From Alexander the Great to the twenty-first century, aloe vera has been widely recognised around the world to hold medicinal properties. It is is used extensively to treat not only damaged skin but also fevers and wounds.May 01, 2023 5:13 pm May 01, 2023 4:48 pm
A short history of aloe
The first document we know of making reference to aloe vera is a Sumerian clay tablet, dating back to around BC 2100. However, aloe has also been traced back to around 3,500 years ago thanks to Egyptian papyri. Its name comes from the Arabic word ‘alloeh’ referring to the plant’s ‘bitter’ taste.
Our love of aloe vera dates back thousands of years. The ancients, for example, had several uses for aloe vera. Ancient Egyptians called it ‘the plant of immortality’, and Egyptian queens credited it as the source of their beauty.
Meanwhile, Ayurveda (India’s ancient science of life and health) considered aloe vera to be the rejuvenator of all living organisms. According to Ayurvedic practitioners, aloe vera contains 4 flavours: sweet, sour, bitter and astringent. They believe that in addition to aloe, just two other plants (rose petals and guggul) contain these four flavours.
Legend has it that, acting upon the advice of Aristotle, Alexander the Great besieged and conquered the aloe vera capital of the ancient world. Lying roughly 150 miles east of the Cape Guardafui coast, the Island of Socotra produced a large portion of the Mediterranean’s aloe vera. In doing so, Alexander secured a steady stream of the healing plant to his army.
Aloe vera in modern times
Fast forward to the middle of the twentieth century and the military was still relying on healing aloe vera. This time, however, the injuries being treated were found on the bodies of Japan’s soldiers. Their wounds were caused by the 1944 atomic bomb rather than iron headed spears, swords, javelin or slingshots.
Today, aloe vera is a big business. Aloe-derived products have a market value of around $13 billion.
Although there are 22 species of aloe in the world, aloe vera is the only one which is not considered to be endangered on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). As well as managing to do quite well in the wild, aloe vera is grown around the world for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, too.
In the present day, anthropologists have recorded present-day hunter-gatherers who live in sub-Saharan Africa as using the plant as a natural deodorant.
"Ancient Egyptians called aloe vera the 'plant of immortality'."
So, what is aloe vera?
Aloe vera is a green succulent plant which grows in tropical and arid climates around the world. It has triangular, fleshy, serrated leaves, which grow in a rosette shape.(2)
Aloe produces two substances: one gel and one latex. The gel is the jelly-like, clear substance found in the inner leaf, while the latex comes from just under the plant’s skin.(3)
Given that aloe vera has been around for about 6,000 years, it is not surprising that it has acquired a few nicknames. These include ‘shining bitter substance’, as well as ‘the plant of immortality’.(3)
Inner leaf vs outer leaf
The main difference between the inner leaf and the outer leaf of aloe vera is in the chemical composition and physical properties of the gel and latex found within each layer.
The outer leaf of the aloe vera plant contains a thick, tough rind that is composed primarily of cellulose, a type of fiber. Beneath the rind is a layer of yellow latex, which is bitter and contains anthraquinones, a type of laxative compound that can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people.
In contrast, the inner leaf of the aloe vera plant contains a thin rind that is easier to remove, and the gel inside is clear and mucilaginous. This gel is composed of water, polysaccharides, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that may offer a range of health benefits. The inner leaf gel is a common ingredient in cosmetic and medicinal products, such as lotions, creams, and functional foods.
Finally, the outer leaf latex is typically used as a natural laxative or purgative. It is important to note that the use of aloe vera latex as a laxative can have potential risks and side effects and should be done under medical supervision.
What are the key nutrients in aloe vera juice?
Research has identified 75 potentially active components in aloe vera. As mentioned previously, the gel of the aloe vera contains most of the bioactive compounds.(10) It also contains powerful nutrients that may inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.(11) These protective properties become more significant as the aloe vera ages.(12)
Here are some of the nutrients that aloe vera gel contains:
- Polysaccharides: Aloe vera gel contains a variety of polysaccharides, including acemannan, which have anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties.
- Enzymes: Enzymes are specialised proteins that facilitate chemical reactions in the body. Aloe vera gel contains a variety of enzymes that can aid in digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Amino acids: Aloe vera gel contains 20 of the 22 amino acids that the body needs to function properly, including 8 essential amino acids that the body cannot produce. These amino acids must be obtained through the diet.
- Vitamins: Aloe vera gel contains vitamins A, C, and E, which are important antioxidants that protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
- Minerals: Aloe vera gel contains a variety of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, iron, potassium, and copper. These minerals play important roles in maintaining healthy body functions. However, aloe vera is not a rich source of these minerals as the amounts present in aloe vera gel are relatively low compared to other food sources.
Overall, aloe vera gel is a rich source of nutrients that can support health and wellness.
Which polysaccharides does aloe vera gel contain?
Aloe vera gel contains several polysaccharides, including: