The fact that aloe vera is to be found amongst the ingredients of so many products means that you may not give this amazing plant a second thought.
You might know that it’s in many skin care products and that it is good for burns, but that could be about it. If you are fortunate in having it growing in your yard, then you will know more about its properties than those of us in the chilly north.
Although the leaf is made up of mostly water, the other ingredients are numerous; they include vitamins A, C, B12 and E, minerals, mannans, anthroquinones, lignins – in other words some very complex molecules. Many of the beneficial ingredients are contained in the inner leaf gel. One method of obtaining the inner gel is a hand-filleting process which reduces contamination from the plant sap, containing anthraquinones which are powerful laxatives.
The plant has been known for its healing properties for more than three thousand years. It comes from northern Africa but nowadays it is grown commercially in the USA, Mexico, China, Australia and Japan.
What is aloe vera good for?
Well I don’t think anyone would argue that it is a great moisturiser, so it’s good for dry and flaking skin. It also stimulates collagen and elastin production, making the skin more elastic and so less wrinkled. It soothes itching skin.
It is used for treating skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and wounds. More dramatically, it is an excellent treatment for burns. And not just minor burns. It has been used in the treatment of major radiation burns, for example.
As well as applying lotions to the skin, extracts of aloe vera can be drunk or taken as a dried extract in a capsule.
Why do people drink aloe vera gel?
Here we enter the realms of anecdotal evidence rather than hard science. There are many medics who are convinced that aloe vera gel can play a major role in treating irritable bowel syndrome and illnesses such as Crohns disease. This seems logical in view of its anti inflammatory properties. Thousands of people around the world drink aloe vera juice to aid their digestive and immune systems and get an energy boost. It is a very big business indeed. The world’s largest producer boasts annual sales of over $2 billion.
How do I find the best aloe vera products?
This is not an easy one to answer. Laws about labelling of products vary greatly around the world. There is a huge temptation for producers to sell highly diluted aloe vera which will not be clear from the label. Extreme processing will destroy the active ingredients. A sub contractor may provide the leaves and then it is harder to monitor the use of pesticides.
One answer to this jungle of problems is to look for the International Aloe Science Council Seal of Approval (be aware it is used illegally by some.) The Council’s website lists the producers it approves.
If you are interested in digging deeper into this fascinating topic, a good place to start is to look up the work of two medics, Dr Lawrance G Plaskett in the UK and Dr Ivan E Danhoff in the USA, often referred to as the “Father of Aloe”.
The story of aloe vera is a fascinating one. It is a pity that in the past questionable business practises, poor quality products and even conspiracy theories have muddied the real facts about this amazing plant.