Members of the closely allied genera Gasteria and Haworthia, which have a similar mode of growth, are also sometimes popularly known as aloes. Note that the plant sometimes called "American aloe", Agave americana, belongs to a different family, namely Agavaceae.
Aloe plants are stiff and rugged, consisting mainly of a rosette of large, thick, fleshy leaves. Many common varieties of Aloe are seemingly stemless, with the rosette growing directly at ground level; Other varieties may have a branched or un-branched stem from which the fleshy leaves spring. The leaves are generally lance-shaped with a sharp apex and a spiny margin. They vary in color from grey to bright green and are sometimes striped or mottled.
Aloe flowers are small, tubular, and yellow or red and are borne on densely clustered, simple or branched leafless stems. The plants are cultivated as ornamental plants, especially in public buildings and gardens.
The aloe vera, in particular, is said to have medicinal properties. The plant may grow to a height of four feet. The aloe, a clear thick gel-like substance flows from the inside of cut leaves. The leaves also produce a bitter yellow juice which, when dried, becomes aloe latex.
Human use of Aloes are primarily as a herbal remedy in alternative medicines and "home first aid". Both the translucent inner pulp as well as the resinous yellow exudate (gel) from wounding the Aloe plant is used externally to relieve skin discomforts and internally as a laxative. To date, research has shown in certain cases that Aloes produce positive medicinal benefits for healing damaged skin, however there is still much debate regarding the effectiveness and safety for using Aloes medicinally in other manners.
Some Aloes have been used for human consumption. For example drinks made from or containing chunks of aloe pulp are popular in Asia as commercial beverages, and as a tea additive. This is notably true in Korea. The gel was once used on children's fingers to stop nail-biting.
Note: much of the material in this section is derived from sources with a financial interest in selling products, and few properly conducted clinical trials are cited. This does not necessarily invalidate the claims made.]
For medicinal purposes, aloe vera is most commonly used externally to treat various skin conditions, and burns. Not only does it soothe the skin, ease pain and reduce inflammation, studies have been done to show that using aloe as a topical treatment to burns will help speed up the healing recovery process. A study performed in the 1990s showed that the healing of a moderate severe burn was sped up by six days when covering the wound on a regular basis with aloe vera gel, compared to the healing of the wound covered in a gauze bandage (Farrar, 2005). Aloe vera helps burns of various degrees, including sunburn. When the gel is rubbed over over-exposed skin, the redness will disappear within a couple of days, and it helps to preserve moisture so that the skin will not become dry and peel. A cut leaf from an aloe vera plant can be rubbed over the skin, as it exudes gel; the gel can also be bought in drugstores.
Aloe vera can also be used to treat minor cuts and scrapes. Rubbing a cut leaf over a cut will help prevent infection and will speed up the healing response from the body. The aloe vera acts as a sealant and pulls the skin back together like a bandage or a suture (http://www.newstarget.com/001560-02.html). Although aloe should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment, its many uses are beneficial and should be considered for anything such as an everyday moisturizer to a first-aid antiseptic. In addition to the above-mentioned benefits, continuous research is being done to learn how else the aloe vera plant can play an important part in human lives.
Many cosmetic companies are now adding this plant to every product possible including makeup, soaps, sunscreens, shampoos and lotions, as well as any product that is created to soothe, protect and moisturize the skin. This is due partially to the fact that Aloe extract is full of vitamins, nutrients and minerals, as well as, the perception of the general public of Aloe as a healing ingredient. The International Aloe Science Council advises choosing products that contain between twenty-five and forty percent aloe in them to receive the ultimate aloe vera benefits to the skin (http://www.iasc.org/aloe.html).
Aloe gel is also useful for any dry skin condition, especially eczema around the eyes and sensitive facial skin, and for treating fungal infections such as ringworm. In Ayurvedic medicine, the gel is usually applied fresh and can even be converted into an ointment for long-term use.
Aloe contains a number of medicinal substances used as a purgative. The medicinal substance is produced from various species of aloe, such as A. vera, A. vulgaris, A. socotrina, A. chinensis, and A. perryi. Several kinds of aloes are commercially available: Barbadoes, Socotrine, Hepatic, Indian, and Cape aloes. Barbadoes and Socotrine are the varieties most commonly used for curative purposes.
Aloes is the expressed juice of the leaves of the plant. When the leaves are cut, the juice that flows out is collected and evaporated. After the juice has been removed, the leaves are sometimes boiled, to yield an inferior kind of aloes. The juice of the leaves of certain species, e.g. Aloe venenosa, is poisonous.
There have been very few properly conducted studies about possible benefits of aloe gel taken internally. One study found improved wound healing in mice, Another found a positive effect of lowering risk factors in patients with heart disease. Some research has shown decreasing fasting blood sugar in diabetic animals given aloe. None of these studies can be considered to be definitive, and there are many false advertising claims for aloe.
Aloe has been marketed as a remedy for coughs, wounds, ulcers, gastritis, diabetes, cancer, headaches, arthritis, immune-system deficiencies, and many other conditions when taken internally. However, these uses are unsubstantiated; the only substantiated internal use is as a laxative. Furthermore, there is evidence of significant adverse side effects (see for example this paper). Genotoxicity studies show that aloe-containing laxatives pose cancer risk to humans when used as directed. Consult your doctor when contemplating taking Aloe internally. Avoid use during pregnancy because the anthraquinone glycosides are strongly purgative. High doses of the leaves can cause vomiting.
On 9 May 2002 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a final rule banning the use of aloe and cascara sagrada as laxative ingredients in over-the-counter drug products.
Compounds in Aloes
Aloe vera contains over seventy-five nutrients and twenty minerals, nineteen amino acids including all eight essential amino acids and eleven secondary amino acids as well and twelve vitamins. These vitamins include: A, B1, B6, B12, C and E (http://curezone.com/foods/aloevera.html). It has even been referred to as a pharmacy in a plant (Farrar, 2005).
Aloes also contain anthraquinone gycosides, resins, polysaccharides, sterols, gelonins, and chromones. It is also a source of a class of chemicals called Aloins.
Chemical properties of Aloin
Aloins are soluble and easily extracted by water. Aloes is the expressed juice of the leaves of the plant. When the leaves are cut, the juice that
Medicinal use of Aloin
The dose is 130-320 mg, that of aloin being 30-130 mg. Aloes can be absorbed from a broken surface and will then cause purging. When given internally it increases the actual amount as well as the rate of flow of the bile. It hardly affects the small intestine, but markedly stimulates the muscular coat of the large intestine, causing purging in about fifteen hours. There is hardly any increase in the intestinal secretion, the drug being emphatically not a hydragogue cathartic. There is no doubt that its habitual use may be a factor in the formation of haemorrhoids; as in the case of all drugs that act powerfully on the lower part of the intestine, without simultaneously lowering the venous pressure by causing increase of secretion from the bowel. Aloes also tends to increase the menstrual flow and therefore belongs to the group of emmenagogues. Aloin is preferable to aloes for therapeutic purposes, as it causes less, if any, pain. It is a valuable drug in many forms of constipation, as its continual use does not, as a rule, lead to the necessity of enlarging the dose. Its combined action on the bowel and the uterus is of especial value in chlorosis, of which amenorrhoea is an almost constant symptom. The drug should not be taken during pregnancy and when haemorrhoids are present. Many well-known patent medicines consist essentially of aloes.
Lign-aloes and Agarwood
The lign-aloes are quite different from plants of the Aloe genus. The term "Aloes" is used in the Bible (Numbers 24:6), but as the trees usually supposed to be meant by this word are not native in Syria, it has been suggested that the Septuagint reading in which the word does not occur is to be preferred. Lign-aloe is a corruption of the Latin lignum-aloe, a wood, not a resin. Dioscorides refers to it as agallochon, a wood brought from Arabia or India, which was odoriferous but with an astringent and bitter taste. This may be Agarwood, a native of East India, South East Asia, and China, which supplies the so-called eagle-wood or aloes-wood, which contains much resin and oil.
There are around 400 species in the genus Aloe. For a full list, see List of species of genus Aloe. Common species include:
Aloe angelica - Wylliespoort Aloe
Aloe aristata - Torch Plant, Lace Aloe
Aloe barberae - Tree Aloe
Aloe brevifolia - Shortleaf Aloe
Aloe castanea - Cat's Tail Aloe
Aloe ciliaris - Climbing Aloe
Aloe comosa - Clanwilliam's Aloe
Aloe dichotoma - quiver tree or kokerboom
Aloe dinteri - Namibian Partridge Breast Aloe
Aloe distans - Jeweled Aloe
Aloe excelsa - Noble Aloe, Zimbabwe Aloe
Aloe ferox - Cape Aloe, Tap Aloe, Bitter Aloe
Aloe glauca - Blue Aloe
Aloe humilis - Spider Aloe
Aloe khamiensis - Namaqua Aloe
Aloe longistyla - Karoo Aloe, Ramenas
Aloe maculata - Soap Aloe, Zebra Aloe
Aloe mitriformis - Gold Tooth Aloe
Aloe nobilis - Gold Tooth Aloe
Aloe perryi - Perry's Aloe
Aloe pictifolia - Kouga Aloe
Aloe pillansii - Bastard Quiver Tree
Aloe plicatilis - Fan Aloe
Aloe polyphylla - Spiral Aloe
Aloe pratensis - Rosette Aloe
Aloe ramosissima - Maidens Quiver Tree
Aloe saponaria - African Aloe
Aloe speciosa - Tilt-head Aloe
Aloe striata - Coral Aloe
Aloe tauri - Bullocks Bottle Brush Aloe
Aloe variegata - Partridge-breasted Aloe, Tiger Aloe
Aloe vera - True Aloe (vera means true in Latin), Barbados Aloe, Common Aloe, Yellow Aloe, Medicinal Aloe. This is the variety used medicinally.
Aloe zebrina - Zebra Aloe
Other useful herb information: Hydrangea | Blessed Thistle | Marigold | Capsicum | Bentonite Clay | Bupleurum | Goldenrod
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