Aloe vera is a perennial succulent plant with long, fleshy spear-like leaves that grow up to 36 inches long. A popular ornamental plant, aloe vera is best known for its therapeutic value which has been recognized by ancient cultures. 6,000 year old carvings of the aloe vera plant were discovered in Egypt. It was considered the “plant of immortality” and was offered as a burial gift to the deceased pharoahs .
Historically, aloe vera was used topically to assist in the healing of burns, wounds and other skin conditions and was also taken orally as a laxative. Today, aloe vera is grown commercially in different parts of the world to meet the great demand for aloe vera gel, juice and latex that have varied applications and uses in the cosmetic, food and alternative medicine industries
Aloe vera is a succulent, stemless or short-stemmed plant that grows to a little over 3 feet at maturity. With a high water content it is able to survive arid or dry environments.
Aloe vera leaves, which form a compact rosette, are thick and fleshy with green to grayish green color and some varieties with flecks on the front and back surfaces. Margins of these leaves are serrated with small, white teeth-like protrusions. In summer, small yellow or orange pendulous flowers growing in clusters bloom from 35 inch tall spikes that sprout out from the mature aloe vera plants.
At the core of the aloe vera leaves is a clear, viscous gel that is used in topical preparations and various cosmetic and hygiene products due to its rejuvenating, soothing and moisturizing properties . Aloin or aloe latex is the thin layer of sap that separates the outer covering from the inner gel portion. This sap has laxative components and is made into juice or dried and taken orally.
Often mistaken to be part of the cactus family, aloe vera is actually a relative of the lily which explains why it is called the “lily of the desert.” Likewise it is called “burn aloe”and “first aid plant” due to its common use as a home remedy aiding in the treatment of burns, minor cuts and abrasions.
Nutrients and Applications
For thousands of years, aloe gel has been used to heal and soften the skin. It is said that Cleopatra and Nefertiti, the two famous queens of Egypt used aloe vera as part of their beauty regimen to maintain soft skin . Christopher Columbus and Alexander the Great also used aloe vera to treat their wounded soldiers.
Aside from its soothing, emolient, and healing properties, aloe vera also contains vitamins, minerals and other health-giving compounds. Primarily consisting of water, it is a good source of vitamin C and germanium and contains 19 amino acids including the 8 essential amino acids. Also found in aloe vera are polysaccharides–pectins, hemicelluloses, glucomannan, acemannan, and mannose derivatives. It is a good source of lipids, sterols, tannins, enzymes, lignins, fatty acids and salicylic acid. Aloe vera aids in the absorption and bio-availability of vitamins B12, C and E.
Aloe vera has wide applications in the cosmetic industry and is used in the production of hydrating liquids, moisturizing creams, sunscreens, lip balms, shaving creams, make-up, shampoos, facial tissues and healing ointments.
In the food industry, aloe vera is also used in beverages, yogurts, and some desert recipes.