December 29, 2016

Aloe Vera – a cure-all?

One of my neighbours was a huge supporter of the aloe vera trend in the 1970s and 80s when it was first brought out.  The problem was that the juice was incredibly expensive and marketed in that multi-level system which is pretty much a pyramid scheme and a lot of people just labeled the whole experience as a sham and a scam.  Plus, her family had mild obesity, some horrendous illnesses and they were not really what I would perceive as a great advertisement for the product.

Aloe vera, the medicinal aloe, is a succulent plant originally from Northern Africa, the Canary islands and Cape Verde and grows like a rocket even in desert areas.   My great-grandmother always plucked off a leaf to apply to sunburn and it certainly worked well.  It oozes a sticky, transparent liquid that forms its own light skin over a wound.  This liquid can be gathered and made into a sugarless syrup and, taken each morning, acts as a body-cleansing drink.  Don’t overdo or you will be rushing to the toilet!

 

While the jury is still out on the science behind it, Aloe vera extracts may be useful for people at risk of diabetes and elevated blood lipids because there are compounds such as polysaccharides, mannans, anthraquinones and lectins in the aloe that strip away fats in the blood and basically keep you regular.  Just like an apple.  The astringent taste and effect of the juice keeps the body’s system churning along due to its mild laxative qualities.  You need to think of it as something that replaces some other food or drink and you will then lose some weight or fat, but if you just add it to your diet, it is less likely that you will feel any benefit.

Cut aloe vera leaves exude two fluids , a latex-like compound, ‘aloin’ which is a yellow/green sap which can cause itching. Then there is the transparent fluid held in the  inner leaf and that is the soothing and  healing medication.  There is some confusion between these juices.  The inner leaf juice is also the one made into medicinal juice aloe vera which is used for relief of digestive issues such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.

It contains more than 200 active ingredients:

  • Vitamins A, C, E, B, B12, Choline, Folic Acid
  • Vitamins A, C, E, B, B12, Choline, Folic Acid Amino Acids Aloe contain 7 of the 8 essential amino acids.
  • Provides 20 of 22 amino acids required by humans.
  • Minerals – Aloe provides 9 essential minerals such as Calcium, Copper, Chromium, Magnesium, Iron, Potassium, Zinc, Sodium, Manganese.
  • Phytonutrients – Natural plant growth hormones, sterols and salicyates.
  • Enzymes – Provides 8 important enzymes.
  • Sugars – Monosaccharides and Polysaccharides (long chain sugar molecules that are essential to the quality and efficacy of Aloe Vera.

HOWEVER:

The injection of Aloe vera extracts ‘to treat cancer’ ended badly, with the deaths of several patients.  So don’t be totally silly about this plant!  Read up and know what you are doing.

It is also a potential biofuel and an income producing crop in 3rd world dry countries. After the juice has been extracted, the stringy leaves can be used in the same way as cane, for creating fibreboard and rough fabric.

Many people believe that aloe is an agave or a cactus but this is not so.  Succulents include Cacti, aloes, agaves and sedums and are a most complex plant group.

Aloe vera (the true aloe) is the purest of the aloe family hence its use as a medicine or cosmetic.  It is added to tissues and hand cream for its softening properties.  The farming of aloe vera was controversial being seen as a similar investment to jojoba, eucalyptus, lavender , hemp and ti-tree oil, investments that crashed and burned in the 90s.  But I think it has just been a matter of bad planning as the cultivation of all these plants could have been added to biofuel production, small processing factories could have been built nearer to the source of growing and the massive shipping costs (both in money and carbon) may have been avoided, bringing some economy of scale to the investment.  It is probably about time we started farm-based small factories to keep production local.  But that’s another story entirely!

Aloe is also easy to grow and cultivate, subject to a few of the usual pests including aphids, but this can be handled by avoiding monoculture and choosing companion plants to divert the pests.  A good plan would be ti-tree, blue agave and aloe I think planted in strips rather than full fields.  Hand harvesting is good, and why not keep a few people employed?  Hand picking is arduous, but there’s something very satisfying about it.  I have harvested peas, strawberries, citrus and potatoes over the years especially in my poverty-stricken student years, and quite enjoyed it (yes, even the potatoes, the challenge being to fork them up without stabbing any). Large scale farming of Aloe vera happens in Australia, Cuba,  the Dominican Republic, China, Mexico  India  Jamaica  Kenya and South Africa and the USA and all supply the inner leaf gel to the cosmetics industry.  The fibrous leaves do not appear to be used by anyone at the moment. A waste!

In Australia, the main area of growth is around the Bundaberg region where they are exporting to China now. (Aloe Wellness Australia) .  On their 300 acre farm, they grow enough to yield around a million dollars annually.  Processing is done in the local township.  Check it out at here

They market their products world wide.

If you want to grow one at home, use a sandy soil, a well drained pot standing on stones in the saucer to avoid over watering and put it in maximum sun.  Greenhouse it if you live in a place with a genuine winter.

As with all herbal cures, the jury is not only still out on efficacy, but they seem to have gone to sleep.  While I don’t believe that ANY product can simultaneously cure baldness and remove facial hair, cancer and the common cold, there is certainly something in having a well-balanced digestive system and aloe vera juice can do that.

Do your own careful label reading and don’t feel you need to spend a squillion on the product.  It is cheap to grow and produce and should be a lot less expensive than it is in shops or party plans.  Aloe vera is a beautiful plant and aspects of it are amazing.

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Comments

  1. nice post. thanks.