Called the “plant of immortality” by the Ancient Egyptians, aloe vera has been used medicinally for centuries to heal the body, rejuvenate the spirit, and—according to the Egyptians, at least—add years to one’s life. Now, science is beginning to prove what ancient cultures have known all along—that aloe vera promotes health and beauty!
The Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that grows in hot, dry climates. Its thick, fleshy leaves are made of a clear, odorless tissue with over 75 nutrients (including 20 minerals, 12 vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants). The gel from the leaves is what we usually associate with aloe vera products. Because of all the useful ways this plant can come to the rescue, many people enjoy growing aloe in their homes—it’s one of the easiest plants to maintain.
The Many Uses of Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel can be used externally and internally to treat a number of health and cosmetic issues. One of its most popular uses over time has been its powerful effect on healing burns; one study showed that applying the gel to burns could reduce healing time by about nine days compared to conventional treatments. Using aloe on sunburns in particular is quite popular.
However, did you know that aloe can be used for other skin issues, not just burns? Topical use of the gel may help with conditions like acne and psoriasis by soothing, moisturizing, and improving the appearance of dry, irritated skin.
Aloe vera is also completely safe for dental health, odd as it may seem. The gel fights the bacteria that cause cavities just as effectively as commercial toothpaste, and in fact, it may be a more tooth-friendly option for those with sensitive teeth.
Aloe vera is also available as a juice (though a variety of juices that are just full of sugar masquerade as “aloe juice”) and also as a supplement. Studies show that both uses of the plant relieve constipation, improve blood sugar levels in diabetics, and lower cholesterol levels. However, consuming aloe vera can cause severe cramping and diarrhea in some people, so it’s probably best not to use the gel this way unless you are being guided by a health practitioner.
Harvesting and Using the Gel
To harvest aloe vera gel directly from the plant:
- Choose a thick, unblemished leaf and use a sharp, clean knife or scissors to cut the leaf as close to its base as possible.
- Wash off the leaf, lay it flat, and then cut off its serrated edges.
- “Filet” the leaf down the middle into two equally thick halves.
- Use a butter knife to collect the clear gel from the leaf. Try to avoid collecting the lower layers of white gel and yellow liquid closest to the skin.
The gel can be used immediately, or you can store it in the refrigerator for later use. If you are looking to purchase aloe vera gel, check the packaging to make sure that the contents were prepared with very low heat. Cold pressing is another method that ensures that the gel remains packed with its nutrients and does not deteriorate over time.
Have fun and experiment with this versatile gel. Consider combining it with other healing and anti-inflammatory ingredients like honey, oats, tea tree oil, and coconut oil to make masks, serums, and scrubs. Your skin will thank you!