July 2011
The Herb Lady

Aloe: Queen of the Herbs

My dictionary defines aloe this way, "Any of a large genus (aloe) 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."

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 growing extensively on the island of Somalia. This noted warrior went on to seize the island and its wonderful plants which were used to treat his soldiers wounds.

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

As time went by, someone discovered aloe also produces a yellow dye. That 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 number one. Throughout the tropical world, you’ll find areas where it is 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 a very tedious procedure. A much easier means is by plant division. A healthy plant will soon begin to show young shoots which spring up from the leaf base. If not divided periodically, these younger shoots will push the original 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 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 have found aloes are relatively free of pest problems. If problems like fungus or insects should develop with your plants, your nursery or county Extension agent will be glad to assist you in regard to control.

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

While our commercially-prepared products are beneficial, there is strong indication that we might gain more benefit from the fresh gel. To use the fresh gel, simply cut or break a leaf from your plant, slit it down the middle and scoop out the gel. Any unused portion of this leaf can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for later use. The cut area of the plant will heal itself.

The list of medical uses for aloe goes on and on. It is especially useful in the treatment of acne, poison ivy, insect bites, sunburn, kitchen burns and other minor injuries. Always consult your doctor for any condition which cannot be considered minor. Pregnant or nursing mothers should not take aloe internally unless prescribed by a doctor.

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 call 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 the aloe, with which he treated arm burns the young mother had been unaware of receiving.

I know a young nurse who prefers fresh aloe gel as a hand cream instead of the commercial blends. Commercial products are unlimited—lip balms, creams, lotions, shampoos, you name it.

I consider aloe to be the queen of herbs. I say queen instead of king because its dainty appearance is definitely feminine. Its reign among herbs can be easily compared to the sovereign rule of the queen bee.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at (866) 570-7302, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or P.O. Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577. She has a long history of involvement with herbs. She is also an independent distributor of Nature’s Sunshine Products.