Aloe vera is one of approximately 420 species of the genus Aloe; the botanical name of aloe vera is Aloe barbadensis miller, and it belongs to the Liliaceae family. It’s a perennial, xerophytic, succulent plant that’s green and has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges.
The geographic origin of aloe vera is believed to be in Sudan, and it was later introduced in the Mediterranean region and most other warm areas of the world, including Africa, Asia, India, Europe and America.
It grows wild in tropical climates around the world and is cultivated for agricultural and medicinal uses. Aloe is also used for decorative purposes and grows successfully indoors as a potted plant.
In fact, the manufacturing of aloe vera extracts is one of the largest botanical industries in the world.
Grow & care
Planting & Repotting
Repotting an Aloe Vera plant is not necessary until the upper plant gets too top-heavy. The plant can stand to be root-bound, which means the roots become tangled and grow in circles. When it does become root-bound it will send up more shoots, or pups. More Aloe for you! If these little Aloes are not removed and replanted, they will suck the life out of the mother plant- parenting is tough. Some signs that this is happening include a bright green colour in the parent horizontally growing leaves.
When repotting Aloe pups, give them a good watering in their new pot, and then don’t water them again for 3 weeks. This will force the new roots to seek water. It is normal for the transplanted plant to turn grey or brown for a while. They are in shock. Keeping them in a shady spot during this period will help them to bounce back faster.
If the plant is growing very slowly, the soil or water might be too alkaline. It could also mean that the plant was too damp for too long, needs more light, or has too much fertilizer. It might also like a bigger pot.
An Aloe Vera plant is in greater danger of being overwatered than underwatered. Water your Aloe sparingly in the winter since it won’t be drying up very fast. It won’t need to be watered very often, maybe once every week or two. In the summertime, you can really soak the soil, but let the soil dry out between waterings. Make sure there is a drainage hole in the pot since the roots are prone to rot when exposed to long periods of wet soil.
Water aloe vera plants deeply, but in order to discourage rot, allow the soil to dry at least 1 to 2 inches deep between waterings. Water about every 3 weeks and even more sparingly during the winter. Use your finger to test dryness before watering, the soil close to the base of the plant should not be moist [stick to your finger]. Let the soil get to the point where it is crumbly and lighter in colour.
Reading Aloe leaves
Poor Aloe Vera plant care shows in the leaves. Here’s how you can tell what is happening with your plant:
Aloe leaves should grow upward, away from the base of the plant. If the leaves are lying flat, your Aloe probably has insufficient light. Although it will turn brown with too much light, it still needs a good amount of sunshine.
If the leaves are thin and curled, you probably are not watering your Aloe enough. The plant is using up its own liquid to keep itself nourished. Give it some water!
Dry brown leaf spots: A possible cause can be too much sunlight and maybe under-watering during summer. If the plant sits in direct sunlight then find an area that is shaded, but bright enough.
Leaves wilting: The most common cause here is over-watering, possibly in colder conditions. It may also be worth checking the container/pot is draining well enough.
Leaves very soft: If the leaves are turning very soft and kind of mushy you could be overwatering the plant and if its winter it could be too cold. Check the pot is draining well and you may need to take the plant out of the pot to check if the root system has any type of rot (mush). After you have given the A.vera enough time without water and the leaves have not toughened, do check the roots for any signs of rot.
Drooping Leaves: Drooping or sagging leaves are signs that you are exposing it to intense heat especially mid-afternoon sun. In addition, sagging/drooping could also be attributed to excessive watering, which can further result in stunted growth.
Yellowish Leaves: If you find its leaves turning yellowish, it’s a sign of discoloration, which is the absence of or little exposure to sunlight. It’s equally a dangerous sign that it’s not producing enough carbs. Meaning, there is no photosynthesis — a process by which Aloe turns carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen, using light energy trapped by its chlorophyll. The absence of this can lead to a general weakness that can result in death.
Spots & Blemishes: Spots and blemishes are tell-tales signs or marks of imperfection that spoils the appearance of your beautiful Aloe Vera leaves. This also arises when heat is too much. Regular exposure to harsh sunlight can possibly cause burns. Thus, resulting in dark brown or orange spots. And yes, in some cases, the whole leaf may change colour to orange.
Aloe vera produces two substances used in medicine: Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf; Aloe latex comes from just under the plant’s skin and is yellow in colour. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex.
- Provide rapid relief from the itching and burning associated with severe radiation dermatitis and skin regeneration;
- treatment of psoriasis, herpes, dermatitis, oral mucositis, surgical wounds;
- soothe burns & prevent UV-induced suppression so the area can heal at faster;
Aloe vera is considered to be the most biologically active of the Aloe species; astonishingly, more than 75 potentially active components have been identified in the plant, including vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, saponins and salicylic acids. It provides 20 of the 22 human-required amino acids and eight of the eight essential amino acids. Aloe vera contains many vitamins and minerals vital for proper growth and function of all the body’s systems. Here’s an easy explanation of aloe vera’s active components:
- Contains antioxidant vitamins A, C and E — plus vitamin B12, folic acid and choline.
- Contains eight enzymes, including aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, lipase, catalase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, cellulase and peroxidase;
- Minerals such as calcium, copper, selenium, chromium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc;
- Provides 12 anthraquinones — or compounds known as laxatives. Among these are aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals.
- Four fatty acids are present, including cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol and lupeol — all providing anti-inflammatory results.
- The hormones called auxins and gibberellins are present; they help with healing wounds and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Aloe vera provides sugars, such as monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides.
Uses & applications
It’s used in traditional Indian medicine for constipation, skin diseases, worm infestation, infections and as a natural remedy for colic. In Chinese medicine, it’s often recommended in the treatment of fungal diseases, and in the Western world, it has found widespread use in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries.
Scientific evidence supports using the jellylike substance inside aloe vera leaves for alleviating pain and helping to heal every day burns, abrasions, bruises, boils, canker sores, and other mouth sores. It may also alleviate symptoms of minor frostbite, herpes (both cold sores and shingles), haemorrhoids, psoriasis, and acne.
Hundreds of aloe-containing products have flooded the market, but using the leaf is the freshest, least expensive way to take advantage of aloe’s everyday healing properties.
Simply remove one of the swordlike leaves from a living plant and slice it open along its length. Then either squeeze out the gelatinous material and apply it to the affected part or lay the entire opened leaf side directly over the affected part and bandage it lightly in place.
Applied topically, aloe vera gel has no serious side effects, although a few people experience allergic skin reactions to it. Try a small amount on a patch of skin; if you notice a rash, swelling, or itching, discontinue use.
Aloe vera contains proteolytic enzymes which repair dead skin cells on the scalp. It promotes hair growth, prevents itching on the scalp, reduces dandruff and conditions your hair. Among the most common ingredients in commercial hair- and skin-conditioning products, fresh aloe vera gel works well as a homemade beauty aid and can also be used for dental hygiene, Aloe vera does this by killing the plaque-producing bacterium Streptococcus mutans in the mouth, as well as the yeast Candida albicans.
To use it as a skin moisturizer and toner, just scoop out the gel or rub a freshly cut leaf over your face and let it dry.
Aloe vera has often be used to treat constipation, this time it is not the gel, but the latex, that provides the benefits. The latex is a sticky yellow residue found just under the skin of the leaf. So if you don’t wish this effect, remove it before ingesting it.
The enzymes present in aloe vera break down the proteins that we eat into amino acids and turn the enzymes into fuel for every cell in the body, which enables the cells to function properly. The bradykinase in aloe vera stimulates the immune system and kills infections. Zinc is also an important component in aloe vera — making it a great source to combat zinc deficiency — because it’s essential to maintain immune function.
It helps us ward off diseases, kill bacteria and protect the function of our cell membranes. Zinc is also a key structural component for a slew of hormone receptors and proteins that contribute to healthy, balanced mood and immune function.
The long-chain polysaccharide sugars in aloe are a healing form of sugar. The white blood cells that make up our immune system operate more efficiently on certain types of nutrients such as these bitter-tasting polysaccharide sugars. These rare sugars are the same ones you may have heard about in medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and chaga—they help our immunity and fight back all forms of infection. This is further boosted by glutathione inherently present in aloe.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant important for keeping energy levels high. It plays a key role in the development of white blood cells as well as preventing damage to other cellular functions as oxidation occurs. Many body functions can be boosted by the increased production of glutathione, including immunity, recovery time, detoxification, as well as metabolism!
The gel is such a safe and effective anti-fungal agent that agricultural scientists have begun experimenting with the use of aloe vera extracts as natural fungicides to protect growing crops. They’ve also found that spraying Aloe vera extracts onto various kinds of ripe fruit helps protect and extend its shelf life.