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Aloe Vera

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

It is quite a paradox that home remedies are coming into their own, in view of the supertechnology that is engulfing medicine. Perhaps part of the answer is a backlash from the sophistication and impersonality of modern medicine, coupled with spiraling costs of everything, including medical bills and fuel. It has also been rediscovered that most ailments can be properly treated at home with good results, avoiding the exposures to communicable diseases in the physician's office, and getting the satisfaction from shouldering the responsibility for one's own ailments. It is quite a thrill to treat a disease or injury oneself and find the good result that comes from just ordinary care applied with logic and common sense.

One of the home remedies that is useful in many different types of ailments is that of aloe vera. The most used species is Aloe Barbadensis (Spanish Aa'vila). It resembles a cactus, but is actually a perennial succulent belonging to the Lily family. It has stiff lance shaped leaves with a sharp apex and spiny edges and blooms early in the spring. The flowers are tube shaped and yellow or red in color. Aloe vera belongs to the class of plants called "Xeroids" - so called because they can close their stomata (openings/pores) completely to avoid loss of water.

When a piece of the fleshy stem of the plant is cut off or broken off, the wound on the plant closes almost immediately. Also, the cut end of the stem closes to retain water. It will remain green for several days and will keep in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

Aloe vera was used for centuries by the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Indians for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. The earliest recorded use is 1500 BC where Egyptian papers reported aloe vera applications for wounds, insomnia, stomach disorders, pain, constipation, hemorrhoids, itching, headache, loss of hair, mouth and gum disease, kidney ailments, blistering, skin care, sunburn, blemishes, etc. Also, in John 19:39 Aloe was used as a part of a mixture for anointing the body of Jesus after His death.

After much investigation in recent years, laboratories still cannot explain aloe vera's non-toxic potency. Today, it is used internally and externally as shampoos, sunburn lotions, and burn ointments. However, not everyone may be able to use it as some may be allergic to it. Before using it, it is important to test yourself. Do this by applying some aloe vera externally behind the ear or back of the arm. If stinging or rash occurs, discontinue its use.

One of the best known and most commonly used is that of its application to burns. Every home should have an aloe plant growing in the kitchen, so that when someone gets burned, the burn can be immediately treated by rubbing a bit of the juice from the opened aloe leaf directly onto the burned area. If one is near the sink, the very first action should be that of cooling the burned place with cool or cold water, then drying gently and putting the aloe juice directly onto the burned area. We have seen remarkable results from the use of aloe both in pain control as well as in the regeneration of the skin from third degree burns.

In second degree burns blisters will be formed, the blisters developing ammonia after several days. The ammonia is irritating to the tissues, and can increase the likelihood of extending the injury from the burn. It is well, therefore, to release the blister liquid so that ammonia will not accumulate. Nevertheless, it seems wise to keep the overlying skin of the blister intact, so that it can help to protect the area. I like to slit the blister at one edge about one-quarter of its circumference so that the liquid can easily drain, but still allow the skin of the blister to act as a protective dressing. A light pressure bandage over the opened blister will prevent continued fluid formation, and enable the blister to heal promptly.

While I do not know of any double-blind studies that have been done on burns, there is enough folklore concerning the use of aloe for third degree burns to give me confidence that aloe vera is a good dressing for a third degree burn. We have treated several third degree burns that we felt would surely require skin grafting which healed without significant scarring. It may be that the active ingredient of aloe can act as a reversible substance for coagulated protein, and prevent extensive necrosis. I recall one case of a lady who had the skin hanging from her fingers after beating out flames in her nightgown. I felt certain she would have four fingers on one hand and two on the other requiring skin grafting. She refused the offer of the surgeon for a skin grafting procedure, and steadfastly insisted on being bandaged with aloe. After three weeks, the burns were completely healed with only the shiny redness that occurs after burns. After a few months there was not the faintest indication that she had ever had a burn.

Aloe vera is used for gastrointestinal problems. Nearly any affliction of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the anus can be properly treated by aloe vera gel or juice. Aloe vera liquid has a slightly stimulatory effect on the colon, although the substance causing diarrhea has apparently been removed in some preparations. If one takes a large quantity of aloe vera liquid or gel there is a possibility of getting mild diarrhea. For this reason aloe vera is helpful for constipation. Simply take an ounce or two once or twice daily along with a meal. The liquid is not unpleasant as a drink.

If one has peptic ulcers or gastritis, aloe vera liquid is one of the best treatments for it. It has a soothing and healing effect and can relieve pain, burning, and discomfort. For gas or acid formation, the use of aloe vera liquid can bring prompt relief. Hemorrhoids or fissures heal remarkably quickly with the use of aloe as a suppository, or rubbed on the outside.

Aloe Vera is a very good treatment for most skin afflictions from poison ivy to many eczemas. Simply rub the liquid or gel directly onto the area of dermatitis, or open a leaf of aloe and rub the gelatinous material from the interior of the leaf directly onto the skin. You may get the idea that the listing of the virtues of aloe vera sounds like the hawking of the wares of the medicine man. Just buy a small plant about 6 inches high and cultivate it to a beautiful, lush, cactus-looking house plant about three feet high. Try it on your family and friends, and you too will be impressed.

MANY USES

  • Anti-allergenic, antibiotic, astringent (tends to dry skin), coagulating agent, pain and scar inhibitor, and growth stimulator.
  • Burns and scalds: keeps burn moist, stops pain, decreases infection and scarring.
  • Sunburn: mild to fair sunburn—cover with aloe vera juice frequently from leaf or aloe vera juice from pump spray bottle: decreases pain, stiffness, and peeling.
  • Cuts and wounds—clean, put in aloe gel, close wound and bandage. Keep bandage soaked in aloe vera juice or ointment. Inhibits infection, enhances healing and decreases scarring.
  • Digestive problems: perks up organs and helps inflammation/colitis. Take 1-2 Tb. gel or juice several times per day. Aloe vera is a mild regulator of the bowels and a general tonic. Aloe vera pulp or juice is not a real laxative, but the sap is. Sap is the yellow bitter fluid which flows between the skin and the pulp. Cathartic (as a laxative) place peeling of leaf in a jar of water in the refrigerator. Drink a little once or twice per week... strength determined by amount of peel in jar.
  • Hair and scalp: can use straight juice (or pulp) as shampoo and/or conditioner or aloe vera pulp as a wave set. Mixtures of aloe vera and oils are good.
  • Hemorrhoids and bleeding piles: insert a chunk of pulp into rectum or apply ointment in rectum or put in juice via syringe (or freeze aloe vera gel into small suppositories and insert into rectum). Use a desired. Apply again after each bowel movement, after bath, and before retiring.
  • Poison ivy, poison oak, and allergies: pain and itching decreases; enhances healing. Ointment or juice may be used.
  • Psoriasis and eczematous rashes: internally use juice or gel 1-2 T, 1-2 times per day. Externally, use 2 times per day as a juice or ointment.
  • Scar removal: may reduce scars, but it takes up to 6 months. Vitamin E is also effective. Can combine aloe vera and Vitamin E to form a salve.
  • Stretch marks: aloe vera itself or mixed with vitamin E.
  • Varicose veins.
  • Skin cancer: aloe vera juice 2-4 times per day for months.
  • Abrasions, scrapes, stings: antibiotic, decreases itching, pain, and sting.
  • Ulcers: use as part of treatment only. Take 2-4 T juice or gel 1/2 hour before meal time and before bedtime.
  • Arthritis: usually takes 2 months to see a difference, therefore use for a minimum of 2 months as a test — 4 T per day. (1 gallon lasts 2 months on this dose). Once painful symptoms diminish, decrease to 1 T morning and evening or if can't afford it, dice up leaf and put in the refrigerator in a jar of water and take as directed. Bitterness due to sap: to remove bitterness, peel skin from pulp, rinse the pulp and put it into the jar of water in the refrigerator.
  • Brown skin spots: said to decrease or remove with 2 times a day application using the juice or gel. It takes several months.
  • Acne: caused by oil clogged pores becoming infected. First cleanse the skin, then put on aloe vera (astringent).
  • Sinus: weak decongestant.
  • Diabetes: stimulates pancreas to produce more insulin — WARNING AND CAUTION to diabetics!!
  • Asthma: breathe in vapor from aloe vera leaves in boiling water.
  • Sore throat: may decrease pain, not powerful, gargle and swallow.
  • Eye and ear drops—eye drops: 1/2 C aloe vera juice and 1/2 C water to reduce sting.

"Is the actual plant leaf better than aloe Vera products? The juice direct from the leaf is usually more potent than the processed and stabilized gel or juice obtained in bottled form but the bottled form is usually potent enough to do the job and is much more convenient.

"The plant on its own has some limitations—it is astringent, dries skin. Chemists have found it advantageous to combine it with other active ingredients such as vitamins A & E, lanolin, etc. to broaden and intensify its effectiveness." pp. 17, 18. Aloe Vera Handbook by Max B. Skousen, 1982. Aloe Vera Research Institute, 5103 Sequoia, Cypress, CA 90630.

Where to Obtain Aloe Vera Plants

The best place to obtain a start of aloe vera is from a friend or neighbor. However, if necessary, you may obtain them at a garden supply store. Even the plant departments of dime stores, discount stores, etc., often have aloe plants. If you can locate them from none of these sources, try Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway NE, Albany, Oregon 97321, or other herb supply houses.

How to Care for Your Plant

  • The strength of the leaf increases with age: old plants (bigger) better, but young still potent.
  • The plant can be root bound, so don't repot until the upper plant gets too heavy. When root-bound, the plant sends out shoots. Take them out when 3-4" high or they will suck the life out of the mother plant.
  • Repot in any soil, but MUST have good drainage. Water well when first repotted, then don't water for 3 weeks to promote root growth.
  • Allow it to become fairly dry before watering; it is more likely that one will overwater than underwater aloe. The roots will rot if exposed to wet soil over long periods, so keep the drainage hole open. The type of soil is not particularly important.
  • When first transplanted, the plant may turn brown or gray for a little while.
  • The leaves turn brown in direct sun; so keep it in indirect light.
  • The leaves lie flat in too little sun.
  • It grows more rapidly outdoors, but will freeze, so it should be taken inside during the winter.
  • It is always best to use the lowest leaves closest to the ground because the older the leaf, the greater the potency. Also the leaves grow out from the center of the plant so a missing leaf will not be as noticeable.

Aloe Vera Gel

Cut off one of the lower leaves as they are larger and have more gel. Slice the leaf lengthwise. You may use a spoon to scrape out the gel, or apply the leaf directly to the areas to be treated. The gel may also be taken internally, but some consider it too bitter, and prefer to use the debittered forms which are available in health food stores or may be ordered through the mail. See health magazines for addresses.

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