees & part payment of school fees for 1 primary school going child from January 2013. For more info click here!
*Pic sources: Needahandspanishproperties.com; Phrophro.com