From Alexander the Great to the twenty-first century, aloe vera has been widely recognized around the world to hold medicinal properties. It is is used extensively to treat not only damaged skin but also fevers and wounds.June 20, 2022 4:29 pm December 31, 2018 10:45 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 flavors: sweet, sour, bitter and astringent. They believe that in addition to aloe, just two other plants (rose petals and guggul) contain these four flavors.
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)
Aloe vera health benefits
Research has identified 75 potentially active components in aloe vera. These include vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Moreover, aloe vera provides us with 20 amino acids and 7 (out of 9) essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce.
There are different healing properties associated with the gel and the latex of the aloe vera plant. The gel may be able to increase and change the content of collagen, breaking down the strength of scarring tissues. Additionally, it may act as an antioxidant, protecting the effects of radiation damage to your skin.
There’s good news for your hair and scalp too. A 1998 study found that aloe vera can help reduce scalp inflammation caused by issues like dandruff.(4) And since your scalp incubates your new hair follicles, keeping it healthy is key to growing healthy, strong hair.(5)
Further, the latex of the aloe plant contains anthraquinones. These are naturally occurring organic compounds that may relieve constipation. We often see anthraquinones as the main active constituent in herbs used for laxatives. This is because anthraquinones stimulate our large intestine by increasing water content.(6)
Pure aloe vera juice alkalizes the human body. In other words, it helps to balance overly acidic diets.
Our body is designed to keep a proper balance between acid and alkali. It is measured on a pH scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being highly acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. The ideal pH level falls between 7.35 and 7.45. In this range, the fluids and tissues in our body can do their work and we can function properly.(6)(7)
Different parts of our body have different pH levels. For example, with a pH of 3.5, our stomach is acidic and must remain that way in order to break the food down. On the other hand, our blood is almost neutral. This makes sense because we rely on the blood to transport substances around our body without reacting with them.(8)
There are negative health consequences on either end of the spectrum. On the one hand, if our blood or fluids become too alkaline we can experience alkalosis. Symptoms of this include confusion, lightheadedness, twitching, tingling, and distress.
On the other hand, if our body is too acidic, we can experience acidosis (metabolic, respiratory, lactic or kidneys). This is marked by confusion, fatigue, shortness of breath and lethargy.(8)
The Western pattern diet tends to be meat heavy and lack fruits and vegetables. As a result, this type of diet is linked to metabolic acidosis. This increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney stones.(9)
Aloe vera gel
Most of the bioactive compounds, meaning the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants, are contained in the gel of the aloe vera.(10) Aloe vera gel contains powerful nutrients that have been shown to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.(11) These protective properties become more significant as the aloe vera ages.(12)
Most importantly, aloe vera is a source of acemannan, a polysaccharide whic