Aloe vera is a plant with immense potential, and it is considered nothing short of a magic potion due to its multifarious applications in medicine and cosmetic world. The Egyptians call it the “plant of immortality”. It is also called as “wand of heaven” by Native Americans and as “Lily of the desert” by native Africans. It is supposed to be the secret behind the beauty and youthfulness of the famed Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
According to legend, famous Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle suggested his protégé Alexander (333 B.C.) to attack and capture the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, for its vast supplies of aloe vera which would be helpful in healing wounded soldiers. It was kept in the tombs of Pharaohs as well as used in the embalming process. The Pharaohs called it the palace plant.
The Egyptians believed in life after death, and hence kept everything essential for transition and the afterlife along with their loved ones in their tombs. Aloe’s importance has been known since time immemorial. Aloe is supposed to have originated from Africa. It grows well in tropical climate and requires well drained sandy potting soil and bright sunny conditions.
It doesn’t tolerate snow or frost much and has thick, fleshy succulent leaves with serrated margins which though giving an appearance of belonging to the Cacti family actually belong to the Lily family. Large scale agricultural production of aloe is being done in many countries such as Australia, Cuba, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, USA, Bangladesh, Jamaica etc.
The names (plant of immortality or wand of heaven) given to the plant should not be taken lightly. Leaves of aloe vera are supposed to have approximately 95% water. The rest is composed of chemicals which include many enzymes, vitamins, minerals and other phytochemical of immense medicinal value. The plant has tremendous application in both the cosmetic and medicinal industry. It has been utilized for its various properties over many centuries.
Few of the many applications of this wonder plant are mentioned below.
Aloe vera gel obtained from the fleshy leaves has been used for treatment of burns, cuts and other skin related ailments. It has been observed that the gel heals small burns such as those from grease splatter or hot vessels, better than other moisturizer or creams.
Alternatively, you can also use it for the treatment of higher degree of burns (scald); bruises, rashes. The gel has soothing properties and it also acts as an antiseptic and anti-irritant and can also be used to treat sunburns, nose chafing, sting or insect bites and tissue damage caused by frost bite and bed sores in patients.
Aloe gel can be used for mouth ulcers (canker sores), pimples, acne, blisters, scars, stretch marks, decrease pigmentation, dark spots, etc. It also causes reduction in wrinkles as it has the ability to penetrate the water retaining layer of skin. This allows the enzyme within gel to remove dead cells, assisting in the formation of collagen and elastin, thereby restoring complexion.
The plant is known to produce six natural antiseptic chemicals against mold, bacteria, fungus and virus and is generally used for treatment of skin diseases such as those caused by fungus (athlete’s foot) or allergic ones like rashes, eczema or psoriasis. It is also helpful in case of genital herpes. Topical application of the gel reduces the infection as well as soothing the affected area.
The amount of moisture present in the gel has led to its extensive usage in the cosmetic industry. Aloe gel and its other derivatives finds themselves as a component of various cosmetic products such as soaps, shampoos, moisturizers, lotions, tissue, sunscreen, shaving cream etc. It is also used as an exfoliating foot mask, for dandruff treatment, to promote hair growth, remove eye makeup, body scrub
2. MEDICINAL APPLICATIONS
AS MENTIONED EARLIER, ALOE VERA PLANT IS KNOWN TO POSSESS NUMEROUS PHYTOCHEMICALS WHICH HAVE MULTIFARIOUS APPLICATIONS IN MEDICINE INDUSTRY. THE PLANT IS KNOWN FOR ITS ANTIBACTERIAL, ANTIFUNGAL, ANTIVIRAL AND ANALGESIC PROPERTIES.
This is so because it has many vitamins, minerals, enzymes, anthones, etc which aid in controlling many diseases and disorders. Aloe is readily available in the market and can be consumed as gel or as juice (mixed with other juices or as an ingredient of a smoothie).
4. OTHER MEDICINAL USES
When consumed orally as juice or in toothpaste, it is observed to strengthen gums, promotes strong healthy teeth. As juice, it can be used as an alternative to chemical mouthwash in removing plaques. It alleviates joint inflammation and is therefore helpful for rheumatic and arthritis patients. It causes a reduction in blood sugar levels (helpful for diabetes patients); and decreases cholesterol and triglycerides (for heart patients).
It also helps in the treatment of Asthma. Boiling aloe leaves and inhaling its vapor helps alleviate breathing problems. There are reports of its ability to heal internal tissue damage caused by radiations. Aloe latex is used orally for glaucoma. It is also under trial for its application in the progressively degenerating disease, multiple sclerosis (MS). However, there is a risk of potential toxicity with side effects at some dose levels of ingestion/application.
It is also used for dilution of semen for artificial fertilization of sheep, as fresh food preservative, for water conservation in small farms. Its gel is used as an ingredient in yogurts, beverages, desserts, however it can be toxic at certain doses. Research is underway to produce biofuel from its seeds.
Aloe leaf extracts have chemicals which may cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Topical application has shown no side effects. However oral ingestion has been observed to cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and decreased absorption of drugs.
Aloe has more than 200 biologically active ingredients which include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, polysaccharides which aid in nutrient absorption; assist immune system by removing toxins and pathogens (bacteria, virus, and fungi).
ENZYMES SUCH AS AMYLASES, LIPASES WHICH HELP IN BREAKDOWN OF SUGARS AND FATS ARE PRESENT IN ALOE VERA. APART FROM THESE, IT IS ALSO KNOWN TO ENCOURAGE THE RELEASE OF PEPSIN, WHICH IS A DIGESTIVE ENZYME AND HELPS IN HEALING ULCERS. BRADYKINASE HELPS IN REDUCING INFLAMMATION THEREBY HELPING ARTHRITIS PATIENTS. THESE ENZYMES HELP REJUVENATE AGED TISSUE AND PROMOTE HEALTHY SKIN.
There are 2 types of vitamins – water soluble and fat soluble. Aloe contains both fat soluble (Vitamin E) and water soluble (Vitamins A, C, Folic acid, choline, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and cobalamine). Vitamin B12 or cobalamine is required for RBC production and its deficiency causes anemia.
It is generally deficient in vegetarians as it is mostly found in meats & meat products. Aloe helps in bioavailability and absorption of vitamin B12 which can supplement the diet.
ALOE IS RICH IN MANY MINERALS SUCH AS CALCIUM, MAGNESIUM, ZINC, CHROMIUM, SELENIUM, SODIUM, IRON, POTASSIUM, COPPER AND MANGANESE. THESE MACRO AND MICRO NUTRIENTS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR MANY BIOLOGICAL PROCESSES AND BOOST MANY METABOLIC PATHWAYS.
Sodium and potassium are important for nerve conduction and muscle contraction; zinc, copper and manganese are important components of enzymes; calcium is important for blood clotting as well as forms part of bones and teeth; magnesium also helps in bone formation as well as forms part of immune system.
Iron is an integral part of the heme component of blood; chromium helps the insulin enzyme which breakdowns sugar; selenium is an antioxidant which helps in removing free radicals causing the ageing process.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins which make up most of our body- inside and outside. Our body is able to synthesize most amino acids required by it. However some which the body is unable to make, known as essential amino acids are taken through dietary supplements. 20 of the 22 essential amino acids are found in Aloe vera. Apart from these amino acids, salicylic acid is also present in it which helps in fighting bacteria and inflammation.
Reading about the wonderful properties that a seemingly innocuous plant has, makes us wonder if what the ancient Egyptians, native Africans and Native Americans called it was not exaggerating the facts. Aloe vera has been cultivated in many tropical countries for agricultural and medicinal purposes. It is a commonly used decorative potted plant kept indoors.
In India, it is known by the name ghritkumari, and finds mention in many home remedies. It has been used for long for burns as well as skin softener. It is said to improve skin texture, reduce fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration aiding in a more beautiful, youthful appearance. Its juice is being consumed with gusto by people suffering from diabetes and heart disorders, as it is supposed to bring glucose and cholesterol levels down. However, its full potential is yet to be exploited.