scientific name: Aloe barbadensis common names: Aloe Vera, Barbados Aloe, Zanzibar Aloe
growing areas: This perennial is widely available as a houseplant in the United States and grows in the tropics, including Central and South America, Mexico, India, and the Middle East.
physical description: Its leaves are green and grow in a triangular shape and taper to a point, growing to a length of 16 inches or more. The skin is tough and covered at the edges with short spines that give the leaves the appearance of serrated knife blades. Flowers produced by the plant are yellow. traditional uses: Among all of the botanicals used as medicine among Hispanics, the aloe vera is probably one of the best known, having found its way as a component in many health and beauty products, such as shampoo, available in the United States. But its use as a medicinal plant goes far back in history, dating to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian cultures. It has become part of the Indian traditional medicine system of Ayurvedic healing. By the nineteenth century, it had also become a part of American pharmacopoeia, and by the twentieth century was being planted commercially for medicinal use.
A major use of aloe vera is as a remedy for minor burns and skin irritations because of its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing ability. It has become a staple of many kitchens, where a small piece of leaf cut from a plant and rubbed on a burn or cut can provide soothing relief. Aloe gel is obtained from the center of the blades of the plant.
In addition to its external uses, the juice of aloe vera, derived from the gel, is used as a home remedy for the treatment of asthma. Aloe vera is also used in Hispanic and other folk medicinal practices as a powerful laxative. A latex found in the plant's inner leaf skin has been used for that purpose. A substance known as aloin contained in the plant will act as a stimulant of peristaltic action in the digestive tract, causing the contractions that move food and solid waste through the alimentary tract. But in high doses, aloin will act as a powerful purgative, the effects of which can last up to twelve hours.
availability and dosage: Aloe is widely available as a household plant. Capsules of dried aloe vera extract or powder are also available commercially, as are aloe vera juice and gel. It is also a constituent of shampoos, skin cream, and soaps, as well as some tissues.
For topical application it can be applied liberally to wounds and burns. Though aloe vera is available in capsule form for internal use as a laxative for up to ten days, many medical experts recommend against such practice without the active involvement of a physician.
contraindications: It should not be used internally by pregnant or nursing women, or by persons with heart or kidney problems. It is also contraindicated for persons suffering from intestinal obstructions, colitis, and inflammations of the intestines.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
There is the risk of allergic reaction to aloe vera in some persons. Researchers also report that its use can delay the healing of deep wounds, including those after surgery. The powerful purgative effect -of aloe vera if taken internally has prompted many doctors to warn people about never using it as a laxative or taking it internally for any purpose.
medical research: A review of research done with laboratory animals into the antifertility aspects of certain medicinal plants showed that aloe vera was noteworthy. In one test, aloe vera leaf extract was found to inhibit the ability of rabbits to ovulate. Another test found that in laboratory rats aloe vera extract acted as an abortifacient by interfering with the ability of eggs to successfully implant within the uterus.
Numerous tests have shown the ability of aloe vera to help wounds heal, to decrease inflammation, and to relieve pain. In one study in Mexico, laboratory rats were injected in one of their feet with carrageenan, a substance that causes swelling of the paw, a condition known as "paw edema." The researchers also injected water and chloroform extracts of aloe vera gel into the paws to test for an anti-inflammatory effect. The study showed that the extracts decreased the paw edema, almost as much as commercially available antiinflammatory substances. As a result, the researchers concluded that aloe vera gel had a potential for antiinflammatory activity and a scientific basis for use of the plant for that purpose