Looking for all the world like a spiny cactus plant, Aloe vera barbadensis Miller (Aloe Vera means the 'true Aloe') is a spiny, green, sub-tropical plant of the Lily family—closely related to onions, leeks, garlic, tulips and asparagus.
Aloe has been used for well over 4,000 years in folk medicine, and was highly recommended by early physicians—ranging from Pliny the Elder to Chinese and Egyptian practitioners. They, and millions of others since then, have relied on Aloe for its ability to help heal a wide range of human ailments, particularly skin problems such as drying, flaking, itching, and cracking, and fungal conditions like Athletes' Foot. Is it any wonder that this marvelous little plant is called "Nature's Pharmacy"?
Many Varieties—But Which One Is the Most Helpful?
There are more than 200 kinds of Aloe, ranging from tiny little one-inch plants to others as tall as a tree. While many varieties of Aloe have been used with some success in folk medicine remedies, only Aloe Vera barbadensis Miller has been scientifically proven to possess the remarkable healing and curative powers that have become so widely known throughout the world.
Aloe Vera in Ancient Times
The Bible speaks of Aloe in over a dozen passages, referring to it as the "bitter herb". The story of Christ's burial tells us that his body was anointed with bitter Aloes, before being placed in the tomb. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians used Aloe to treat burns, wounds and to reduce fevers. American Indians, who called Aloe "The Wand of Heaven", believed than anyone touched by the inner sap (what we call the gel) would be cured of their skin disorders.
There are many legends about Aloe. It is said that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great to conquer the Island of Socotra to secure its Aloe harvest for his troops medical needs. Another legend tells us Queen Cleopatra used Aloe to keep her skin soft and beautiful. We don't know if the story is true, of course, but recent scientific findings do show that—if she did—it undoubtedly worked for her!
Although many still consider Aloe Vera to be a folk remedy, it is important to remember that two-thirds of the world's population is treated with herbs and plant products that are not only effective, but offer benefits that are equal or superior to the synthesized, chemically-derived remedies of the western world!
In Africa today, people still pack whole Aloe leaves around their wounds, and in South America, mothers coat the arms and legs of children to keep biting insects away.
Modern Drugs from Natural Sources
Where would modern medicine be today, if it were not for the large number of dependable drugs all obtained from plant and other natural sources? The list includes penicillin (probably the most widely-used infection fighter), quinine (used in the treatment of malaria), ephedrine (for asthma and bronchial problems), and diazepam (perhaps the most widely-prescribed tranquilizer). Today, Aloe Vera is taking its rightful place among these natural remedies, as many in the medical profession have come to understand and appreciate the curative powers of this remarkable plant
In recent times, Aloe Vera has been called a "miracle plant", "the silent healer", and the "first-aid" plant. In the United States, it has become common to see Aloe Vera plants in homes—where it may be used, by cutting off a part of a leaf, to spread its cooling, soothing, healing gel on burns, scrapes and bruises. And the wonderful thing is…it works!
How Can Aloe Vera Help You?
Until 1943, most of the "proof" used to substantiate the claims made for the healing power of Aloe Vera was anecdotal—that is, by means of stories handed down from one generation to the next, or on recommendation by a friend or family member—not on scientific evidence. Then, a doctor working with burn victims "discovered" that Aloe Vera gel was an astonishingly effective treatment for his burn patients…a fact many had known for centuries! He found that applications of Aloe Vera substantially reduced healing time, helped relieve the agonizing pain of burns and even seemed to lessen scarring.
When his findings were published in medical journals, other researchers began investigating the possibility that some of those "old wives' tales" about Aloe Vera might have some basis in fact. The rest, as they say, is history!
Current Research about Aloe Vera
Today, thanks to the dedication and work of hundreds of scientific researchers throughout the world, and in particular, the studies by Robert T. Davis, Ph.D., of the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine, and Ivan E. Danhof, Ph.D., M.D., Director of North Texas Medical Associates, we now know a great deal more about the chemical make-up of Aloe Vera and its potential to relieve human suffering. Studies have shown that Aloe Vera is a heterogeneous mixture of more than 200 individual constituents, including polysaccharides, glycoproteins, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
Because of the determined efforts of these scientists, Aloe Vera is taking its rightful place among the effective homeopathic remedies of the medical world.
What Aloe Vera Does
We now know that Aloe Vera gel, sometimes in combination with other ingredients, can help reduce inflammation at wound sites, relieve pain, speed wound healing by accelerating cell replication, improve vascular (blood) flow, inhibit the production of thromboxanes that interfere with healing, reduce scarring and, when properly applied over time, can lessen the unsightly "age spots" that appear on skin that has been over-exposed to sunlight. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that many in the medical community have suggested the possibility that Aloe Vera gel may well turn out to be the next "wonder drug" of our age!
Adding to all the above, Aloe Vera gel has the same pH reaction as human skin, it is hypoallergenic, has anti-itching properties, is a superior skin penetrant and an effective skin moisturizer.
Is There A Difference In Aloe Vera Products?
Yes. While a product may be advertised as "containing Aloe Vera", it does not always follow that the product contains the right kind, or the right amount of Aloe Vera gel in its formula. In recent years as the awareness of Aloe has increased in consumer's minds, many manufacturers have added Aloe to products to increase their "sales appeal" - sometimes only enough to be able to legally list it on the label! Read the ingredients listing on the products you buy: if Aloe Vera is listed at or near the bottom of the list, it probably contains only a small, ineffective, amount of Aloe Vera.
Research has shown that, in order to be effective, most therapeutic products must contain at least 10% Aloe Vera gel—the more the better. If the Aloe-containing products you buy don't have this high concentration of Aloe Vera gel, you're simply not getting the full performance possible from this wonderful natural healer.