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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Singing the Praise of an Ugly Plant - Aloe Vera

January 20, 2011

Tags: herbs, water, Africa - Northern, aloe, Aloe vera, aloin, antiseptic, Arabic peninsula, band-aid, bedsore, burns, calligraphy, Chinese supermarket, comfrey, desert plant, diabetes type II, eczema, emolliant, film – healing, health food store, heartburn, houseplant, lubricant, redness (inflammation), Singing the Praise of an Ugly Plant - Aloe Vera, stomach pain, surgical cut, tea tree oil, ulcer, wound, wound - deep, wound healing, wound - superficial

If you have a black thumb and all plants wither if you just look at them, you still should have one houseplant, namely aloe. It does not ask for much: Put it on a windowsill and water it once in a while. The danger is more in over-watering, not in under-watering, as it is a desert plant. Its rosettes are boring, and the spiny edges of its leaves might be out to get you.

Aloe vera is a succulent (meaning: storing water) plant that comes from the arid regions of the Arabic peninsula and Northern Africa. It has been cultivated for thousands of years due to its medicinal properties, and one can’t find any natural stand anymore in the wild – all now existent plants seemed to have been planted purposefully – certainly this is a hint that aloe is a useful plant.

Aloe has long leathery leaves. The leaves can be spotted or not, the plant can be smaller or bigger – doesn’t matter. All the aloe one can buy has the medicinal properties.

Why do I want to sing the praise of Aloe vera here?

Last week, concentrating on my calligraphy, admiring the black lines of my brush on the paper, suddenly a beautiful red streak mixed itself in – a truly amazing color scheme: black, white and red. Only, the red was bleeding from one of my knuckles – and I didn’t even know how I had hurt myself. A flap of skin was barely hanging on. I applied a bit of tea tree oil and a band-aid, and continued my calligraphy.

It healed slowly - being on the knuckle where constant movement stretches the skin, didn’t help. Every time I thought I could take off the band-aid, the flap hung onto something, and the wound ripped open again, and bled. Taking onions out of their netting, stacking the stove, retrieving glasses from my pockets – everything conspired that the wound wouldn’t, couldn’t heal.

Then I thought of aloe. I have several plants in the house. I cut off one of the fleshy leaves at the base, and dripped some of its juice onto my knuckle, after I had reapplied tea tree oil. Aloe vera is said to have antiseptic activities too, but tea tree oil is always my choice to prevent infection of wounds. This time I skipped the band-aid. The juice dries to a film, and underneath healing takes place.

Within minutes of applying the aloe juice, the wound looked less angry. After two hours it had shrunk to about half its size. I could better see what was still viable tissue and what not – I cut of the dead protruding ends, and now I am not as likely to rip open the wound again.

Since yesterday, I have applied this mixture of tea tree oil and aloe juice several times. Today the wound is a quarter of what it had been, all redness is gone, and I assume by tomorrow all will be fine.

Because aloe heals wounds so quickly, it should never be applied to a deep wound - say, a bed sore or a surgical cut. Aloe would further superficial healing and wound closure so fast that the underlying wound could still be festering, and then break open again. Aloe is for superficial wounds only!

In the summer, comfrey does a similar spectacular job of healing a wound, but few people even know the plant with its soft felt-like large leaves and lovely purple drooping blossoms, and even less would know how to apply it to a wound (mash the leaves first – or chew them).

One also can buy huge aloe leaves in Chinese supermarkets and health food stores. Those I would first wash with a mild detergent before cutting – who knows how they have been treated before!

Interestingly, scientists are still debating if aloe furthers wound healing. They must have never watch the wound shrink within minutes after applying the plant juice to the wound. I suspect that studies were done with commercial aloe preparation – and those might not work the same way as fresh juice.

Each time I want to use the plant, I cut a thin slice of the leave, just to renew the cut surface, and immediately juice drips out.

Now that I have sacrificed a whole leaf, I will put the rest to good use: I brush my teeth with the inside gel because it heals gums. I also eat the gel when I have an upset stomach. Never eat the outside hard part of the leave as it contains aloin, a strong laxative that has been banned from over-the-counter- preparations because it is harsh on the intestines, and could even lead to the miscarriage of a baby. Whereas the inside gel is soothing and anti-inflammatory. So finishing up the leave, eating a few bites here and there, will do my whole body good. Aloe is also used as a food stuff, so there is no harm in eating it – on the contrary!

This is what the Aloe vera gel does:

• Wound healing, including burns
• Gum healing
• Stomach-soothing, especially good against heartburn and ulcers
• Anti-inflammatory
• Antiseptic
• Emolliant - softens and smoothes the skin, especially in eczema
• Lubricant
• Anti-diabetic (in preliminary studies)

It does a lot more. But just the wound healing should bring it into every household!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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