Botanical Name: Aloe vera
Common Name: Aloe
Family: Asphodelaceae (Lilliaceae subdivision)
Ayurvedic/TCM Name: Kumari
Parts Used: Leaves
Native Region: Canary Islands Geographic Distribution: Can be grown in any kitchen window around the world; Botanical Description: Aloe vera is a stemless or very short-stemmed plant growing to 60–100 cm (24–39 in) tall, spreading by offsets. The leaves are thick and fleshy, green to grey-green, with some varieties showing white flecks on their upper and lower stem surfaces. The margin of the leaf is serrated and has small white teeth. The flowers are produced in summer on a spike up to 90 cm (35 in) tall, each flower being pendulous, with a yellow tubular corolla 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) long. 
Cultivation: Aloe prefers a gravelly, well-drained, infertile soil. It likes full sun but is tolerant of shady windowsills. It requires very little water. Offsets at the plant base can be separated and repotted. Large scale commercial cultivation occurs in south Texas and Mexico and in Indonesia. They supply cosmetic and dietary supplement markets around the world.
Harvesting Guidelines: It is best to pick aloe from mature plants preferably grown in the ground. When the leaf tips obtain a rosy tinge, it s ready to harvest. Select outer, larger leaves, but not too many from a given plant. Choose a thick, smooth large leaf and use a clean, sharp knife to cut it as close to the trunk as possible. Unblemished leaves are the best tasting and contain the most aloe gel. 
Constituents: There are two parts to an aloe leaf: gel and a yellowish leaf sap latex (aloin), which can be very bitter and cause stomach upset in some people. After you harvest the leaf, hold the cut end down to allow the bitter latex to drain. Wash the leaf then lay it flat on the table and cut off the serrated edges. Start on one side and filet off the skin, much like you take the skin off a fish. Continue removing the skin on all sides, including the yellowish layer, until a clear to white, translucent flesh is exposed. This is the good stuff and is ready to use after a quick rinse.  Aloe vera is full of good stuff – 75 active components, including 8 vitamins, 6 minerals, anthraquinones (aloin), polysaccharides (antiviral properties, ease gastrointestinal problems and stimulate the immune system), fatty acids (anti-inflammatory, antiseptic qualities and pain relieving components), and hormones that aid in wound healing and eight enzymes.
Uses: There are historical records about the benefits of aloe vera going back many years to a Mesopotamian tablet (2100 BC), Egyptian texts (1550 BC), Greeks and Romans (70 AD). Today aloe is one of the most commonly used herbs in the U.S. Applied externally, it provides immediate relief for burns, sunburn, skin irritations, scrapes and minor wounds. It has also been used in treating genital herpes and psoriasis. The gel contains active compounds that decrease pain and inflammation and stimulate skin repair. It is a common ingredient in skin care products (legend has it that Cleopatra massaged aloe gel into her skin as part of her daily beauty routine). Greek and Roman warriors used aloe for treating wounds. 
Internally, care must be take to assure that the anthraquinones (aloin) have been removed to avoid gastrointestinal distress. Its use as a laxative has been limited to veterinarians. Use of the pure gel has been incorporated in aloe juice and as a component in smoothies.
Studies in small groups have shown aloe vera aids in digestion, strengthens the immune system, lowers cholesterol, and provides anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities helpful in relieving muscle and tendon pain. Some research has demonstrated aloe vera’s ability to help diabetics lower blood glucose levels and heal leg ulcers or wounds. Some people even take it to ease the pain of arthritis. The NIH says aloe vera is “possibly effective” for skin aliments. There has even been some suggestion that the gel may have an effect in minimizing skin cancer. 
There are some potential side effects to consider:
Regular use of the entire leaf – which includes aloin, may result in reduced potassium levels in the body. Electrolyte imbalances may lead to muscle and cardiac weakness.
Products containing the latex aloin will exacerbate intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
People with diabetes should monitor blood sugar regularly.
Pregnant or nursing mothers should not ingest any form of aloe.
Excessive use of aloe latex may cause kidney failure.
People taking heart rhythm medication (Digoxin) may see adverse effects due to potassium level decreases.
Don’t take aloe gel orally before surgery, it is possible that the body’s blood clotting abilities may be decreased.
Topically, aloe vera is well known for its moisturizing properties. It is found in may skin and hair products, but can be used straight from the plant as well.
Aloe can be used for hair conditioning – mix equal parts water and aloe vera gel together, add an essential oil of your choice. Apply to hair to lock in moisture and block external toxins from damaging hair.
Apply to irritated skin to reduce redness due to inflammation and acne. Moisture from aloe keeps skin firm while antioxidants may provide a more vibrant complexion. It can also be used for chapped lips.
Remember: Fresh aloe vera is best.
Aloe vera recipes for skin and hair
Cucumber Eye Gel (James Wong, Grow Your Own Drugs)
1 aloe vera leaf
1 small cucumber, chopped
½ cup distilled extract of witch hazel
1 packet gelatin
1 white tea teabag
3 drops of peppermint essential oil
Peel and slice the aloe leaf to extract gel.
Put the cucumber and aloe gel into a blender and process until smooth.
Strain the mixture through a sieve to extract the juice, setting aside ½ cup of the strained juice.
Add the witch hazel to a small pan, whisk in the gelatin and add the teabag. Gently heat the mixture until it just starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
As it cools, remove the teabag, then whisk in the cucumber and aloe juice mixture and add the peppermint oil.
Pour the gel into a sterilized, airtight pump dispenser
pH Balanced Shampoo (ThankYouBody.com)
1 can of coconut milk
1 ¾ cups pure aloe vera gel
Essential oils, optional
Mix ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk.
Pour mixture into ice cube trays.
Put in freezer and wait a few hours until frozen completely.
To use: Defrost one cube in a bowl the night before use. Use as you would normal shampoo
Cucumber-Aloe Hydrating Mist (MindBodyGreen)
1 small cucumber
1/3 cup of distilled water
1 tsp. aloe vera
1 tsp. witch hazel
Peel and cut the cucumber (either dice it or put into a food processor). If using a processor, strain through a cheesecloth to extract the cucumber essence and to keep the mist light. Include some of the diced pieces in the mix. Pour into a glass spray bottle with the water, aloe vera, witch hazel and shake.
Aloe Vera Smoothie Recipes
Strawberry Lemonade Aloe Vera Smoothie (BlissfulBasil.com)
¼ cup aloe vera gel (fresh from leaf)
1 ½ cups frozen strawberries
1 cup water
1 ½ tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Blend on high for 1-2 minutes or until smooth.
If you’re looking for a further boost, throw in protein powder or chia seeds.
Pineapple-Aloe Cocktail (VegetarianTimes.com)
½ cup pineapple juice
¼ to ½ cup aloe vera juice
2 tbsp. unsweetened cranberry juice
1 tbsp. agave nectar or honey, optional
Lime wedge, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in small pitcher. Pour over ice and serve with lime.
Fresh Aloe MInt Summer Salad (Laura Dawn, HappyandRaw.com)
Large, fresh aloe leaf
Handful of organic mint leaves
1 lemon or lime
A small dash of garlic powder
A small dash of kelp powder
White or black sesame seeds, optional
Preparing the aloe:
Take a large piece of aloe and fillet it (Video). Try to keep the translucent jelly core in one big piece.
On a cutting board, with a sharp knife, cut strip of the jelly. Place all the aloe pieces in a bowl and soak in purified water for 10 minutes.
Then place in a strainer and drain the aloe and rinse it well, then place the aloe strips in a bowl.
Prepare the salad:
The recipe will be dependent on how much aloe you’ve cut up. The remaining ingredients can be adjusted to taste.
Toss all ingredients and served chilled or at room temperature.
4. Johnson, Rebecca L. & Foster Steven, Tieraona Low Dog, MD & Davied Kiefer, MD, 2010, National Geographic, Guide to Medicinal Herbs, pp. 191-193.
Billie Nicholson, Editor