With more than three hundred known species of the aloe plant, the aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) is the most common as it is widely used in the beauty and health industry due to its many useful properties.
The succulent aloe vera plant can be found in dry, tropical climates in Asia, Europe, and Africa. It also grows in the western and southern parts of the United States. Apart from been nice to look at, aloe vera benefits are present in the gel and juice which are useful in the treatment of numerous conditions from skin infections to digestive related disorders.
What is Aloe Vera Plant?
The aloe vera plant has been around for thousands of years as far back as the time of the Egyptian pharaohs as it was presented to them as a funeral gift. This is due to the belief that it had the key to immortality. With time, the plant spread to other regions around the world including India, China, Mexico, and other parts of North America.
As it got to various parts of the world, the plant took several names such as “lily of the desert,” “elephants gall,” and “burn plant.” And it was used for healing purposes such as treatment of hair loss, wounds, and hemorrhoids.
The aloe vera plant has an industry of its own where it is used in the manufacture of skin and beauty products and also in the making of potent drugs to combat certain ailments and conditions.
The plant can be grown indoors in a container as a house plant where you can get easy access to it for the treatment of everyday conditions such as minor sunburn.
Parts of Aloe Vera Plant
The popular parts of the aloe vera plant that are useful in cosmetic and medicine include:
The leaves appear green in color and sometimes are dotted white depending on the variant. The leaves are thick, fleshy, and succulent growing to a length of up to 36inches and a width of 3 inches. At maturity, the plant can produce between 16 and 20 leaves.
The upper part of the leaf surface could appear to be flat shaped and light green in color while the lower surface of the leaf is convex shaped and appears darker than the top.
The flowers on the aloe vera plant are noticeable from afar as they appear on spikes with a length of up to 3 feet. The flowers are tubular and yellowish-orange in color. They take a fine arrow-shaped arrangement on top of the stalk. Their flowers are more noticeable in springtime and have the tendency to bloom all year round.
Stems and Roots
The stems of the plant are short or most time absent. However, it makes up for this with the presence of superficial stolons and rhizomes that enables the plant to spread and form dense colonies. The roots are shallow making them absorb water and survive even without frequent watering or rainfall.
Fruits and Seed
A mature plant produces fruits and seeds. The fruits appear as a capsule while the seed is mostly not workable which is why the plant is usually propagated by means of offsets or cuttings.
Useful Parts of the Plant
The two most useful parts of the plant are the gel and latex (juices). You could easily find the gel on the shelf of many drug stores where it is commonly purchased for use in the treatment of sunburn and stomach upset.
Differences between Aloe Vera Gel and Latex
If you’ve ever thought that the aloe vera gel and latex means two different things, then you are right. The gel is found in the leaves and appears as a clear jelly-like substance while the latex can be found just underneath the skin of the leaves and appears yellowish in color.
Most times, the leaves are mashed completely when used in pharmaceutics and thus contains both the gel and latex.
The gel can be used in the treatment of sunburns and other skin irritations, healing of wounds, dental plaque, gum disease, dandruff among others. The latex is taken orally for the treatment of constipation (laxative) and hemorrhoids. It can also be used in the treatment of diabetes, depression, glaucoma, joint pain, asthma, seizures, and vision problems.
Uses of Aloe Vera in the Industry (Food, Cosmetic and Pharmaceuticals)
The Aloe Vera plant has numerous industrial applications. Both the gel and latex are used in making food, cosmetics, and drugs for use in the treatment of various ailments and conditions.
Aloe vera plants contain more than 75 active components that are rich in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals which make it an important ingredient in food production. It is used in replacing fat in bakery and also for providing stability in juice production.
It can be added in the form of powder, concentrate or juice to food products to improve their functional properties. The juice is used in the production of ready to consume drinks like laxative drinks, soft drinks, aloe sports drinks, drinks with vitamin B for relief from a hangover, yogurts, whiskey mix, fruit and vegetable drinks.
Aloe vera concentrate can also be added to water or tea for a rejuvenating mixture with antioxidant properties.
Aloe vera is also used in the manufacture of skincare products due to its benefits in repairing damaged, dry, sensitive, broken, and irritated skin. It also provides the skin with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and also soothing relief from itching skin.
Aloe is used in the treatment of wounds, burns, frostbite, cold sores, psoriases, osteoarthritis, and sunburns. It is also used as a moisturizer and antiseptic. The leaf contains mainly water and trace amounts of carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins which act together to provide numerous benefits to the skin.
Aloe vera has a lot of health benefits and hence its usefulness in many medical applications. The gel from the aloe plant is used in making skincare creams for the treatment of wounds and skin problems such as skin burn and dandruff. It can also be made into a capsule and taken orally as a painkiller, for the relief of heartburn and to lower blood sugar levels.
It is added in mouthwash where it helps to reduce plaque inside of the mouth. The latex from the aloe plant contains aloin an anthraquinone useful in the treatment of constipation.
Aloe Vera Active Components
Aloe vera is by far the oldest plant with a lot of medical properties. There are more than 75 active components in the aloe plant including sugars, minerals, salicylic acids, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. The leaf contains 98 percent water with a solids content of 0.66 percent.
Some of the active vitamins include vitamins A, B12, C, and E. It also contains choline and folic acid. Among the active enzymes are amylase, peptidase, peroxidase, phosphatase, cellulase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, lipase, and bradykinesia. The minerals include chromium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, selenium, and copper. The common sugars are monosaccharides and polysaccharides while it also contains anthraquinones and fatty acids.
Potential Benefit of Drinking Aloe Vera
1. The anthraquinones found in the latex acts as a laxative for immediate relief of constipation.
2. The plant contains anti-inflammatory compounds that help to reduce inflammation acting as a natural pain killer.
3. The presence of antiseptic agents such as sulfur, phenols, cinnamon, and salicylic acid helps in the inhibition of bacterial, fungal, and viral actions.
4. It helps to reduce stress by limiting cell-damage and how the body reacts to psychological changes.
5. It helps to reduce blood sugar level, free fatty acid, and cholesterol; making it a good remedy for coronary heart disease.
6. Improves the immune system by enhancing the activity of T-lymphocytes to help fight against unwanted bacteria, pathogens, viruses, and tumor cells.
7. Studies show that there is an aloe product that when consumed for a period of 2 weeks can help to reduce fat in overweight or obese persons.
Potential Benefit for Skin and Hair
1. Applying aloe vera gel to the inside of the mouth helps in the relief of oral submucous fibrosis; a condition that causes a burning sensation and difficulty in opening the mouth.
2. Used in the treatment of skin-related conditions such as sunburn, rashes, acne, dandruff, cold sores, and a host of others.
3. It helps to promote hair growth and a great conditioner.
4. Moisturizing and anti-aging effect.
5. It provides support in the treatment of Alopecia.
Possible Side Effects, Dosage, and Safety
The aloe vera plant is safe when consumed orally and for a short period of time and in moderation. The recommended daily dosage is 15mL for a period of not more than 50 days but always prescribed by a medical practitioner.
Some side effects of over-consumption of the gel and latex include cramps and stomach pain. When taken for a long period of time, it can lead to a kidney-related problem, low potassium, diarrhea, muscle weakness, bloody urine, and heart-related problems.
It is also unsafe to take the gel or latex during pregnancy or after surgery. If you suffer from kidney problems and hemorrhoids, you also want to avoid taking the drug orally as it could have health consequences.
The aloe vera plant aside from being a green plant that you could add a natural feel to any part of the house; it is also great in the relief and treatment of a number of conditions including skin and hair care. Before consuming any drug orally, you want to ensure that it is prescribed by a doctor.