Homegrown First Aid: Aloe Vera’s Medicinal Uses

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Aloe vera has multiple medicinal uses.
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You can apply aloe vera gel to a cut directly from a leaf section.

When I first developed arthritis in my hands, the doctors tried every remedy from aspirin to gold, but my fingers stayed so swollen and stiff that I couldn’t make a fist. In fact, the oppressive ailment actually kept getting worse despite the “best professional care.”

Then one day I was painfully trying to grasp a pen (I had to get some bills paid) when a childhood memory flashed into my mind: When my family had lived in the Southwest, one of our Mexican neighbors had claimed that a person could heal a great number of ailments with the juicy pulp of the Aloe vera plant. So, since I’d already tried every other antidote, I bought one of the so-called “medicine plants,” started drinking teaspoons of extracted aloe juice, and rubbed my hands twice daily with the gel from a broken leaf.

It wasn’t long before most of the swelling and stiffness in my joints went away. I could even wear my wedding band again! And, to this day — as long as I regularly “treat” myself — my aloe “doctor” has continued to control my arthritic symptoms.

The range of aloe vera’s medicine uses beyond relieving inflammation soon became apparent too. A few weeks after I began healing myself with aloe, I noticed that my hands were getting smoother and more refined. Then I massaged my arms, legs and face with the oily gel, and the skin became softer and “younger” looking — in short, revitalized. Now I use this “natural lotion” regularly, and my face never chaps or dries out even in winter!

(I’m hardly the first to use aloe for beauty; research shows that the plant was Cleopatra’s secret cosmetic! In fact, the many wonders of the “wands of heaven” — as some American Indians call the plant — have been known for thousands of years. The Greeks appreciated the healing powers of the spiked leaves, Columbus took some “potted physicians” along on his second voyage to the New World, and Aloe vera is even rumored to have grown throughout the Garden of Eden!)

This living “first-aid kit” did so much for me — after nothing else had brought me relief — that I wanted to learn all I could about it. In order to get an expert opinion, I looked up a biochemist who was studying the plant. This researcher confessed that Aloe vera’s curative properties defy accurate scientific analysis. He had discovered, though, one reason why the spiny-leaved plants heal so effectively: They contain numerous cleansing agents and catalysts, as well as (apparently) “every compound essential to the formation and proper function of the human cell.”

Then — after I’d shared my arthritis experience with the scientist — he told me his own aloe story. A few months earlier, his 5-year-old grandson had grabbed the hot exhaust pipe of an idling lawn mower. The biochemist grandfather immediately took the boy into the kitchen and soaked the child’s raw hand in a bowl of ice-cold aloe juice. Although the palm had been badly burned, the injured flesh healed in a short time with no scarring or loss of dexterity!

As you can imagine, the information — and testimony — provided by my expert informant pretty much cleared up any nagging doubts I might have had about the value of this homegrown medicine. In fact, I was so enthusiastic that I bought some more Aloe vera. (I was careful to purchase the real thing, however. The “American aloe,” or century plant, is actually a member of the genus Agave and has little in common with “true” aloe, which is a member of the lily family.)

Since then I’ve always kept several of these versatile healers growing in my home. And I need them all. Not only do I still use the gel and extracted juice for arthritis and beauty treatments, the restorative balm has proven effective in stopping bleeding and inflammation in cuts, and relieves the itching of mosquito bites too!

Fortunately, you won’t require a green thumb and a library of gardening books to raise your own “windowsill wonders.” Aloe vera is an exceptionally attractive and easy-to-grow houseplant. The native of Africa likes mild to warm temperatures, semi-shade, and good drainage. It even thrives outdoors during summer weather (or year-round in clement climes) so long as the leaves don’t get too much sun. And aloe truly needs very little care. (Don’t let the plants slow growth habits tempt you to “encourage” it along, though. Overwatering and overfertilizing will quickly kill it.)

The healing gel and juice are as easy to extract as the plant itself is to maintain. To get some vera “jelly,” simply snip off part of a leaf (don’t worry about the stub. Aloe heals itself!), pare away the rind, and dig out the clear, tasteless salve in the stem’s heart. Then, if you want to make “aloe-aid,” soak some diced gel in water (or liquefy the gummy poultice in a blender) and — to keep your “medicine” fresh — store any unused leaf, gel or juice in the refrigerator.

By now you’re probably pretty much overwhelmed by the versatility of this plant’s gel and derivatives, but — amazingly enough — Aloe vera produces still another medicinal substance. The peels of mature leaves contain a yellow-green sap that — like the liniment deeper inside — has all sorts of healthful uses. The colored jute is a digestive aid that’s often taken as a laxative and occasionally as a cure for intestinal parasites. The fluid also stimulates the circulation and can help induce menstruation.

But let me warn you, this liquid is potent! Don’t let it get mixed in with your transparent gel. And don’t consider using the sap if you are menstruating, pregnant, or have a tendency to get hemorrhoids. (The potion also tastes incredibly bitter. In fact, some Jamaican mothers will dab a bit on their breasts when they want to — instantly — wean their children.)

All in all, the Aloe vera on my windowsill can treat (or is reputed to help heal) arthritis, bleeding, inflammation, insect bites, sunburn, skin blemishes, diaper rash, worms, constipation, indigestion, X-ray and radiation burns, and more. Maybe, instead of calling this plant “a homegrown first-aid kit,” I should have said: When you grow an Aloe vera, you grow an entire medicine chest!