January 2007
The Herb Lady

Aloe


My dictionary defines aloe this way: "Any of a large genus of plants of the lily family, native to South Africa, with fleshy leaves that are spiny along the edge and with drooping clusters of tubular red or yellow flowers."

"Hortus Third" states that there are 200 to 250 species of this succulent herb. One of these, Aloe barbadenis (once called Aloe vera), is considered "the medicine plant" and is usually found growing in kitchen windows.

This is one of the herbs listed in The Song of Solomon in the Bible. The famous Cleopatra of Egypt is reported to have used aloe gel on her skin to keep it soft and shining.

Earlier in history, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and, as the story goes, he learned of an amazing plant with wound-healing powers that grew extensively on an island off Somalia. This notable warrior went on to seize the island and its wonderful plants, which were used in the healing of his soldiers’ wounds.

The plants, of course, were aloe. Common sense naturally tells us that aloe grew in the Garden of Eden and probably has been used since the beginning of time.

As time went by, someone discovered that aloe produces a yellow dye which makes it a crafts herb as well as a medicinal, cosmetic and ornamental plant. From its native land of arid Africa, the culture of aloe has spread around the world.

Any plant nursery can provide you with a pot of at least one variety of aloe – Aloe barbadenis being No.1. Throughout the tropical world you’ll find areas where it is field grown as a commercial crop. Of course, it must be considered a pot plant in temperate or colder climates since it is not cold hardy.

Like other succulents, aloe grows best in well drained, slightly sandy, moderately rich soil. It prefers partial shade. Propagation can be from seed, but this is very tedious procedure.

A much easier means of propagation is by plant division. A healthy plant will soon begin to show young shoots that spring up from the leaf base. If not divided periodically, these younger shoots will push the origina1 plant completely out of the soil.

Before repotting an aloe plant, it should be allowed to root cure free of soil or water for a few days or weeks. I have allowed them to remain in this condition for over three months before removing the lower leaves and depositing the root system deep into a pot filled with a good potting medium and sand. At this point, I watered well and began routine care, allowing the soil to become almost dry before adding more water. My aloes grew beautifully.

I do not have room here for all my collected stories regarding the beneficial use of aloe, so I will limit it to two in this article. Of course, you know that aloe is commonly called "the burn plant."

Once a young mother, whose husband was at work, had a kitchen grease fire. Her scream brought neighbors to her aid while she herded her children to safety and called 911. By the time emergency crews arrived, her fire was extinguished with very little damage. One member of this well-trained emergency unit reached into the kitchen window for aloe and treated arm burns which the young mother had been totally unaware of receiving.

Recently, I had a call from a lady in Selma. She gave me her recipe for aloe tea, which she calls her "kidney stone medicine." She said her son was in severe pain due to kidney stones. She gave him this tea. He was relieved and evidently passed the stone. I wonder if the gel encapsulated the stone and eased its passage.

Here is her recipe: "Boil aloe leaves well. Strain and drink for pain. This is a bland tea which is good for pain and infection."

I know a young nurse who uses fresh aloe gel as hand lotion instead of the commercial blends. Of course, commercial products are un1imited — lip balms, creams, lotions, shampoos, you name it.

Scientific studies have proven the medicinal worth of aloe. This is one herb on which folklore and scientific medicine generally agree. You’ll find it listed among the ingredients of many over-the-counter and physician-prescribed medicines.

As always, I must suggest that you consult with your doctor before taking aloe or any other herbal remedy internally.

Nadine Johnson is a resident of Goshen, a member of the Goshen Farmers Co-op, and a long time user and promoter of wise herb use. Her telephone number is 334-484-3580. Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.